A flashy hero with formidable combat skills sets off on an epic adventure through fantastical environments. Sound familiar? These basic elements are the framework upon which countless action adventure games have been constructed. While many games seem to expand and embellish far beyond this rudimentary foundation, Golden Axe: Beast Rider does not. All of these elements are functional at best, and even the one stab at originality, the eponymous beast riding, is merely average. The result is a disappointing game that, while not broken per se, is so thick with in-your-face mediocrity that the only thing you'll take away from it is the strong desire to play something else.
The face of Golden Axe is Tyris Flare, a woman who, reprising her role from the original Golden Axe, wears an outfit is every bit as fantastical and cliched as the adventure she embarks on. On her journey to avenge the slaughter of her people and slay the archfiend Death Adder (or Death=Adder, if you prefer the erratically used alternate spelling), Tyris will travel through rocky mountains and dry wastelands peppered with enemy strongholds. The limited color palette gives most of the levels a similar feel, though the ancient ruins and massive scenic elements (like the bones of giant beasts) add a bit of variety. Any immersion the setting might engender is negated when you realize that Beast Rider has more invisible walls than a mime convention. At best, these barriers will put a disappointing end to your exploration; at worst, they will shunt you off cliffs or into environmental hazards. So, your adventure ends up being very linear, and the occasionally interesting scenery you'll see really doesn't do much to help.
This kind of thing doesn't happen enough.
Most of your attention will be focused on the myriad enemies you'll be hacking apart. Gory deaths are the order of the day in Golden Axe, and when you land a death blow you'll often chop off arms, legs, heads and torsos and be rewarded with geysers of blood. This can be quite satisfying, but the limbs pop off with an incongruously muted clipping sound, and the blood and bodies soon disappear, leaving no evidence of your passing. Once the dust has settled, your only reward is tribute (points, essentially) that goes towards unlocking a few spell upgrades, as well as new swords that can be used when replaying levels. You can increase the tribute you earn by fighting flawlessly, but saying this is difficult would be an understatement.
Beast Rider is not an easy game. Many enemies can be dispatched with a flurry of quick and strong attacks, but you'll need to work in blocks and parries if you hope to survive tougher encounters. When enemies attack you, their weapons flash with a colored light. Blue strikes must be blocked, while orange strikes must be parried. These evasion moves are not interchangeable, so parrying a blue attack will get you a face full of sword. Attacking directly after a successful evasion will do much more damage, and it's the ebb and flow of evade and strike that makes combat initially engaging. These maneuvers can also trigger particularly brutal counters, though the unclear timing and precision requirements make these a frustrating rarity.