Astyanax or however you pronounce it is basically a clone of Legendary Axe on the PC Engine. The gameplay is quite simple, you run from left to right bashing skeletons over the head with your Axe, making it to the end of the stage will often lead to a boss. The first thing I noticed when going through the first stage of the game is the sprites are just massive. The main character is at least doubled in size over other action platformers on the NES.
You can power up your weapon by getting a powerup that lets you go from a broad ax to a spear to finally a sword. The sword can kill most enemies by having a fully powered up meter. Pressing up and B uses your magic attack that you can switch between a couple different options. You have to pause, then press up or down to switch between. The one you start off with is a blast that shoots a fireball in all directions. The second one is called bolt which is the most powerful spell. The last one is called Bind that freezes enemies for several seconds and uses the least amount of energy.
This game is tough, like NES tough. Astyanax doesn’t give you save points where you can just come back if you need a break. You have to resort to the good old, put a piece of tape on the light while the NES is still on if you want to save your progress.
I hated when Astyanax would just screw you over by making you fall into pits from being knocked back or saving your magic meter for the boss just to have them not die by using the entire meter up. You’re then left scrambling while slashing away at the leftover boss’s health.
The difficulty really ramps up by stage three where you fall down, face a mini boss, move into the boss room to not only have to go through one but two forms. Could this be any harder?
There’s all kinds of storylines going on in Astyanax, it starts off with this girl in your dreams haunting you while you’re late to your high school biology class. All of a sudden you’re transported into another world by the fairy. You’re sent out to save a princess who’s being held captive by the evil wizard. So yeah, a pretty typical storyline for a game of this calibur.
The cut scenes really blew me away. Some of them scream Ninja Gaiden the way the animations take place.
The levels were pretty basic, there’s not much going on in terms of special effects like parallax scrolling or anything like that. It does a decent job of making you feel like you’re in a generic forest or cave.
One other thing I did end up hating was the respawning enemies. There are spots where you stand to take out an enemy just to have the same one come back right after. This is a total drag and can definitely make Astyanax feel NES hard.
Cutie will remain your companion throughout most of the game, often helping you and refilling your magic meter or helping you change your weapon.
Stage 6-1 was driving me nuts. In this stage you have to take out a skeleton who’s guarding the door for you to progress. This was the only stage like this in the entire game. So there I am pressing up, yeah that didn’t work. Let’s try every other combination of buttons? Yup still not working. You actually have to hold up for about 3 seconds in order to enter the door. Who puts this in the game? What’s next, press the A button to jump but wait three seconds for it to actually kick in!
At the end of Astyanax there’s a boss rush that wasn’t really too tough. I often thought that boss rushes felt like a cop out. I don’t know, maybe it feels different to take the platform upwards in what appears to be the magic carpet from Aladdin.
There is an Arcade version of the game called The Astyanax, yes The Astyanax. I don’t get it! The arcade release doesn’t play or feel like the NES version at all. It’s really a good thing that this NES port is nothing like that arcade version. More often than not, the guys at the development studio will try so hard to cram every little detail from the Arcade version on the nintendo release and get left with some janky mess.
The music in Astyanax is average at best. Are we starting to get a feel for where Astyanax falls in terms of best action platformers on the NES? The best way I could describe it is that everything feels suspenseful. If you were expecting Bloody Tears quality of tracks, you’ll be disappointed then.
Astyanax isn’t perfect but is a great action platforming game on the NES and is easily in the top 100 games on the system. It’s also still very affordable at around $10 a copy loose which is odd considering there are a ton of more common NES games that command double if not triple the cost of Astyanax. So yes, grab a copy of Astyanax NES while you still can.