Does anyone even know how to pronounce Astyanax?
To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 2/29/16 – 3/4/16
My Difficulty: 5/10
With NES game prices still on the collective rise, there are plenty of inexpensive games remaining and a number of them are more fun to play than their price tag would suggest. Astyanax is a common game that runs around $5 and I think the experience here is good enough to justify the cost. It’s a bit clumsy at times, the story is pretty hokey, and it takes some time to get accustomed to the gameplay, but nevertheless I had fun with the game.
The Astyanax was released in arcades in late 1989. In Japan, the game is known as The Lord of King. It was developed by Aicom and published by Jaleco. The NES version was just called Astyanax and was released on the NES in March 1990. It was released in Europe and Japan around the same time as the US. This is the first Jaleco game covered for Take On The NES Library. Jaleco is one of the more prolific NES publishers with 22 games to their credit. Sometimes, Jaleco is also attributed as the developer for the NES game. It’s hard to say for sure who actually developed Astyanax. The NES game maintains similar mechanics to the arcade version, but it is a completely different game with a different story, levels, and bosses.
Astyanax is a side-scrolling action game. You play as a high school student named Astyanax who gets pulled into another dimension and you must save Princess Rosebud from the evil wizard Blackhorn. You are armed with a battle axe used to defeat enemies. You can also jump and use magic spells. One of the primary mechanics in this game is the power meter. The power meter determines how much damage your attacks will do. It charges up until it either reaches the max or you attack. Swinging the axe resets the power meter back to zero. The idea is that you can swing the axe constantly for little damage, or wait a little bit to perform a much stronger attack. Either approach can work depending on the situation.
You also have a magic meter that lets you cast three magic spells. You can switch the active spell at any time by pausing the game and selecting which spell to use. Spells are activated by holding up and pressing B just like the subweapons in Castlevania. The first spell is Bind which freezes all enemies for a few seconds. This spell is incredibly useful because it also lets Astyanax walk right through frozen enemies without taking any kind of damage or knockback. The Blast spell attacks all enemies within a pretty wide range and it costs more than the Bind spell. The Bolt spell is the most expensive spell but it does major damage to all enemies on screen.
There are also powerups you can obtain by destroying statues placed throughout the levels. Red potions recover a bit of health and blue potions fully restore health. The power supply looks sort of like a worm and it increases your maximum power meter. The wing lets you recharge your power meter faster. The axe powerup lets you change your weapon. You start off with the axe. The first powerup switches the axe for a spear, and the next one upgrades from the spear to the sword. The spear is weird in that is it pretty much a downgrade as it’s the weakest weapon. The default axe is in the middle and the sword is the most powerful. The stronger the weapon, the stronger the magic attacks are, but the tradeoff is that spells are more expensive when using stronger weapons. Sometimes it is to your advantage to carry the spear for awhile to be able to cast the Bind spell more often in order to clear tough sections of a level. Another powerup you’ll find is the fairy Cutie. She acts like your guide throughout the story segments of the game. When you find her in the levels, you can either have her refill all your magic or she will let you select which weapon you want to use. Finally, you can find a mini Astyanax figure for a 1up.
Astyanax has six levels and each level except for the first level has two sub-levels. The levels take place in typical locales such as a castle, the forest, the mountains, and so on. Most of the levels have you going from left to right, but a few levels are vertical. One of the later levels is a maze where you need to navigate a series of rooms while looking for the correct door in order to proceed. Along the way you will fight stronger ground enemies like skeletons or trolls as well as weaker airborne enemies like birds. There is some platforming involved as well which is pretty tricky given the onslaught of enemies. This is where plant enemies tend to appear up out of the ground and toss projectiles at you that will often knock you back into pits. The Bind spell is almost essential for these platforming portions since the spell effect usually lasts long enough to cross over all the pits ahead. If you run out of magic at any time it makes the levels quite a bit more challenging.
At the end of each sub-level you are greeted by a mini-boss. Each one is about your size and they have a lot more health than the average enemies. Some have more complicated movement patterns, some throw projectiles, and others even have magic spells that they cast against you. They are often accompanied by a full health powerup so they aren’t too difficult to deal with at full health. About half of the sub-levels follow up these fights with a real boss encounter. These bosses are much larger and they usually are as tall as the screen so they can be much more formidable just due to their size. There is no health recovery between the mini-boss and the level boss so that adds to the challenge. In a departure from most games, all the spells are equally as effective against the bosses as they are against the basic enemies. Even the Bind spell stops them dead in their tracks, so that alleviates some of the frustration. Dying against the boss is a real pain because any death sends you all the way back to the beginning of the sub-level, plus it degrades your weapon down one level. You do get unlimited continues though so you can just keep plugging away at it and make progress that way.
There is also an overarching story that is driven via cutscenes in between each level. This is very much like the Ninja Gaiden games in that you play some levels, fight a boss, and watch story cutscenes. The story itself is nothing to write home about, but it’s there and can provide a reason to keep going I guess.
This was my first time playing Astyanax. I didn’t own this one as a kid but I remember reading about it in some gaming guidebooks I had. I ended up with several copies through buying game lots. That means I have had lots of opportunities to play the first three or four screens of the first stage! My first impression was that the game is really clunky. The jumping is slow and the attack is just a bit slow too. I had to play around a bit and get used to the timing, but it eventually clicked. Attacking enemies in the air is really difficult to get the hang of because you have to attack a bit earlier than you would think to make contact, and whenever the enemies are moving too it makes it all the more difficult. I got better at it but I still missed attacks a lot. Utilizing the spells makes the game so much easier. Pretty much any time I encountered a gap I would cast the Bind spell so that I could happily pass right through. I used Bind almost exclusively in the game though I made headway on some of the later bosses with the Blast spell. I didn’t use Bolt at all because I rarely had enough magic power to use it anyway.
It only took me two nights of playing to finish Astyanax. The first night was sort of a trial run to get used to the game. I spent the majority of my time clearing the first level. I found the game pretty challenging right from the start. The first stage is decently long and there was a lot of dying and restarting while I was getting used to the game. I died at the boss a couple of times and had to start all over. I think the game gets easier during Levels 2 and 3 before ramping up in Level 4 and beyond, but I believe that has more to do with getting acclimated to the controls than to the levels themselves. It was in Level 4 where I drew the line and stopped playing for the night.
I wasn’t able to play any NES for three nights in between my attempts. I almost didn’t play the night of my winning run either. I went to bed really early and got up in the middle of the night to do some stuff around the house. After I was done I figured what the heck, I’ll play for an hour and see what happens. I blasted through the early game without much trouble and then I decided to just go for it. The last level stumped me for awhile. That one is the maze level I mentioned earlier. I thought I had a handle on it but after awhile I realized I wasn’t actually getting anywhere. There’s a trick to the level that took me awhile to figure out and I’m a bit surprised I figured it out without any help. Even with that knowledge I still had to replay the level a few times to get through it, but that was my last real hurdle with Astyanax and I beat it soon after. I didn’t beat it in a single credit but I only had to continue twice, so that’s pretty good for my second try. The ending to the game is exceptionally cheesy too. I won’t spoil that one here! That one hour of playing turned into almost two hours but I have no regrets!
Astyanax seems to have a reputation for being a very challenging game but I found it to be right about average difficulty. The hard part is learning how to land your attacks, but the very useful spells and unlimited continues really evens things out overall. If I can clear it for the first time in a couple of days, then I think average difficulty is a pretty fair assessment. The music in the game is pretty good too. I don’t think I played it quite enough for the music to lodge itself in my brain, although I have heard the theme in the first level a few times before and I like that one.
Astyanax is a pretty good game to have on the cheap. It has nice colorful graphics and lot of large, detailed sprite work, as well as some nice music to go with it. The game plays fine too. It’s a nice little romp. I don’t think everyone will like it but at least it won’t be much of a loss in that case. I mean, I’d rather play Ninja Gaiden when choosing a game in this style, but I think most people would agree with that.