Review by OgesMC
"For Fantasy Action game fans, Beast Rider is a fun and challenging adventure!"
The Golden Axe series is well known amongst many gamers, and Beast Rider makes the jump to 3D, retaining many elements of the old school Beat 'em ups while adding it's own take on the combat of old. The original Golden Axe was released in 1889, and spawned 3 sequels over 4 years. The series is remembered for it's side scrolling hack and slash gameplay, mischievous gnomes, cooperative play, main characters, beast riding, and magic. A lot to be remembered by and a lot to live up to. So does Beast Rider really follow up to the legend of Golden Axe? In short, yes. The problem is that while most of the beloved features of the original are implemented rather well, the lack of multiplayer and minimal character interaction (outside of Tyris herself) caused an instant uproar among fans and spouted many unjust and biased thoughts on the game. If you take Beast rider for what it is, an action game supported by the lore and gameplay of Golden Axe, you may be surprised at how good it can be. If you came in expecting hack and slash co-op action with your buddies while playing as the 3 original heroes, you may be very disappointed as Golden Axe: Beast Rider is a single player game!
Beast Rider follows Tyris Flare, the fiery-red haired, skimpily dressed Amazon warrior from the original games. As a member of the Dragon Titan worshiping Axarian cult, she is on her way to a ceremonial meet with the Titan, her deity and lord. As she nears the gathering, a run in with minions to the Death Adder (an old enemy of Tyris) immediately tells her that the priestesses and possibly the Titan itself is in grave danger. After you locate the ceremonial platform and receive a portion of the Titan's power, you are tasked with the mission to locate the broken pieces of the Golden Axe, re-forge it, and defeat the Death Adder. On your quest to rebuild the Golden Axe you will have to eliminate the various creatures the Death Adder commands. You will be able to accept the aid of the massive and powerful Beasts, meet old friends, and discover new allies. Each new land you enter has it's own lore and history which can be read up on through small scrolls you find in the game world. The scrolls contain the land's history, Beasts, and enemy details and are a nice way to flesh out the story and give meaning to enemies and locations. The main story is told through cut scenes and voice acting and with the addition of the lore scrolls, the story is not too in depth nor is it too shallow or lacking.
Beast Rider is a beautiful game, with a surprisingly amount of detail in every aspect. From the landscapes to the characters and Beasts, everything is unique and nice to look at. From the sunlit valleys to the City of the Dead, each new land houses an entirely different background style and ruins or villages. In the Barren Highlands you can expect to find burnt forests and decaying villages while in the wastes you walk amidst the bones of past Titans, while admiring sand-ridden temples. The developers have really left their mark with the environments here and they are varied enough to keep the experience from getting boring. Tyris's different outfits are all well crafted with even the smallest detail put into buckles, fur, and metal clasps. Tyris;s trademark red hair flows nicely with movement and even "blows back with the wind" while Tyris is running. The different weapons have engravings and carved hilts, and the blades shine in the sunlight to add nice visual flair. With the ability to zoom in the camera pretty close, pausing to check out the detail in weapons and garb will show the great effort put into her character. The Beasts, one of the selling points of the game are nicely detailed in appearance as well, though some minor clipping issues are evident with the Abrax's saddle and in the case that Tyris moves to close to a Beast's head/neck. Nothing noticeable while mounted or riding though. Small details one would expect are present and well done; scales, spines, fur, horns, and claws all look like they would in the real world if such Beasts existed. Beast attacks are nice to look at as well and some are downright stunning, such as the shimmering, phasing effect of the Lynth's invisibility. Each individual enemy type has their own detailed weapons, armor, and physical features. Spikes and bones decorate the armor of more sinister foes, while boss creatures are larger than life, unique, and often quite disgusting (in a graphically impressive way) things to behold. The game also recognizes the strength of steel, so expect enemy armor to break off as your hits connect with armored opponents revealing the bare flesh beneath. Tied in with the enemy detail is the game's gore, and there is a lot of it. Beast Rider is a bloody game in which you dismember limbs and can even slice entire foes cleanly in half with special attacks! Enemies in this game often meet the most horrible of ends, going out in a blood spewing blaze of glory!
The music of Beast Rider holds a pretty generic fantasy theme and is almost always drawn out by the combat and beast noises. The lovable gnome music however, is well done and very entertaining. An excellent nod to the original. Combat sounds are well done, when steel meets steel it makes the iconic clash and cleaving chunks out of flesh sounds as it should. The different beast sounds are fitting to each beast thankfully; the lizard-like Abrax sounds like a reptile, and the ape-like Mirigore sounds like a giant, aggressive mammal. Spell and enemy effects are decent, nothing spectacular but nothing annoying. The highlights of the sound quality are the Beasts, combat, and Gnome jingle, of which the first two are major sound elements of the game.
The core melee combat is combo based with a small selection of combos that can become "brutal" if you time your combo button presses right. While executing a brutal combo, your weapon is set ablaze and you do more damage with quicker attacks. You have a quick attack which deals weak damage, a slow attack which deals heavy damage, and a kick attack which can knock back or knock down enemies. Linking the three attacks together will enable combo attacks for more damage and higher chance of dismemberment. A much larger part of combat is the counter system which takes some time to get used to and is rather challenging especially at the higher difficulty levels. This is what makes the combat so enjoyable and faced paced. Any enemy that attacks you will give off a glowing color before it's attack is unleashed and the colors determine how you can act on the attack to avoid damage and open up the enemy for a counter attack. You have three options for each attack, parry, evade, or both. Taking the wrong action opens you up for enemy counter attacks so you must learn the right defensive action for each attack and perform it in a short time frame. Orange attacks can be evaded, blue attacks can be parried, and green attacks can be either evaded or parried. Combat really heats up when you are surrounded and multiple enemies are attacking one after the next because you can evade or parry and then evade or parry again at any time, effectively canceling combos or counters! Once you master the basic counter system, you can make use of brutal counters which are triggered after defending and then countering with a specific attack (unique to the enemy type) within an extremely small and specific time frame. Brutal counters are gory finishers that have you ripping enemies in half, decapitating them, or other morbid means of removing scum from the land of the living. For added challenge, there are no colors for attacks while playing on brutal difficulty.
There are five Beast types in the game with one of them being limited to a single level and the other four scattered throughout the entire game. You can ride beasts into combat, and have access to their special attacks, power, and health which will deplete instead of your own while you are attacked on a beast. Some beasts are idle in the world, some are summoned from portals, and some are ridden by enemies. Once mounted on a Beast you have access to a standard attack, a special attack, and a ranged attack. Normal Beast attacks affect enemies in a radius and are really powerful, killing lesser creatures outright. Special and ranged attacks include elemental damage (lightning, fire, tornado) and special effects (invisibility, shock wave). Special and ranged attacks will deplete a small bit of Beast health when used while normal attacks can be used without penalty. The Beast representation is well fitting to a Beast, they are cumbersome, clunky, and slow to turn (though you can perform a nifty 180 degree turn while running) and this adds to the immersion of the game. Mastering each Beast is an art, and knowing when to spend precious health for special attacks, when to charge, or even when to flee will help keep your Beasts alive longer. Some puzzles require certain Beasts to break down barricades or doors so Beasts are usually generally placed throughout the lands. Sometimes you enter areas and do not see another Beast for a long time though, so keeping your Beast alive is important. Overall, the Beasts tend to steal the show, especially in later stages when you fight mounted enemies while mounted yourself. Some of the final battles take place while mounted and the action can get pretty intense.
Besides the combat and Beasts, there are some light puzzle elements such as flipping switches or kicking enemies into spikes to open gates or doors. Nothing hard to figure out and the game often throws tips at you when you may find yourself lost. The gnomes of Golden Axe return in this game and will run around trying to avoid getting smacked around by you. You can hit the gnomes to have them drop mana, food (health), or tribute. Higher levels of tribute unlock better weapons for your use and mana can be stored just like the old games to unleash more powerful dragon-fire spells. As you progress in the main missions, you unlock challenge mode and the Trials or Tyris. Challenge lets you replay any mission you have previously completed using any unlocked armor or weapon you have while Trials are arena fights in which you face waves of challenging enemies. The Trials are pretty tough and can be frustrating at times until you find the right strategy for each, then they become quite fun.
REPLAY VALUE: 9/10
The tribute requirements are pretty high for the mid to high tier weapons so replaying modes for tribute will have you occupied for a while. Challenge mode lets you replay your favorite levels at any difficulty and the Trials of Tyris will definitely keep you playing for a long time if you want to complete them at the top rank. Trying to earn the perfect ranks in either mode will keep the dedicated player busy for well more than a few plays as you can hone your skills or attempt the relentless brutal difficulty. Overall, the replay value is high if you like maximizing your records and performance ranks or trying to complete extremely hard difficulties. If stats and in game ranks do not interest you too much there is still enough content to enjoy the game for awhile, just maybe not as long.
If you like challenging action games, Golden Axe: Beast Rider is for you!
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 04/06/11
Game Release: Golden Axe: Beast Rider (US, 10/14/08)
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