Sunday, June 21, 2009

Legendary Axe II

Victor Musical Industries / NEC

A kick-ass hack-and-slasher in the vein of its widely lauded predecessor, LA2 is unique because of its atmosphere: I've yet to experience another game quite as dark and brooding and melancholy as this one. The overhanging feeling of despair isn't conveyed through cinematic events; instead, it's established via elements of in-game presentation. The music is so grim and somber; the enemies, so bizarre; the stages, so bleak and unforgiving. And there's no new dawn to look forward to, as even the concluding sequence is completely fucked up. I know a fellow who doesn't enjoy playing the game because it depresses him. I understand why he feels that way, but I can't say I'm similarly repelled by the darkness. In fact, said darkness is what draws me into the adventure.

The soundtrack plays a major role in establishing that compelling atmosphere. It's received so much praise over the years that additional commentary probably isn't necessary, but I must note its effortless segues from quiet sadness (Stage 2) to strong, heavy riffage (Stage 3) to outright creepiness (Stage 5).

And speaking of Stage 5... what a wonderfully crazy level it is. Within the grotesque "innards" constituting the level's boundaries roam fire-breathing ostrich monsters, slithering worm creatures, and slime men who attack via glorious limb-splitting suicide. It's utter madness, disgusting and eerie and outlandish... and absolutely awesome.

A stormy tower ascent follows the memorably abominable Stage 5 and precedes the game's biggest surprise of all: a high-tech, maze-like final stage, which would be difficult to pass even if its complex layout were your only concern. But you'll have to deal with the brutal robots who inhabit it as well.

Those robots are sure to knock you around quite a bit, but you won't take any particularly harrowing falls during your encounters with them. However, earlier levels that require you to make lengthy climbs to their peaks (2, 4, and 6, specifically) host plenty of enemies and traps that can send you reeling back to their starting points, and steps and leaps must be retraced against tight time limits.

Dark and weird are clearly the running themes here, whereas the first Axe explored a broader spectrum of concepts. I wouldn't change Axe 2 for anything, as I love the uniqueness of it, but I do prefer its multifaceted predecessor overall. Still, this one has its advantages: it provides you with three main weapons to wield as opposed to one and pits you against a giant mega-bastard of a final boss.

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