Golden Axe Beast Rider Xbox 360 Gameplay review:

People get angry when they fight each other for a reason and it isn't just because of the pain inflicted on them in the fight. A fight can take on a life of its own and drag both fighters, kicking and screaming, with it. This is exactly what Golden Axe lets happen while never taking control away from the player. A fight with or without weapons is simple. Each person in a hand to hand or weapons based combat situation essentially has three choices, attack, retreat, or hold your ground. Golden Axe lets the player switch on the fly between all three options thanks to the parry and evade defense system. Golden Axe’s combat is not the standard button mashing combat system seen in games like God of War or Devil May Cry. The player will not be rewarded for mashing buttons, being uncoordinated or not paying attention to their surroundings. Even though the fighting techniques are exaggerated and overly dramatic, the sense the player must have for fighting is fairly realistic. Golden Axe is constant combat in the truest sense I have ever seen in an action game. This concept is what will either make or break an individual's enjoyment of the game.

Golden Axe gives these choices in every scenario. Tyris can hold her ground, in which case the player will wait for opponents to attack and either parry or evade as appropriate. This is the only game that I have played that forces the player to either parry or evade based on whether the attack is horizontal or vertical in nature. In Golden Axe, much like real life, if an attack is coming roughly straight down or up the player can evade it by side stepping. Naturally, if the attack is coming from the left or right in a broad stroke, side stepping is less beneficial. As with all video games this is vastly simplified from what can happen in a real fight, where a combatant can both parry and side step at the same time and thus give themselves extra time to deliver the counter blow. Since we’re playing with game controllers and not our brains, abbreviating the actual possibilities of a fight is a good thing.

Tyris can retreat, and as is true with a real combat situation, retreating should only be done to recoup and set oneself up for a better position within the fight. By running away and then turning back around when sufficient distance has been made between Tyris and her foes, the player can get all of her opponents in front of her. Obviously this is the best position to be in, as the player now has the option to kick opponents into each other, launch ranged magic, or simply bull charge the group to knock multiple opponents down. From there Tyris can switch back to holding her ground with the parry and evade system or go on the offensive.

On the offensive Tyris can do a normal variety of attacks. The player can tap the weak or strong attack buttons for quick but weak or slow but strong combos respectively. Tyris can also switch back and forth between weak and strong attacks in a chain combo, only the last strike in a combo causes Tyris to pause. The combat mechanic in Golden Axe is designed so that the player may avoid taking damage by means of attacking first, parrying or evading. Only if the player responds to the incoming attack with the wrong defensive option does Tyris become unable to recover. That means whether or not the player thought they should sidestep or throw an attack, if they did it too early or too late, or chose a response that was inferior to the opponents attack, they incur damage. However, Golden Axe allows the player to make up for the mistake of attacking first by means of the parry and evade cancel system, which will immediately switch away from a combination to parry or evade.

This much would be enough that if it were to replace the simple combat system in a game like Grand Theft Auto, the entire game would be better for it. Golden Axe, though, offers more than simple group based combat in the form of the beasts. In homage to the original Golden Axe games, there are four main types of beasts which Tyris will ride throughout every level. The beasts primary function is to give Tyris a shield and more powerful form of attack than fighting on foot would. Secret Level, the game’s developer, also designed Golden Axe’s levels in such a way that the player would need to use beasts to break down barriers or magic obelisks. Beasts will also naturally be used to get through some of the more dangerous combat scenarios the game creates. Since the beasts don’t have the parry or evade system, the easiest way to use them is to run at groups of enemies and attack while running through them. Should any enemies survive that, the player can do a quick sliding turn around while running to make a second, third or even tenth pass until all combatants are defeated. On smaller beasts Tyris can also use her sword to swipe at enemies, which can double up the damage the beast is doing on its own.

Last but certainly not least is Golden Axe’s magic system. Tyris is given three main magical options. The first magic, selected with the left digital pad, is a fire missile that acts as a ranged weapon for single or multiple opponents. The second, selected with the right directional pad, is an explosion that bursts all enemies in the immediate area into flames. The third, which is the up position on the directional pad, is the Golden Axe which can be used to hit enemies that are out of range, and must be used to destroy undead enemies before they resurrect. With an adequate grasp of the game’s combat system, the magic is a simple but welcome accessory that may be used to clear an area much faster than fighting ever would. All three forms of magic upgrade throughout the game, taking on more powerful forms that eventually kill everything in sight while wiping out Tyris’ magic jars.

Having described Golden Axe now in roughly one thousand words, we will move on to the hideous beast that is the mass media’s presentation of the game. The media hated Golden Axe Beast Rider giving it an average score of 4.0/10. IGN said that the game had no combos in comparison to games Devil May Cry and God of War, and that the defensive moves were annoying. IGN's Chris Roper didn't understand the concept that a parry is not a block, but a deflection to set up a counter. Team Xbox’s Dale Nardozzi and Gamespot’s Chris Watter’s likewise lambasted Golden Axe’s combat system as “unfun.” It should be noted that all three failed to describe what was not fun about the game’s combat system, which indicates that the reviewers did not understand the game in the first place.

Tyris will only actually parry an attack if the parry button is hit after the enemy attack has begun. This should be obvious, since the parry and evade mechanic makes a distinction between horizontal and vertical attacks. Roper calls this "frustrating" and "annoying" because he has no concept of what a fight actually is. In a fight, even the most well thought out plans can go awry, and that's why being flexible to the ebb and flow of the fight is key to survival.

Being that this is an update to an arcade classic, I find it ironic how the media functions in today’s gaming culture. A handful of non-gaming professionals with “personality” can play a game for an unspecified amount of time and tell everybody else not to play it. What’s disgusting about this is that it appears as though the gaming public actually obeys them! If people were standing around a Golden Axe arcade machine in 1988 telling everybody in the arcade not to play the game because they thought it was not fun they’d have been laughed at. Read it in a magazine today, and sales figures plummet. Dave Halverson's scathing comments(1) on the subject need not be reiterated.

The only criticism that can be leveled on Golden Axe Beast Rider is its lack of multi-player. Especially since the original series was such a great multi-player experience, and the ending teases the player with the fact of Tyris, Gillius and Ax Battler’s alliance, this is a notable exclusion. With that said, nobody has developed a multi-player hack n slash that is as detailed as Golden Axe and seen it succeed. Secret Level did such an admirable job in bringing the series into the HD generation that their achievement should not be marred by what they did not include. The level design and combat system of Golden Axe simply would not have worked in a multiplayer scenario, end of story. If challenging and action packed combat is your thing, pick up Golden Axe Beast Rider for $20 on Amazon. If it isn’t please go find yourself a nice story game to play and leave would be classics like these to the professionals.

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