Review: Golden Axe: Beast Rider (Xbox 360)
Sega’s legendary coin-op gets its name tarnished by bastards.
Genres come and genres, well, come back for more. Every now and then a genre will mutate and evolve a little and perhaps if we’re in luck a new sub genre is created. It takes a long time and for the most part isn’t always noticed but it does happen if the mould is broken and risks taken. Why am I saying this? Because the developers at Secret Level (You remember? Those cool dudes that gave us the classic (bad Colin! – Ed) Iron Man game) stated they did not want to tamper with Sega’s original Golden Axe formula, a side scrolling hack and slash game that allowed you to play with a buddy, twat some bad dudes and occasionally jump on a few creatures to aid you in your quest (twatting bad dudes). Did Secret Level succeed in recapturing the old school magic? Or have they proven why so few games in the scrolling beat-em up genre are attempted (least of all without evolution) with a wholly lacklustre effort.
The devs made it clear that this wasn’t a remake or a sequel or prequel but rather a re-telling. You play asâ€¦ (*looks up Wikipedia) Tyris Flare who as luck would have it has the ability to control fire, clever eh? Tyris was the female Amazonian from the original games, and as is usually the case a great darkness is sweeping over the land as Death Adder (Darth Vader?) is capturing/killing the titans of the land and their worshippers for his plans of domination (of course!). Tyris is blessed with power and begins her quest to avenge her people. Nothing breathtaking or captivating from the story but you know as well as I that’s not why people play these games.
Games like this can go one of two ways, the Viking sandbox style areas to explore or the more traditional level based and linear path of Conan. What Golden Axe sets out to do is almost an amalgamation of both. Generally you will progress along the really quite linear path (with occasional fork in road and minor backtracking) gates usually close behind you, further pushing you forward. Later levels have you scaling castles and large areas that look like they could be largely explorable but they’re not. The levels templates are mostly straightforward, staying with the sandy desert for a large chunk â€“ kind of bland to be honest but it’s not a big deal to me. Levels are further broken down in to relatively smaller chapters (called challenges for some reason). At the end of each your progress is saved and you get a ranking. Your stats are added up and you may get some kind of gold bonus – new weapons are (very infrequently) unlocked automatically with gold and can be used when you want to replay levels or play in the arena mode.
As before, games like this can take a few different approaches but instead of going down the road of obtaining new/upgradeable weapons, buying combos (even just having a decent set of combos to start with) or even the most basic of RPG-ish elements, Golden Axe sticks firmly with its roots. Beasts to ride on, your standard sword and a few magic spells. Swordplay like I sad is pretty much without combos, mash A (quick attack) and X (strong attack) for some VERY basic combos â€“ this game would make poking a tramp with a stick look complex in comparison. Throw in X+A together for a knock back attack and you’re done, no new (or any) combos really is a killer blow for this game and it boggles the mind why they went for this. Apparently if you do hammer X and A at just the right times your sword goes on fire to do extra damage but that’s it. What I think they were pinning their hopes on for the combat is the evade and parry system. When enemies attack their blades will turn either orange or blue. If orange you can hit the LB to evade, if blue hit the RB to parry, if you successfully evade or parry you are then in a position to attack the enemy with an attack they can’t block.
Well, this latest reinterpretation of a classic IP may be the fiftieth (approximately) hack and slasher on the Xbox 360 (following on from such games as Viking, Conan, Beowulf, Avatar, Dynasty Warriors etc etc etc) but Sega clearly haven’t checked the competition out as they seem to think that this genre hasn’t progressed since, well, 1989 (the year of the original Golden Axe).
Everything in the game is either painfully average or hatefully poor from the PS2-standard graphics, ultra-limited move set, terrible countering system, awful levels, reptitive enemies, shitty puzzles and borderline useless beasts. Quite why the game’s subtitle would highlight these useless creatures is a mystery but no more a mystery than this game ever getting published.
The countering really is a cunt’s trick requiring superhuman reactions and generally being useless if two or more enemies show up. Also some of the enemy attacks are beyond shit. Especially the shamen types who create magic rocks to drop on you from a distance. Cheap. And rubbish.
The worst thing about the game is that it’s worse than the original on nearly every level. Even something as simple as the magic attacks (originally quite spectacular in their 16-bit glory) are reduced to the impressiveness of cheap fireworks.
Stick with the original on XBLA or just pick up Conan. It may not be great but compared to this it’s gaming nirvana.
Secondary Score: 2/10
Sounds easy? I didn’t find it so â€“ and I have great reflexes (check out my â€œPerfect Grendel Songâ€ achievement from Beowulf). Now if you time your parry/evade perfectly and then hit X, A or X+A (depending on the enemy) perfectly you can initiate a wee animation to do a one hit kill, the problem there is no definition of how you time it perfectly, as a result I did a few of these animation finishers randomly but they were few and far between. The game often tells you that even if you are hammering X or A attacking one guy you can still use your Parry or Evade do counter someone else (and their coloured blade remember) coming at you from another direction.
While this worked at times it didn’t at others when Tyris is mid swing and too busy (or maybe just unresponsive) to counter something else. Throw in some enemies with attacks you can neither parry nor counter (there’s no block either BTW) and this nice little package is done. ‘Flawed’ perfectly describes the combat. Magic is as basic as it was in the original Golden Axe but with a few pretty animations and the potions are a bit more readily available. Finally we get to the Beast Riding, each beast has a standard attack/charge with A, magic attack with X and ranged magic attack with A+X â€“ magic attacks drain your beasts health, which is already pretty meagre. The four flavours of magical beast are the small ‘Chicken-Leg’ type creature who uses fire, the medium ‘Deer on ‘Roids’ who can go invisible but only when walking and uses lighting, the bigger ‘Rhino Tank’ and the Rancor (well practically) who has a berserk mode and pulls other beasts apart.
As in the old games bad dudes can ride beasts too and frequently will knock you off. When you do get a chance to control them they handle like tanks on oily ice, too sluggish to avoid enemies and with piss poor attack range they’ll be able to get up close and personal to send you flying.
There’s just nothing special about this game. The lack of variety and frustrating combat will get to you and despite Secret Level taking no chances and using a tried and tested formula they still manage to screw it up. To be honest the best thing about this game was writing this review, seeing exactly all the flaws on paper is making me realise its not just me.
Nostalgia’s a bitch.