Astyanax. What a weird choice for a game title. Most games live or die on store shelves from factors not even related to whether the game is good or not. Box art, customer awareness, the screenshots used to “sell it”, all of these are elements that can make or break a game at retail. I mean, when you think about it, there is no way in hell Mega man should have been a hit with that atrocious cover. At the least, with a title like Astyanax you know quite a few people are going to pick it up and look at it, wondering what the hell does that word even mean?
Astyanax was originally released in arcades in 1989. I have only seen screenshots of it and found out about it after the fact. The NES game was also released the same year however like Rygar before it is a completely different game. The Astyanax in the title refers to the hero of the game, a 16-year old high school student who is transported to the world of Remlia to save its princess, Rosebud. With no other way to return home aside from saving her you take axe in hand and proceed on your quest.
A side scrolling platformer, gameplay is exactly the same as Legendary Axe for the Turbo-Grafx 16. You have a meter that charges up and controls the power behind your swings and can be extended permanently by collecting items contained in idol statues. Unlike LA, in addition to your axe you have 3 magic spells that require different amounts of magic: Blind, Blast, and Bolt. Also, you can upgrade your weapon 2 times, axe-spear-sword. In a very strange twist, the spear is the weakest one but is required in order to obtain the sword. How fucked up is that? The game is decently long and takes place across 6 levels. Each of the 6 levels are broken up into multiple parts and all have a mini boss or boss at the end. The bosses are one of the game’s graphical highlights.
The graphics are insanely detailed by NES standards. The sprites are absolutely huge and the backgrounds follow suit in terms of detail. The game throws a large number of enemies at you at once, which is impressive but not always a good idea. Nearly all of the bosses are towering monstrosities that dwarf you and are the game’s high point. Jaleco really went all out creating the look of the game. Like Ninja Gaiden the game is filled with cut scenes that move the story forward at a good clip. Even the music is catchy and suits each level perfectly. It is a bit comical how seriously the game takes itself at times but that isn’t really a minus. The ending cutscenes are very long and make completing the game well worth the trip.
This is very much an amalgamation of elements from many of the best Nintendo games. The only keeping it from being mentioned in the same breath as classics such as Ninja Gaiden and Castlevania is polish. The game delights in throwing as much on screen as possible but this comes at a price: crippling slowdown. There are times where the game will slow to a crawl, music and all, and it happens frequently. The collision detection is also very spotty, with clean hits missing or being forced into breathing range for attacks to register.
The Castlevania games are notorious for throwing Medusa heads at you in the worst possible scenarios but they at least show some restraint. Here that isn’t taken into consideration as you’ll face the possibility of falling into a pit at nearly every opportunity. There is some suspect enemy placement; many times you’ll be forced to waste magic to proceed or risk a one hit kill. This plus the slowdown means you will be starting many of the levels over repeatedly.
Even taking those criticisms into consideration at most they keep the game from being a 9 out of ten. This is still a damned fine platformer that unfortunately went unnoticed during that period. It’s unfortunate that it doesn’t reach the heights it aspired to but will still entertain you for a few hours.