Last year my Gendered Violence post drew a fair amount of attention, criticism, and suggestions. Among them, Dan Bruno mentioned on Twitter that Golden Axe: Beast Rider may be a game that depicted a violent female character. I’ve started the game, and felt like sharing initial impressions on to whom this game is catering (how that isn’t me), and Tyris’s blood-thirsty violence. As I progress I may add to these thoughts.
Penny Arcade warned me of this game months ago. From how it was marketed and the focus on Tyris over her other counterparts, this was obviously not the Golden Axe of yore. I can be fine with this, even if it seems odd to remove multiplayer from a franchise that once included it. To start, Tyris was always within that Boris Vallejo style of fantasy art of scantily clad females who wield massive swords. At least the male was in a bikini as well?
Times have changed, and so has Golden Axe.
First, with the more fully realized characters in the game, the fact that Tyris is actually more clothed than her 16-bit counterpart seems to do little to negate the fact that she’s still wearing implausible clothing and eyeshadow. Eyeshadow? Really?
However, what really drew my attention was the first thing I see upon selecting to start the game and seeing things through the lens of a camera. This game is firmly entrenched in cinematic language, and it displays this by having Tyris encounter Death Adder’s enemies and suddenly yell at them. The camera then travels over her shoulder, down her back, and continues down the length of her body and shows the enemies charging from between her legs. My jaw dropped, and neither in appreciation nor to allow salivation to collect in the corner of my mouth.
The story has changed as well. Instead of seeming to come from amazons, Tyris is now the bodyguard of priestesses. These priestesses wear robes that are slit at the sides with nothing else underneath. The first cut scene sees them fluttering about (so you can see the cloth flap about) as Death Adder’s minions run amok. These are no amazons, Tyris is the only one capable of fighting them, and in that first cut scene just so happens to be caught unaware and smacked with the flat of an axe to the face.
The game’s style is reminiscent of the Devil May Cry system of grading a player’s performance based on how the level was executed. There is no easy difficulty: there is normal, hard, and one even more difficult that is grayed out from initial use (the message being that the game isn’t for players who want an easy game). In grading performance, playing normal cuts the player’s score by one-third. Clearly the game wants to tell you that you are a C player if you cannot cut it in higher difficulties. This will not be appealing to any but the ‘hardcore’ audience any time soon.
Golden Axe: Beast Rider screams machismo in a throwback to nostalgia. I’m reminded of those days in the 1980s when my parents had many fantasy roleplaying friends who had the Vallejo calendars and prints littering their walls (how glad I am that my mother was an artist who eschewed such). Instead of crowding the market with another chest-baring male, it seemed it wanted to provide another (chest-baring) female who can fight in sexy poses and be offered to masturbation fantasies.
The last clue is the title and what it offers in terms of gameplay. This subtitle is Beast Rider, hence the gameplay has a lot of focus on riding beasts and using them in combat. In fact, the combat is pretty lackluster, and instead of the fluid controls and mechanics that we see with a Dante, we are given very stodgy and block movements that never feel comfortable on the offensive. The beasts themselves are then another weapon (more powerful but just as difficult to actually maneuver), and instead of occasional occurrences as they were in the older games, they serve as a focus of the game alongside Tyris.
Tyris’s bloodshed is hampered in many directions by not as excellent mechanics and even filtered through the beasts she has an option to ride (though must use to progress through certain parts of the game). Instead of focusing on combos, the game puts Tyris on the defensive, heavily encouraging such through a color-coded system of parries, evades, and counterattacks. What this communicates is not as aggressive a warrior, but a tempered swordswoman on the defensive from her enemies barrage of attacks.
What of her enemies, though? Tyris manages to deftly cut them in half, slice off limbs, and summon forth fountains of blood from enemies in sundry ways, which is odd in a game with such a confused intent.
Except the enemies are all dehumanized. The first scene shows one of these peons with filed and sharpened teeth feasting on a corpse. Within the first few seconds of the game, we are assured that what Tyris is fighting are subhumans who are uncivilized and disgusting. On the other hand, she is being gruesomely violent.
Unfortunately, the game itself is rather poorly presented and I’ve already been frustrated more than once with many decisions from how the hints are presented (let’s throw a scroll on screen that halts all action) to the camera, which always manages to obscure one enemy unless I’m constantly rotating it.