Battle Axe is an unfortunate title that is plagued by a general feeling of disappointment. Helmed by the venerable Henk Neiborg (of Shantae fame), it aimed to invoke old school classics like Zombies Ate My Neighbours and Golden Axe. Needless to say, all things pointed to a promising nostalgic throwback. It’s a shame then that a distinct lack of content, stagnant levels of variety, and a price tag so rich it could cause diabetes, killed the game before it even arrived.
Beards, Breasts, and Biceps, Oh My
Players take on the role of one of three characters: the beard-thwacking, transdimensional Radagast-wannabe, Lolo, the sultry, dagger twirling elf, Fae or the world’s tallest, cannon-toting man-dwarf, Rooney. You will take your chosen character through four visually distinct, yet mechanically identical stages, beat up a bunch of enemies, kill a few bosses and watch the end credits.
Each character comes with their own set of three abilities, which gives the illusion of variety. This is nothing but a ruse, and each character ends up playing more-or-less identically. Sure Rooney might have more health than Lolo, but they will both be staying back throwing projectiles until everything is dead. There is very little reason to replay the game with other characters – they are essentially reskins.
Enemies are also, for the most part, mindless goons to be slaughtered in their dozens. There might be visual variety, but the vast majority of them will aimlessly walk towards you. A few might have a ranged attack, and there are several stationary turrets, but there isn’t much here. You can get a feel for Battle Axe in the first 30-or-so seconds of gameplay, and it loses its luster shortly after that. Its 40-minute runtime felt agonizingly long by the end. Running out of lives comes with a hefty punishment too – you are sent back to the start of the game, exacerbating the game’s snore-inducing issues further.
It Just Keeps Getting Worse
Bosses are also a huge letdown. Depending on the difficulty, they end up being anti-climactic pushovers or equally disappointing sponges. They went down easily and left a sour taste in my mouth. Battle Axe only has a handful of bosses, so it would have been nice if they were a highlight, not a mere footnote.
This all sounds negative, and that’s mainly because it is, however, the game does have some notable upsides. Firstly, the game plays wonderfully. Wandering about unleashing hair-based justice feels great. It has eight-directional movement and aiming, so going where you want to be, and shooting what you want to shoot, is easy. Everything is tight and well oiled, it’s just the stuff you do that is tiresome.
Battle Axe also tries to infuse some strategy into its gameplay with the shop system. Between levels, you can exchange gold for various temporary or permanent upgrades. These could be restoratives to keep your character healthy or a boost to their maximum health. It’s a shame that there aren’t more options in the shop and that the game is over before any of it really matters.
At Least It Looks Pretty
The main draw to Battle Axe is its visuals, which are absolutely gorgeous to behold. Character designs are chunky and full of charm, animations are smoother than a well-stirred boat of gravy, and the environments a treat. Unfortunately, the game has a tendency to chug on certain levels, which is both surprising and disappointing.
What stood out most, to me, was the superb music that accompanied the otherwise humdrum action. Composed by Manami Matsumae (Shovel Knight, Mega Man), the soundtrack hits every nostalgic, retro-inspired note imaginable and had me lingering in stages longer than I should so I could hear those sweet licks.
The game comes with a few extra modes to pad content, namely local co-op, Infinite Mode, and New Game+. Whilst the game’s flaws are somewhat covered up when you have a mate accompanying you, it doesn’t do anywhere near enough to make the game worth playing. Infinite Mode is just an endless string of levels, forcing you to engage with the game’s tired mechanics until you die in-game, or in real life. New Game+ is nothing more than mirrored stages and more grunts littering boss arenas – not worth the time. These modes ultimately offered nothing of value.
Battle Axe is a game that contains around 40 minutes of unique content and struggles to keep its gameplay interesting for even half that. It’s boring, repetitive, short, and uninspired. It also comes with a shockingly high entry fee of £25 (or $30 USD), which is beyond egregious for the amount, and quality, of the content on offer. Visuals, controls, music, and big-named contributors are not enough to save Battle Axe from crushing mediocrity.
WAIT FOR SALE ON BATTLE AXE
Many thanks goes to Numskull Games for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.
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Forged in the rainy wilds of northern England, I carved a path of mediocrity through generations and genres. My play style is often described as: “optimistically awful”.