Beast Rider confuses me. It confuses me because for these shit sandwiches we reserve for Terrible Tuesdays I don’t expect the developer to actually have tried. With Golden Axe Beast Rider, they definitely tried. I’m not entirely sure WHAT they were trying for, but they definitely made an effort.
Here you take the reigns of Axirian Sister Tyris. Axillary? Auzurian sister Tyris. With her bastard sword and penchant for magic she goes out on a quest for what’s not at all a played out storyline, revenge. Now as a disclaimer I would like to say I only knew she was on a quest for revenge thanks to the trailer, as the game never actually bothered to explain that, more on this later.
It’s called Beast Rider because the point of the game is to take beasts to your enemy so that they can knock you off, steal it and ride it. The baddies can quite easily take your traitorous mount from you, then use it to ground you into mince. This paired with the fact that the Axirianr… Axitonious… The Axe Sister Tyris is faster on foot than with any animal makes it ultimately pointless to even attempt riding any of the world’s burly, meaty monsters. The most use you’ll get out of these creatures is using them to knock down a door only they can open, then you’ll quickly want to take out the animal Old Yeller style before it can be wrenched away from you and used to kick your own ass.
Now the game clearly wants you to take the unruly, disloyal beasts with you where ever you go. This is made clear by the amount of large treasure chests littered on the map that only they can break. If they die (happens easily) or happen to be stolen (happens easily) it doesn’t matter really how many enemies you manage to beat or how many bosses you single handedly conquer, the best rewards are still bared from you because you failed to keep around that large animal the game clearly doesn’t like you keeping around. In fact it’s entirely possible to get yourself completely stuck in this game if you don’t have a beast, with certain portions of the map that can only be unlocked by them while you have no creatures on hand. Because a player surely would never lose these things that are incredibly easy to steal and kill, right?
The designers of Beast Rider seem as though they wanted a “complex” countering system with which to build your combos, complete with parrys and cancels, and it certainly threatens to go over your head at first what with a confusing screen that tells you “Press R1 when you see Blue to parry, L1 when you see Orange to Evade, L1 plus R1 to review your credit score when you see red, L1 plus R1 multiplied by 7 divided by the root of pi to write in Blue Book while doing Midterm” instead of easing you into the commands like, what’s the name of that game again? Oh yes. Every video game ever that’s not this.
However once you do get used to the system it’s incredibly simple and exploitable, the game wants to convince you that careful timing and complex maneuvers will result in the highest damage, but really it boils down to “slam this button when blue, follow with this button for explosions.” It’s really not much more complicated than dialing Operator on your phone. (Give up? You dial Zero). Timing doesn’t matter. Cancelling doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. None of this matters.
Beast Rider certainly has some of the most impressive fantasy artwork I’ve seen in a video game, with loading screens made less painful by showing you a nice little piece. This just confused me more, how and why would a game like this waste such precious art? Then the answer dawned on me, they blew most of the production budget on this artist, duh, they certainly blew all of the art budget as nothing else aside from the loading screens and disc art looked good. For example I stood looking upon a mountainous vista, its vast ranges before me, and gazed upon the endless sea inviting me with their azure beyond. Or I assumed that’s what I would be doing if everything weren’t painted the color of decayed dog poo. Making, again, the effort they took to paint these mountain ranges and great seas feel completely wasted.
Because everything in Beast Rider is the color of petrified dog poo it’s often hard to discern where you’re meant to go next. Everything just blends into the next, and I’ve spent quite a few minutes running around aimlessly until I saw the muddy path that was the same color as the muddy trees, the muddy sky and the muddy rocks that surrounded it. The poor color palette not enough to confuse, the conditions for opening up new areas would often change during play.
Almost as old as RPGs themselves the rules to opening up new areas and dungeons tend to be uniform throughout whatever game you’re playing. Use the gold key to open the gold door. Use the gun to shoot off the rusted lock. Press the switch to lower the spikes. Not so in Golden Axe, the way in which you would open up each area would change at random. Open up the chartreuse door with the gold key, then take the chartreuse key, ram it up your ass and squat 3 times. New area unlocked!
Golden Axe: Beast Rider now holds the record for losing me the fastest in a video game’s story in not bothering to really explain the story at all. When we meet Tyris she’s late, she’s late for an important date! Then dragon shows up, dragon spits fire at Tyris, then dragon is kill. This be bad. Then dwarf. Then Tyris be dead? Then a golden axe. Take golden axe and kill Dread Lord Voldemort. Okay sure, I guess we’ll go with that, because you’re clearly not going to give me a better reason to play this.
Tyris as a character? She… She’s got a great back? She works out. That much is clear. She also wears leather chaps, like a cowboy, an Amazoness, Axirlovian Sister, Cowboy. She’s also dressed as though she’s ready for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, not to tackle the land’s harsh terrains and take on the demon hordes. Look, I’m of the mentality everyone should be naked all the time, the Heavy Metal cover aesthetic is fine with me. Though my own suspension of disbelief deteriorates a bit when Tyris starts fighting increasingly armored foes, covered head to toe in samurai armor, and equipped with giant serrated spears the size of dinosaurs, charging at her midriff while she’s decked out for the beach. Then once she’s hit by said spear, it glances off her rock hard abs and she laughs as though it tickled. She’s an Amazon, not the Terminator.
She also carries a very, very big sword in one hand, which is easy for her because she works out. It’s not like the biggest, burliest of muscled warriors needed two hands to lug around the mostly impractical medieval bastard sword. I guess we can get away with it in this world because magic?
… There’s an animal that can channel electricity through it’s fur and refract light, giving it the ability to cloak? Why the fuck didn’t you just go with magic? Why even bother to give it a remotely scientific explanation?
Ultimately my gameplay experience ended when one of Tyris’ beasts were killed (yet again) and she was left frozen in midair, as if still in the saddle. Enemies couldn’t touch her, nor could I move her. Tyris, forever immortalized in stone as the Axiratighgmfn goddess she is.
It feels like it wants to be God of War. But it’s not God of War. God of War had things like “gameplay” and a “combat system”, Golden Axe has a series of stubborn button commands. It’s almost sad to see, because it’s clear someone here really loved fantasy and went “Let’s do that thing, and this thing, and that thing” then ended up with… Beast Rider. This person or person(s) I’ve decided are the Ed Wood of video games, and maybe we’ll all be looking at Beast Rider fondly after Sega dies.