Pretend God of War hasn’t happened. Pretend you’ve never heard of Devil May Cry – this has the bonus side effect that you can squint at the box all over again, and think: “Don’t they mean Devil May Care?” for the first time, just like you did in 2001. Now go back further, to 1989, and pretend you’re enjoying Golden Axe for the first time.
Now come back, and try to make sense of Beast Rider. It’s not retro - the graphics don’t have enough style for that - they’re just dated. The washed-out green-grey opening levels last for far too long. There’s a misguided sense of loyalty to the original game, too. They try to force as much of the classic Golden Axe stuff – gnome thieves, beasts, potions – into the game, and never pay much attention to whether it’s fun or not. Plus, they’ve gotten rid of the multiplayer. Even Golden Axe can’t seriously ignore that it’s 2008, so you fight with a mixture of light and heavy attacks, and use magic when you’re in a sticky pickle.
The combo system isn’t developed enough to make you feel like you’re doing anything spectacular, so the only real innovation is the colored attacks of your opponents. Weak green attacks can be parried or evaded with a tap of either shoulder button. Orange overhead attacks have to be evaded with the left, blue swiping attacks parried with the right. If you see a red attack, there’s no cause for alarm, just jump out of the way. It’s simple and difficult in a way that’s initially entertaining, but it’s shallow; and every monster uses the same style. You’ve got no reason to look at anything except the next flash of color and can easily slip into an unfocused meditative nowhere. You barely notice that you’re chopping people in half.
You ride beasts, too, giving you access to a couple of special moves, and if you find an armored beast, you’ve got about a minute of immunity in which you can run around, pouncing, and never quite feeling in control. These beasts are treated like a temporary bonus – they die quickly – so they could have tried to make them feel more fun. Which is a fair summary of the entire game.
Oct 22, 2008