Golden Axe: Beast Rider
Nearly 20 years have passed since Death Adder first tried to lay waste to the mythic world of Golden Axe. Outside of a couple sequels, a spin off and a shoddy remake, the land of Yuria has remained mostly silent over the last few generations, until now. Tyris Flare returns and it’s time to brandish your favorite bikini to plow through the legions of undead on your quest to reassemble the Golden Axe.
Your world of Yuria in Golden Axe: Beast Rider is an incredibly dreary one. Whether traveling through ransacked villages, abandoned strongholds or vast deserts, the entire games’ aesthetic is dull, using an extremely small palette of muted yellows and browns. Many times you’ll find yourself wondering what Death Adder wants with this wasteland you call home.
This dullness isn’t exclusive to the environments of Beast Rider but spills over to the enemies and characters that populate Yuria. Although none of the principle cast have aged over the years, they’ve certainly had a change of heart when it comes to fashion. Even today, Tyris still parades into battle with little more than a bra and panties, but the outfits’ charm is lacking without her signature silver and red two piece. Even Ax Battler has traded in his blue Speedo sacrificing his iconography for sensibility. The enemies also bleed into the realm of forgettable, lacking any real interesting or notable features. Despite it being a Golden Axe title, you’ll feel it could have been any Conan-esque adventure.
Although Beast Rider in many ways fails to evoke the nostalgic imagery of the classic Golden Axe titles, it’s obvious that developer Secret Level was trying to mimic its’ gameplay. The game may feel quite alien to the existing Golden Axe fan at first, but as you progress you’ll start to see what Secret Level was going for. The most notable homage to the older titles involves how the various beasts control. In classic Golden Axe, your beast would have one attack, which would be able to be used in only two directions – forwards or backwards, since the game was played in two dimensions. Despite Beast Rider being a fully three dimensional title, for all intents and purposes the beasts can only effectively attack in front of them. Like the old games, they’ll also have lengthy recovery times following their attacks that’ll allow enemies to dismount you. Since the beasts can only attack in one direction and they control for the most part like tanks, your best tactic will be to attack and then run in the direction of your attack, than turn around and attack again. Although this recreates the single plane battles of the old titles, it just isn’t fun in Beast Rider. It worked in classic Golden Axe because although enemies would surround you, they could only attack you from the front and back. Now they attack from all directions.
Once knocked off your beast, you can only expect the frustration to escalate. Mounted enemies will still have the troubles you did steering their beasts but you’ll have a hell of a time reclaiming your ride. Unless you’re content to hack away at their beast, thus guaranteeing yourself some damage or wasting magic to attack the rider directly there is no desirable way to dismount enemies. Additionally, many riders and beasts will spawn with armor, making the objective even more grating.
Although mounted combat plays a large role in Beast Rider, most of the time Tyris’ will be on her own. Tyris like many other action heroines, has a light and heavy attack button, which when pushed in various orders will yield a number of different combos. Unlike other action titles, it’ll behoove you to not use these combos in battle. 90% of the time it’ll be more effective to utilize the counter system in Beast Rider, which consists of a well-timed parry or evade. Whenever an enemy attacks, one of two colors will flash on screen, indicating which counter is appropriate, increasing your chances of catching your enemy off-guard and opening them up to be counter-attacked. The added depth of the counter system is admirable but in actual practice makes the game more shallow and a lot more tedious. Small enemies will be easily dispatched with a few combos, but most enemies will require you to land a number of these counters and the windows can be extremely difficult to read, leading to misses and heavy damage. The counter system effectively renders normal combat useless, and instead of being a welcome choice in combat it becomes the only route.
Outside of combat, there really isn’t a whole lot to do or see in Yuria. Beast Rider progresses in as close a facsimile to an old arcade game as possible. The game employs the ever popular magic barrier to trap Tyris in a given area as she dismembers wave after wave of enemies before being allowed to move on. Occasionally the game will throw some rudimentary puzzles at the player involving impaling enemies, pressing buttons or even some beast-specific puzzles but they’re either too easy or too frustrating when enemies and timers are thrown into the mix. You’ll also run into traps along the way to impede your progress and introduce yet another thorn in your quest for vengeance. Many of the traps can be easily avoided but some are notably wicked and lead to inadvertent beast deaths or the dreaded bottomless pit.
Despite Golden Axe: Beast Rider’s numerous shortcomings you can find small fits of amusement when the counter system clicks for you or when you trample through a horde on the back of a beast, but these moments are infrequent. More often you’ll find yourself using some truly barbaric language as you struggle with its archaic game design and unforgiving battle system. As you attempt to cut through your enemies in grisly fashion you’ll recall a simpler time, where you rode a purple chicken and kicked gnomes in their fannies.