Golden Axe: Beast Rider
Well, I guess I should begin with the story. Let me be clear, anything, even simply cave drawings scribbled by primordial man would be better than the original classic’s story. Here is an excerpt, in raw form from the original, Ax Battler, the Barbarian, his mother was killed by Death Adder. Tyris Flare, the Amazon, her mother and father were killed by Death Adder…. Sense a pattern? Gilius Thunderhead, the Dwarf, his brother was… well, by now you get the picture. In 1989 this was all the justification I needed to kick homeless gnomes in the gonads, pilfer their life savings and reign down sudden vengeance and furious anger upon those hapless orcs of Golden Axe. But this is 2008, all Beast Rider had to do was supply a better story than that… By that measure I guess you could call Sega’s effort a success, if you gauge success from the eyes of a 6 year old. Here is a 2008 excerpt from Sega’s own website regarding the story, “She (Tyris) does not listen to her fear, but with purpose. She will rebuild her tribe, and kill those that killed her people.” Oh, lest I forget, that in these times, those once classic last names don’t cut it. We have Tyris Flare, which sounds like a rare STD, and Gilius Thunderhead, I’ll leave this one to your dirty little imagination. At least Axe Battler has a name after all these years, and ironically, it’s in keeping with the cool first names of the original, Tarik. At least he doesn’t have a last name he’d get his lunch money stolen for.
Onto the gameplay, the title as well as the game’s namesake should imply that this game has at least some good beast riding. (Get your mind out of the gutter…) But alas, the beast range from incredibly fast when running to lumbering senior citizen slow. They control poorly and animate horribly with textures that make late generation Playstation 2 games look like Gears of War by comparison. At least the combat, at times feels alright if not mediocre. For instance, the game gives you some interesting looking moves but than, almost in an act of self defeat, destroys it with a lame parry system. The L and R buttons correspond to the color of the attack the enemy uses against you, it’s like paint by numbers for action games. There are orange and blue attacks…. this game is supposedly for teens 17 and up… Even if I was 10 I’d feel insulted by this system. What hurts even more is that if you miss the color coded parry system and press L instead of R and vise versa, you stall long enough to get beaten about the head. This system is also the only way to see the more interesting death sequences. Now, lastly, there’s the magic, we have a choice of fire, or well mo’ fire, and the lame duck Golden Axe. The Golden Axe has the targeting system of vice president Dick Cheney, and a drunken, cracked out carrier pigeon in a stupor. It auto aims, if you call auto aiming a bad guy and violently murdering your beloved dragon or beast instead, auto aim. There’s also the rudimentary puzzles which consists of killing all the bad guys in an area to enter another area, or drunkenly trying to aim your golden axe at a target. Lastly, in a poorly executed nod to God of War’s human sacrifice obstacles, there are two spikes shining like crest tooth whitening ads in times square, onto which you must punt kick your foes to open a wooden door. You mean I have a fire breathing dragon, the ability to rain down magical hellfire, an exploding Golden Axe, and a sword which can cut through a dragon’s bones, yet I can’t open a damn wooden door? Here is yet another line from Sega’s Golden Axe – Beast Rider website, “Spells & Magic: Harness the awesome power of Tyris’ fire-based magical attacks….with incredible graphics and never-before-seen character skills and abilities.” Ohhh, the lies and treachery, do they ever end? To add insult to injury, even if you’re not facing the general direction of said spikes, just kicking your opponent in the sac off to the left or right of your target will auto aim them onto the spikes. Wow, at least some form of auto aim works. As far as the camera system goes it either makes gameplay bad or worse. You can chose tank style controls, thus wherever you look you go, or complete movement of your character with the left analogue stick and camera movement with the right stick. On one hand you risk obscuring your character with background objects like statues and cloth, on the the other hand, you get killed from lack of maneuverability. Take your pick, either way you loose in the end.
Lastly, onto the aforementioned “Incredible graphics.” Screen tearing is not the word, neither is poor texture resolution. Texture loading in a game, with textures which would make the Nintendo 64 proud, is shameful. As are trees, which resemble green tarps covered in KY Jelly. Speaking of KY Jelly, what’s with Tyris’s hair, it looks like she washes her hair in it. There are even multiple instances of walking through objects, getting stuck in them, or even in the case of statues, floating in the air due to lack of object physics. Even the pre-rendered cinemas are a mixed bag. While nicely directed they transition poorly into the game and as such are jarring to the player. They also lack the grit found in even older PS2 rendered cinemas like Onimusha 3. To their credit though, the faces look nice, though they suffer from sub par dubbing.
In conclusion, this game is a playable mess that if done right could have restored hope in a classic franchise. Even if they were to outright plagiarize the magnificent God of War 1 or 2, then bastardize it and have at least a somewhat next-gen polish, I could forgive this disaster. The games’ designers sabotage the product at every corner, even the incredibly cool looking death sequences are over too quickly and enemies vanish after being bloodily ripped to shreds, taking away your one true sense of accomplishment.
Somewhere my Sega Genesis, Saturn and Dreamcast gently weep.