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Astyanax Reviewed by Jarrod Ketchem on . Rating: 64%
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  • Review Score:

  • B-
Finding a good hack-and-slash game on the Nintendo Entertainment System isn't an easy prospect. It's a genre that would thrive on the 16-bit consoles, with games like Golden Axe and Knights of the Round being ported from the arcades, but the titles on the leading 8-bit platform were scarce. For this reason, Astyanax caught my eye when it was released back in 1990, and though it took me another 19 years before I would add it to my collection, it always remained in my mind as one of those games I had to get my hands on someday.

So, the burning question is, was Astyanax worth the wait? Is Astyanax a good game?

Astyanax (NES)

If making a good game were just a matter of combining aspects of already successful games, then there would be no question, as there are qualities of this game which are reminiscent of Castlevania, Ninja Gaiden, and The Legendary Axe - all games which are typically held in high regard. Astyanax has similar platforming and controls to Castlevania. Its presentation includes cut scenes to help tell its story, just like Ninja Gaiden. The gameplay is also quite similar to The Legendary Axe, especially considering how your axe powers up the longer you wait between attacks in both games.

Unfortunately, though Astyanax appears to borrow from these and similar games, it lacks the polish of these games. The controls often feel unresponsive and the hit detection can be poor. The cut scenes, though attractive, really do not add a lot to a very basic save-the-princess storyline. Even powering up your axe has its problems. Along with your power bar increasing, you will also be able to upgrade your weapon when you receive a special token from the stone idols placed throughout the levels. The first token you will get changes your axe to a spear, which actually decreases your attack power. If you find another token, you will then wield a sword, which is the most powerful of the three weapons, but unless you are sure you will be able to upgrade to the sword, there is no reason to take one of these tokens, as it will just make defeating your enemies more difficult.

Astyanax (NES)

The graphics are probably the one area in which Astyanax shines, but there are still issues that prevent it from really excelling even in this regard. For an NES game, your character sprite is large, as are those for many of your enemies, such as the skeletons and the mini-bosses. The problem this creates is that it only takes four or five enemies to appear onscreen to cause a lot of flicker and a painful amount of slowdown. This slowdown will often be crippling, as it makes the controls that much more unresponsive, which will often lead to you taking cheap hits and falling into one of many pits to your doom. Strangely, there does not appear to be a lot of slowdown when facing the end bosses, which are huge and well defined. As is the case with many NES games featuring large bosses, the background is removed for boss fights, and all that will appear onscreen are a ground plane, your character, and the boss. While the bosses look nice, they are not well animated, and will frequently feature just one or two parts that actually appear to move. It's not enough to detract totally from the presentation of these enemies, but it is noticeable.

Overall, Astyanax isn't a bad game, and for those of us looking for hack-and- slash action on the NES, it is probably one of the better titles to choose from. Though the game does not rank among the best the 8-bit era has to offer, it will provide a couple of hours of fun - interspersed with the occasional expletive as you fall victim to another cheap pit death ...
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