A Crude Homecoming
Returning to the Golden Axe franchise is like getting together for a cup of coffee with an ex-girlfriend. Due to a historical blind spot, you want to reminisce about the “good old days,” but she, having proper hindsight, reminds you that those days really weren’t all that great. Any excitement for a resurrection of Golden Axe should be taken with a grain of salt; the original games haven’t aged well (not many hack-and-slashers do).
When your source material is a blue guy, red girl, and a paunchy green fellow who continually scroll to the right attacking the same enemies over-and-over, it should be a next-gen development warning sign. Sure, in the late ’80s it was considered solid game design, but throw in nearly two decades and bigger expectations from gamers, and it doesn’t make for a winning formula. Golden Axe: Beast Rider woefully under-delivers.
What made the original Golden Axe games fun was the ability to plug in another controller and play along with a friend. So, why does Beast Rider include no two-player support? That’s right; this is a Golden Axe game with only one character. You can’t even select from the classic three. You’re stuck with the Tyris Flare (the red Amazon girl) from beginning to bitter end. True to series form, Tyris is out to stop Death Adder – the villain from previous games – and along the way reassemble the broken Golden Axe.
No Golden Axe would be complete without wave-after-wave of enemies and Beast Rider is no different in that regard. To dispatch foes, Tyris is equipped with her trusty sword and a small – very small – catalog of moves. Aside from a standard and heavy attack – which you can repeatedly tap for combos – you can also kick enemies to offset their balance. These knockback attacks come in handy when you need to launch any enemy onto a spike, which happens to control the lever for a nearby door.
In the defense department, Tyris has two options: she can evade or parry; the former serving as a dodge and the latter as a block. To add depth to the combat, some enemy attacks are color coded orange or blue. Orange designates that you need to evade and blue indicates a parry as the best option. If you time these moves right, you’re rewarded with the ability to do a powerful counterattack. This system seems fine in theory, and works out okay in practice during the first few levels, but once multiple enemies are coming at you with blue and orange attacks, you end up taking damage regardless of what you do. A favorite A.I. tactic is to swarm you with orange attacking enemies, while a sorcerer shoots out blue lightning. You may end up dodging the orange melee attacks, but forget about knocking back the lightning.
Since the combat gets old fast (within a level or two), the developers had to be thinking they could win over gamers with the sheer visceral nature of the combat. Taking a nod from God of War, there is blood – lots of blood. In fact, there’s so much blood that, as you’re hacking off limbs, blood sprays all over the lens of the camera, speckling your view. The gore level is so ridiculous it seems Tarantino-like – you can chop a person in half and their body will turn into a geyser, spraying blood like a malfunctioning fountain. Want to know what the mature rating is for? There you go.
There is one more element to the combat: the Beasts. The game may be called Beast Rider, but the brutes you ride around are more unsatisfying than the gratuitously repetitive combat. The first time you light an enemy on fire with a dragon may seem neat, but when you realize that a combo would have done the job faster, the Beast’s in-game weight feels less than stellar. It doesn’t matter which kind of monster you mount, they all control in a really stiff manner and their only real use is mashing through gates that Tyris is too weak to destroy on her own.
All these gripes about combat would be of less consequence if there was something more for the game to hang its hat on, but there’s not. Aside from the occasional switch to flip or monster regenerating stone you have to destroy, the game is just hack-and-slash. The levels are structured in a way where you get to an area, discover there’s a magically locked door, and then have to destroy a certain amount of cannon fodder before the door opens and you can proceed to the next area, where you do the same thing all over again.
Given that we haven’t seen a Golden Axe game since Golden Axe: The Duel (for the SEGA Saturn), there’s been plenty of time for the graphical wheel to move forward and the developer, Secret Level, has painted a respectable base coat – the character models are detailed and weather effects, like rainfall and sweeping sand, lend to a sense of immersion.
The problem comes when you stare too long: there are constant screen tearing and randomly dropped frames. The soundtrack is heavily comprised of jungle beats that one would think match the on-screen action, but are really more of a sonic thud – coming off as uninspired. In a surprise twist, the voice acting – which is kept to a minimum – is decent and the in-game cutscenes move the negligible story along at a fine pace.
The main single-player component will take most gamers a few hours to beat, which is actually a problem. Since the gameplay is so repetitive, you want it to be over sooner so you at least have the accomplishment of beating the game – not to sink hours into an experience only to never see it evolve.
Secret Level included two modes to try and rope players back into play: Challenge Mode and Trials of Tyris. The first has you replaying all the single-player levels, trying to get more gold and a better grade. Trials of Tyris presents a series of battle arenas, fills them with enemies, and sees how long you can last. These two modes are really unwanted, as they rehash bits of the redundant single-player.
Golden Axe is best remembered as what it was – a 16-bit sidescrolling hack-and-slash meant for two players to plow through in under an hour – not a multi-hour gore fest with an Amazonian woman riding around on asinine creatures. If you must get a Golden Axe fix ,don’t pay the premium price tag for Beast Rider – get the original from Xbox LIVE Arcade or the Wii’s Virtual Console.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.0 Graphics
There are some slick- looking character models on display, and the painted tiles in-between levels are nice. The in-game engine stumbles often, resulting in constant screen tearing and dropped frames. 2.5 Control
The beast controls are way too stiff, and while the evade and counter system is neat in theory, it becomes tedious far too quickly. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The amount of in-game dialog is small, but delivered surprisingly well. The backing tracks – made up primarily of thundering jungle beats – come off as generic. 1.5 Play Value
It’s a hack-and-slash, so there isn’t any compelling depth lurking under the surface. The extra modes – Challenge and Trials of Tyris – are just extended hack and slash sessions. Where’s the two-player support? 2.4 Overall Rating – Poor
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.