Golden Axe: Beast Rider

Golden Axe: Beast Rider
Golden Axe: Beast Rider Cover
Platforms PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre Re-imagined Hack-and-Slash
Score 8  Clock score of 8Gameplay: 7
Fun Factor: 8
Gfx/Sound: 8
Story: 6
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Golden Axe: Beast Rider is the long anticipated entry in the classic Sega-developed series; Golden Axe. The franchise began life in 1989 as an arcade game but was later successfully ported to both the Master System and Genesis with multiple sequels and spin-offs to follow over the years. This installment doesn't play so much as a sequel, but rather as a re-imagining of the first game in which the evil Death Adder must be vanquished. It was developed by a relatively unknown developer; Secret Level Games.

Editor's Note: Mike B. is a brand new guest writer here at the First Hour, you may also see him around here as Mike in Omaha. He's enthusiastic about game writing and has even been to E3! I haven't even been west of Wyoming. In all seriousness though, great to have him on board and keep an eye out for more from him in the future. And like always, if you'd like to write for the First Hour, just shoot me an email and we'll talk. Back to Mike's review.

Unlike the first game, which gave you a choice of multiple heroes to use in your quest to defeat Death Adder, Beast Rider offers no such option. They have chosen a single warrior from the first game and made her the focus this time. That warrior is Tyris Flare, a female Amazonian famous for her swordsmanship. Further similarities include her skimpy outfits and fire-based magic attacks. Her storyline however, differs from the original. In the first Golden Axe we learn that Tyris' parents were killed by Death Adder, causing her to seek vengeance. In this telling, Tyris is a member of a group of priest-like female mystics who worship/protect the ancient Dragon Titan, which Death Adder eventually steals for his unknown purposes. Naturally, our hero sets out to rescue the Titan. Tyris' journey to find and defeat Death Adder while freeing the Titan, and thus her people, is the story behind this adventure.

In her effort to defeat Death Adder, Tyris will travel through several dramatic environments, including ancient temples, abandoned military outposts and even a Titan graveyard, fully populated with hugely impressive skeletons and skulls dotting the landscape. She'll fight a variety of enemies with both melee and ranged attacks. You might think this sounds similar to a lot of games. You'd be right. What makes this game special are the beasts. Part of Tyris' heritage as a member of her priestess society is her ability to summon and ride a variety of large and imposing creatures. When mounted, Tyris can invoke the creatures attacks and abilities making her an incredibly formidable adversary. Each creature has it's own form of attack as well as a special ability. Some creatures can breathe fire, while others can turn invisible. However, using your beasts special ability drains it's life force, so strategy is required to get the most from your ride. The beasts are only summonable from beast summon stations which appear at certain points in the game. Keeping your beast alive is a big portion of the challenge and makes the game slightly deeper than sword swinging alone.

As for the "meat" of the game, you'll be in hand to hand combat, with Tyris, her sword, and her magic. With the sword, you'll have your basic "light" and "heavy" attacks, as well as a "Pushback" attack which I'll mention later. This is where the melee system comes into effect. The developers have created a system similar to Heavenly Sword, where an enemies weapon will flash a certain color just before an attack. If the attacking weapon flashes blue, you need to parry it. If it flashes orange, you need to evade it. If it flashes green, you can do either, your choice. Each function is set to a bumper button. (L1/R1). The good and the bad of this system is it's simplicity. Combat basically unfolds like this; Use your sword to attach your enemy, until you see their weapon flash, at which time you hit the appropriate defense button. Get the timing right and you'll never get hit. Get it wrong and you'll spend most of your time on the ground. You'll also have access to 6 spells that are unlocked through the course of the game. The are a combination of anti-group and ranged attacks. They are based on 2 basic spells that you upgrade to bigger better versions.

Golden Axe Beast Rider Tyris Battle

What was awesome: The Beasts. Riding the beasts is challenging but fun. It changes up the pace and makes enemies that were very difficult before, a joy to trample. Some of the beasts are so powerful, you'll never want to dismount. However, if your beast gets badly injured, it will dismount you whether you like it or not. And, just like in the original game, your enemies can take control of any beast that dismounts you. Uh oh. Now the beast you were using to wreak havoc is trampling you! Not to fear. One final attack Tyris has in her repertoire is the PushBack. Its an attack Tyris can use to push enemies away, in the form of a kick or sword push. And since it also works following a well-timed jump, one can use it to knock your enemies out of the saddle to reclaim your beast. This is fun and rewarding and makes for high intensity fight sequences as you mount a beast, get knocked off and have to reclaim it in the midst of battle.

What I liked: The old school level design. I'm an old school gamer. I like games that keep it simple and evoke memories of gamings past. This game does that well. While many reviewers are only able to view this game through the lens of modern classics like God of War or Devil May Cry, I don't. I look at this game as a modern retelling of the classic 2D Hack N Slash. What other reviewers see as a negative, i.e. linear level design and simplistic combat mechanics, I see as a refreshing positive in a world of needlessly open-world level designs and overly complicated combo systems. Playing this game reminded me of the original in ways that I didn't expect after reading other reviewers spending most of the review complaining about a lack of co-op and no choices regarding which character to choose.

What I didn't like: It's hard! Ok, well, I actually like that in a game, but this game had me cursing frequently as I slowly but surely became skillful with the combat. Part of the problem here is the checkpoint system which is also decidedly old-school leading to lots of negative review comments. There really aren't "levels" the way we understand them. The story is somewhat broken up into about 3 parts, but each part is then subdivided into "challenges". These challenges are basically just checkpoints and they can be anywhere from 10-25 minutes apart depending on your pace. (edit: Mine is slow!) Each challenge ends with a checkpoint where your progress is saved and a letter grade is given depending on how you did. This grade takes into account how much damage you took, how much time you needed, as well as how much gold and "tribute" you collected. Tribute is basically a score multiplier for your gold collection. You can increase the multiplier by performing power and brutal attacks. You can do these attacks by properly timing your combos and counters. For example, after a "light" attack with your sword, your sword will glimmer. If you time the second hit of your combo with the glimmer of the sword, you will make a power strike in which your sword will ignite in flame and do extra damage. This will also increase your multiplier. However, once you get hit, your multiplier returns to zero. :(

Golden Axe Beast Rider Tyris Gameplay


Gameplay: 7
Gameplay is simple and simple often means repetitive. However, in this game, it really needs to be. You'll need to spend a lot of time perfecting the timing of your attacks and counters. The way the system is set up, you can break out of attacks, combos and counters with a defensive evade or parry. Doing this sets up a sort of rhythm to the combat. Once you get into the rhythm, you can be devastating. If you can't find the rhythm, you'll be eating dirt. Practice makes perfect, and for some gamers, this is a big problem. I took off a point for the boss battles. They are good, but they get recycled more than they should. You fight two major bosses that are almost identical, and then near the final boss you have to fight them both again, SIMULTANEOUSLY. This seemed a bit lame to me. Didn't I already take these guys out? Also, there are a few enemies that do attacks that are strange colors that I couldn't figure out exactly how to avoid. Purple? If they are unavoidable, that's fine, but at least tell me they exist in the tutorial.

Fun Factor: 8
I really enjoyed running around as Tyris. She's easy on the eyes and her voice acted shouts and grunts during combat sound authentic. Riding the beasts can be challenging (I imagine it SHOULD be hard to control a 4000 lb gorilla with spikes for hands!) but taking out a swath of enemies with some well time rushes and mauling your enemies with the swipe of a lizard tail is incredibly rewarding. It feels rewarding to get the upgraded weapons and outfits.

Graphics and Sound: 8
The character animations of Tyris are very good. The swordplay looks good, and enemies, while simple in their movements, fight and fall in realistic fashion. There aren't alot of spells to choose from, but they look nice, and when you get the final upgrade on her ranged attack, it's incredibly impressive when you unleash it. I have to take a little off for background sound as there just isn't as much there as I might like. Music is rare but the sound effects to the fighting are pretty solid.

Story: 6
The story is pretty basic, nothing particularly enthralling here, which is unsurprising given the game type. It does the job though and as you cut your way through hundreds of enemies, you do feel like you're working towards the end of a narrative.

Overall: 8
Golden Axe Beast Rider is a good game that has gotten a bad rap from reviewers and gamers who want it to be something it's not. This game is NOT God of War. It's not Heavenly Sword or Devil May Cry. Yes, it's similar stylistically, but the gameplay is based on a 20 year old franchise and stays true to those roots.

Final Thoughts: This game is not for everyone. This game is designed to scratch an old school twitch-gaming itch that many gamers no longer have (or have a stomach for). It is hard. The learning curve for combat can be steep. If you don't figure out the combat system, you WILL get angry. You will think the game is "cheap." You will curse the camera and the controls. But trust me, once you get in the groove, you'll be amazed how well it works and how smoothly the combat flows. Some reviewers complained that fighting large groups was impossible. Let me tell you, it's not. Once you get the hang of combat, you can take on 10 enemies simultaneously (the game rarely throws more than that at you at once) without major problems. But you have to execute the timings correctly. If you don't, you'll have no chance. So if you get this game, just recognize you can't breeze through it, it will challenge you. If you're up to that challenge, I highly recommend this game. It's by no means perfect, far from it. But it does something few games do anymore. It's simple and unforgiving.

Golden Axe Beast Rider Tyris Art