Golden Axe: Beast Rider Video Game Review

If you grew up in the early ’90s, chances are you have fond memories of you and a chum hacking-and-slashing and side-scrolling your way through Golden Axe on the Sega Genesis. That was nearly twenty years ago, old-timer.

That long time span makes Sega’s decision to revive the franchise with Golden Axe: Beast Rider seem strange and maybe ill-advised. After all, how many gamers even recognize the name Golden Axe? Secret Level promised us that Beast Rider would provide that same wonderful hack-and-slash gameplay but in three glorious dimensions for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Sadly, when they informed us earlier this year that it wouldn’t have the co-op play the original was so revered for, many fans simply dismissed it as not being worth their time. Those fans were wrong to do so, however, as Golden Axe: Beast Rider is entirely dismissible exclusive of that omission. You could stick any title on this game and it would still stink.

 

That ‘bad game feeling’ pervades through Beast Rider right from the opening cinematic, which abruptly ends without transition, right through to the final one that cuts out mid-dialog. The presentation reeks of a title that got shipped before it was finished. Screen-tearing, mid-fight stuttering and slowdown, bitty animations, pop-ups and jagged edges all constantly rear their ugly heads. There are so many unnecessary invisible walls to be found that it almost feels sadistic. If it wasn’t for these issues, the graphics would actually be quite reasonable. They’re slightly lacking in hue, but that’s arguably to be expected from a title set in a Conan-esque universe. Sadly, those issues are very much there and they can significantly interfere with what’s meant to be fast-paced gameplay.

As for the story; it’s delivered in short but well-made cinematics, but there aren’t very many of them — maybe just reaching double figures. All background exposition is in the form of text, specifically scrolls containing two or three short sentences about things you come across as you explore the world. This choice of storytelling is pretty archaic and very lazy, but when the plot is so vague and cliché maybe there’s an argument for "less is more." In these regards, Beast Rider is a very poorly presented product.

So what awaits beyond the non-existent polish? You play as Tyris, the bikini-clad swordswoman from the original Golden Axe, and you are tasked with taking down the evil Death Adder. You do so by fighting your way through his nefarious army of beasties with the help of your trusty blade, a bit of fiery magic, some beastly steeds of your own and the Golden Axe itself. You’ll travel through several worlds over the course of 15 to 20 hours, decapitate and dismember to your heart’s content. And you’ll do it all alone, too (minus said steeds). Golden Axe: Beast Rider can feel pretty lonely at times — I wonder how they could have solved that problem, hmm?

Tyris herself actually looks great and controls decently too. Her combos and spells are easy to learn and master, but that’s mainly because there aren’t many of them. She has three attack moves involving two face buttons, and a mix-up of these produces no more than a few combination attacks. One of the face buttons is reserved for magic, two fire spells and the Golden Axe, pre-selected using the D-pad. As the game goes on, those two fire spells evolve into optionally more powerful versions, selectable by repeated pressings of that face button. The remaining face button is reserved for jumping which does add a few more attack possibilities, but don’t expect to pull off any Devil May Cry-style juggling. Tyris has a health bar that she can replenish with food, a mana bar that is replenished with potions and a ‘tribute’ score that goes towards unlocking those spell-based goodies. That score goes up based on how well your perform in the stage or ‘challenge’ as it’s called, a feature more similar to Devil May Cry than the aforementioned jump-attacks.

Wading through enemies early on is fairly simple, but soon the game forces you to adapt evasion and parrying techniques as one of its main shticks. Initially this works quite well; your enemy’s blade will either glow orange or blue signifying evade or parry respectively. You have a small amount of time to activate these with the two shoulder buttons before you’re hit. A successful parry or evasion allows you to unleash a stronger attack that’s vital for taking down the chunkier baddies. Sometimes an Assassin’s Creed-like cut-scene special move is activated that destroys all nearby adversaries. Unfortunately these moves only shine when you’re fighting just one or two enemies. As the number of foes increases, it becomes way too tricky to activate special moves reliably, ultimately becoming more frustrating than it’s worth. With no additional weapons to be found in the story mode (except for the final boss battle), vastly limited magic to choose from and a serious lack of combos to pull off, the addition of color-coded defense does little to threaten the deep slice-and-dice gameplay of Devil May Cry 4 and Ninja Gaiden II.

 

The other major gimmick is, as suggested by the name, getting to control the beasties. Every so often you’ll get the chance to don your riding boots and plonk yourself on the saddle of one of about half a dozen grim-looking monsters. They are all controllable using the same two face buttons/three combinations as Tyris but with one major difference; two of these attacks will deplete some of the beast’s health. This startling decision creates a serious flaw because the majority of players will have no problem dealing with enemies by spamming the one attack that doesn’t harm your beast. Yes, those two other attacks are more powerful and often look cool (including huge lightning attacks and tornadoes), but there’s not nearly enough incentive to use them thanks to the big chunk of health they drain. It’s a shame because despite the stiffness of the creatures’ movement there’s an undeniable sense of fun to stomping through a sea of enemies with one of them, especially with the larger beasts when the scale becomes entertainingly ridiculous.

Beast Rider includes some extremely basic puzzles involving chucking the Golden Axe at targets, the return of the infuriating gnomes from the original series, the inclusion of a couple of uninspiring challenge modes, the exclusion of any multiplayer modes and finally a couple of harder difficulties which I predict you won’t touch with a ten-foot barge pole.

This game isn’t that remarkable. Even with all the limitations to the combat, Golden Axe: Beast Rider is just below-average. The fact that it’s enclosed within such laughable presentation makes it one winter title you probably ought to avoid.

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