Review: Golden Axe: Beast Rider

GoldenAxeBeastRider.jpg Reviewers have really been enjoying themselves feasting on Golden Axe: Beast Rider’s entrails. Impressions of this new age Golden Axe revival have been so negative you’d think it’s the worst game of the year or something. While it’s certainly no crowning achievement in game design, I’m here to tell you it’s worth giving a go.

I’ve heard a lot of complaints about how little this game resembles the Golden Axe arcade/Genesis classic. Not only that, but how it’s a total disgrace to even bear the Golden Axe name. Sorry but that’s completely absurd. Beast Rider actually has far more in common with the highly revered original than it appears to on the surface – familiar characters, locations and enemies are in abundance, and overall the essence of an arcade-type game is captured pretty well (except that there’s no co-op, which is a crime against humanity!!!). I’ll be the first to admit that leading up to the game’s release I was one of those naysayers writing it off as just another God of War knock-off, but after playing it through I’ve realized that’s not true at all.

Beast Rider may have the aesthetic scale of a God of War, but it plays very much like an arcade hack-n-slash beat’ em up. Combat is straightforward button-mashery goodness complimented by a Heavenly Sword-style color coded counter system (enemy attacks glow certain colors and depending on the color you must block or evade to counter) that at least brings some form of combative thought to the experience. The game’s environments are massively scaled in appearance, but the levels within them are frequently boxed in by invisible walls so your path is extremely linear.

So basically, as Amazon hottie Tyris Flare you charge forward through 30-some-odd stages, get boxed in by temporary barriers, hack up all enemies in the area into bloody bits until the barriers lift, occasionally solve a rudimentary puzzle (light torches with your fire magic, kick enemies onto spike switches, etc.) move forward and repeat the process again and again. You may not want to admit this to yourself, but that’s pretty much how the old Golden Axe games were. It’s an archaic formula, but it still works and it’s still good fun.

As the title indicates, beast riding plays a key role in the gameplay as well, but sadly I found it to be the weakest part of the game. It’s great that there’s such a wide variety of beasts you get to ride and that each beast offers unique attacks and special abilities (stealth camo, fire breathing and so on), but unfortunately these beasts control like mechs from an Armored Core game or something and are so weak to attack that after taking only a couple hits you are sent flying from your beastly steed and the enemy has commandeered it for himself. Oh yes, “beast jacking” is commonplace and it’s completely infuriating, to the point where I found it easier to stay on foot unless absolutely necessary.

The wonky beast riding is hardly this game’s most egregious offense though. As mentioned earlier, Sega and Secret Level dropped the ball completely by leaving out co-op. From the moment of Beast Rider’s conception, co-op should’ve been at the top of the list of must-have features to build the game around. This type of game is meant to be played with others; not being able to battle side by side with a friend truly is disappointing. Arena battles and other replayability features attempt to fill the void, but without another player to join in it’s just not the same.

Amidst the crowd of deep, time-consuming games that have been coming out lately, Golden Axe: Beast Rider is one of those guilty pleasure games to have on hand when you just need a quick pick-me-up of mindless, gory hack-n-slash entertainment. It’s not long, it’s not innovative, it’s not deep, but it is fun and in the end that’s what matters.

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Pros:
+ Simple, gory hack-n-slash fun
+ Nifty counter and evasion system
+ Epically scaled backdrops and detailed character/beast models — appealing graphics overall

Cons:
– What, a Golden Axe without co-op!? Lame!
– Weak beast riding component
– Invisible walls galore

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on Xbox 360, also available for PS3
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Secret Level
Release Date: 10/14/08
Genre: Action
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!