BAD'S Commentary Page


|| TITLE || A Flare For Flair
  || WRITER ||   PurpGuy
  || DATED ||   10.27.2009


Golden Axe: Beast Rider has been receiving a lot of shit ever since gamers learned that it was a single-player affair. While it is true that the addition of multiplayer can make virtually any game fun, GA:BR has many other issues hampering it's success.

Before I continue, I want to clarify that I am, in fact, a fan of GA:BR, and have spent countless hours enjoying the game. I am also, however, one of it's biggest critics, but rather than trash the game, I hope instead to draw attention to the things that need to be improved upon should a sequel be made. At this point, it doesn't seem likely. GA:BR released to a slew of negative reviews, most of which were written by people who didn't even seem to have spent more than ten or fifteen minutes with the game. Scores of 2 or 3 out of 10 were all too common, both among "professional" reviews as well as fan reviews. Admittedly the game does have a number of glaring faults, but scores that low were absolutely uncalled for.

Here are the things I personally thought needed some improvement. I'll discuss each in turn:

- story/dialogue (this is huge)
- custom character progression (weapons, armor, spells, etc.)
- evasion mechanics (core gameplay element)
- beast abilities (core gameplay element)

It may look like a small list, but these issues plague the game throughout it's entirety.



The sounds are perfectly fine, and the voice acting is pretty good. The problems are the dialogue, and the way events pan out. We assume the role of Tyris Flare, the Amazon Warrior from the original 2-D Golden Axe game. We soon learn that Tyris is a member of an entire community of warrior women, and that she is running late for a ceremony of some sort. The first area of the game plays out as a tutorial, teaching you basic things like flaming sword attacks, counterattacks, and the proper use of parry and evade. Pretty cool stuff.

Okay, moving on to the next area, we find our first Beast: it's an Abrax, a blend of the Chicken Leg and the Purple Dragon from the original 2-D game. We hop on and head to the ceremony. It's all downhill from here.

All of Tyris' comrades are awaiting her arrival. The first thing I noticed about them is the incredible lack of distinguishing detail. Every single one of them is wearing a brown hood and cloak. Perhaps it's the required attire for the ceremony, but if that's the case, Tyris is totally out of place in her battle armor, and it's her ceremony. It seems instead that this was done simply out of convenience. The folks at Secret Level just didn't feel like making any generic faces to put on all the bodies. It's hard to criticize this since there were a lot of characters present, but having one or two of Tyris' close friends with their hoods down certainly wouldn't have been too much to ask for.

A dragon comes up over the side of the cliff and bathes Tyris in flames, granting her it's sacred power. Apparently this ceremony is just for show, because I was using flame power on my way here. Tyris' look of surprise, though, says otherwise. It seems a simple matter to have flagged the flame effects as off at the start of the game.

The two giant Brothers appear out of... well, nowhere, and hurl two enormous harpoons at the dragon. They are accompanied by a number of Death = Adder's grunts. Every single one of Tyris' friends runs around like a screaming schoolgirl and gets slaughtered. Is Tyris really the only warrior of the entire group?

Fortunately for Tyris, Gilius Thunderhead the Dwarf pops out from the rock he's been hiding under, just in time to save her from getting decapitated. She instead gets conveniently knocked out, because I would LOVE to see just how the two Brothers managed to drag the dragon all the way back to Death = Adder's castle. They might be giants, but they are still tiny in comparison to the dragon. I can't imagine why the dragon didn't fly up into the air, drag the Brothers around, and smash them up against the mountainside. Or better yet, just breath fire on them.

I continued to make such observations the entire time I was playing. The writing is just awful. Some of the story sequences are absolutely painful to watch. The battle to finally rescue the dragon was no exception. Facing off against the two Brothers, Tyris is aided by the dragon, who breathes fire onto the tops of some pillars or something that Tyris then has to knock the Brothers into, in the hopes of knocking some fire down onto them. Hey, Dragon; how about doing something useful and blowing that shit at the bad guys?

As for character progression, the game is just screaming for a customization shop. Secret Level should really take a few notes from Ninja Gaiden II. Golden Axe: Beast Rider has a Tribute system that earns you gold. The better you perform, the more Tribute you acquire. So what to do with all that money? Well let's see, they put in a bunch of special swords, several different armor sets, you've got two schools of magic with three levels of each... and, well, yeah. As you earn tribute, you automatically purchase the next sword in the list... but you can't even use it during normal game progression. The special swords are only useable when you go back to replay a level. Tyris' armor changes automatically, too, every time she enters a new area. Other than cosmetics, there are absolutely no differences whatsoever between armor sets. As for magic, Tyris finds a red ball somewhere and learns it all. All of these things, and more, could have been so much more fun with a shop where you buy the upgrades you want, when you want them. Armor could have special defensive properties. Tyris herself could have a set of generic stats to raise. It would make Tyris feel like YOUR Tyris, and you could develop her however you wanted to. This would have been a lot of fun.




Rather than take the typical hack 'n slash approach, GA:BR adopts instead a more defensive take on the genre, which I found refreshing. There is no block button. Instead, Tyris uses "parry and evade" to avoid taking damage from enemies' attacks. Whenever an enemy takes a swing, the attack has either an orange, blue, or green glow. Orange attacks must be evaded, blue attacks parried. Green attacks can be handled with either. Taking on groups of enemies, with constant defense and counterattacks, is GA:BR at it's finest. Along with Beast Riding, this really sets GA:BR apart from other games of the hack 'n slash genre. The problem is, it doesn't always work. All too often, when I hit the appropriate defensive button, Tyris simply waddles around and gets hit anyway. This is game-breaking, and deserves to be ironed out in a patch. There has been no news, however, of any patches to fix this issue.

Hit detection is also worth noting here. Vertical attacks are fine, but horizontal attacks seem to have an extremely small hitbox which makes it almost impossible to hit anything with them. This is almost comical since the purpose of horizontal attacks is to hit multiple foes. Additionally, horizontal counterattacks often whiff, failing to hit anything.

Moving on to Beasts. They are the game's namesake and they don't disappoint. Riding on, and battling against, the game's Beasts is lots of fun, and is one of the highlights of this title. There's just one problem with them; using their abilities drains their life gauge. Huh? That's right, hop on the back of a fire-breathing Abrax, make it breath fire, and it dies. The same goes for all the Beasts. Such a penalty is downright stupid, especially considering that most beasts can be infinitely spawned at a summoning platform. Perhaps a separate ability bar that depletes on use, and gradually refills over time, would have been a better approach.

There are a number of other miscellaneous issues as well. Your Brutal Counter on Death = Adder? Don't bother using it, it does NO DAMAGE. Tyris slaps the Golden Axe into his shoulder, climbs up onto the back of his head, whacks him a few more good ones, and inflicts not a scratch on his lifebar. The single-target Flame magic? Good luck getting it to hit anything. Achievements? Half of them involve beating the levels with a sword that causes you to die in one hit, including getting thrown off your Beast. That gets frustrating fast.



For all the bad, there is still, at it's core, a good game that could have been so much better. Many fans of the original 2-D game see GA:BR as a cheap cash-in of a once famous franchise. In this day and age of onslaught marketing, that does happen all too often. GA:BR does not fall into that category for one important reason: Makoto Uchida, the creator of the original 2-D Golden Axe, was onboard as a creative consultant to Secret Level. Golden Axe is his game, and GA:BR was created not only with his blessing, but his input as well.

Most Internet whiners focus exclusively on the lack of multiplayer, but I do have to toss them a bone and concede that multiplayer would have turned even this game into an epic. Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom is the closest thing we have at this point to a multiplayer hack 'n slash, and even though that game is so bare-bones and basic, playing it online is an absolute blast. A multiplayer sequel to GA:BR, with the above issues addressed, would be absolutely incredible. Unfortunately, with the cold reception GA:BR has received from fans and critics alike, a sequel doesn't seem likely. As a longtime fan of the Golden Axe franchise, I would like to see them continue. GA:BR deserves at least a 6, as a critic and a fan I give it a 7.5. It is definitely worth at least a rental, and thanks to all the negativity, a purchase is just as cheap.