Battle Axe Xbox One review: Worth the Grind

You’d be surprised what kind of retro-inspired experience you can put together with the right people. In this case, pixel artist Henk Nieborg, who’s been working on a number of games since the 90s, including various Shantae games.

Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, he’s been able to team up with Mega Man composer Manami Matsumae on a 16-bit inspired project called Battle Axe, which arrived on some consoles last week and will debut on Nintendo Switch later this week. And it’s good stuff for those of you who like this sort of thing, despite some noticeable quirks – namely the price.

Published by Numskull Games, the top-down adventure has you choosing between three different characters – a Viking warrior with a helpful little cannon, a dark elf with a pair of twin blades, and an elderly wizard with a penchant for spells. Each character has up-close strikes, as well as distance shots that are ideal for blasting an enemy from afar – though it’s somewhat limited based on a charge meter, shown in your character stats. Once you have them, you can also activate super spells to clear the screen, and digest food to get back some of your lost health.

The game’s general Arcade Mode has you battling through different enemies and rescuing oddly named citizens before coming face-to-face with a boss that requires a bit of strategy, including a large crab creature, an oversized dragon and more. Once you figure out a proper pattern, just like the old-school games, you can beat them and continue on your merry little way.

What’s excellent about Battle Axe is that it’s a fairly easy game to grasp, though there’s a good challenge level that will have you conserving as much energy as you can. After all, once you’re out of lives, it’s game over, just like in some arcade games. Fortunately, there’s only a handful of stages here, so getting to the end should be just a matter of timing your attacks and fighting through to the end.

Battle Axe fully supports local co-op as well, which is outstanding. You can team up with a friend and clean house in a fun two-player session. Online’s not in the cards, sadly, but it’s a great game to play with friends. It wouldn’t have been a bad idea to have more characters tho. But at least the gameplay is responsive and tight, and the difficulty is right there on the old-school level.

Where Battle Axe truly wins is with its presentation. The 16-bit style graphics are excellent throughout, and the animations are razor sharp, right down to the large bosses. The game also runs smoothly, especially on the Xbox One, where it feels right at home. Not to mention that Matsumae’s soundtrack, though on a loop, is superb and really allows the stretching of composer talent. Well done.

That said, Battle Axe has some hitches. It only has two modes – Arcade and Infinite – and while they’re a lot of fun, they can get old over time. Infinite does have some great exploring to do for players that are up for it, but a New Game + would’ve been an ideal addition, particularly with some new stages.

For that matter, the game’s price is a bit too high for its own good. Battle Axe would’ve been a novel investment for around $15 or $20. At $30, some might balk at jumping into this adventure, though it’s still worth its weight in gold. It just depends how much you appreciate some old-school flavor from Henk’s camp.

If you’re on board, though, Battle Axe doesn’t disappoint. It’s got retro appeal throughout, even with its lack of modes and stages; and the visuals and music really pop to life. And it’s a joy to play in local co-op, if you’ve got a friend that has an axe to grind with you. If you can handle the deep price point, Battle Axe is a worthy weapon.

RATING: 8/10

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