Platform: Sega Megadrive
Original Release Date: 1989
Price now: £10-15
Golden Axe is a game held in fond memory by many as defining the side scrolling brawler and was released waaay Bach in 1989 in arcades before being ported to the Sega Megadrive, or Genesis for those in the USA. Golden Axe spawned 3 sequels, a 2D beat-em-up spin off, a 3D update on PS3 and 2 spinoffs spanning nearly 20 years.
Golden Axe is set in a Conan The Barbarian style world called Yuria which has been taken over by the evil Death Adder. Death Adder has kidnapped the royal family as well as the magical Golden Axe and is threatening to destroy them all if the people of Yuria don’t accept him as ruler. The player can take control of one of 3 warriors; A dwarf called Gilius Thunderhead, a barbarian called Ax Battler (really) or a female warrior in very little clothing called Tyris Flare. Each of the main characters have their own reason for joining the adventure, all involving the death of loved ones.
The game is a side-scrolling hack and slash with players trying to get from left to right without dying. Each character plays similarly, with a a double handed weapon slashing and hacking away at a plethora of enemies, both male and female. If a player hits an enemy a few times in succession, the enemy will drop to its knee allowing for a brutal crack on the head from the hilt of the players weapon before being thrown, kicked, rolled or otherwise catapulted across the screen or into other enemies.
Each character’s melee combat is the same but with slightly different animations but magic is what sets the characters apart. Magic is filled up by kicking little sprites that drop blue bottles. Magic hurts all enemies on screen and grows more powerful depending on how many bottles the player has. The game also offers a range of mounts from fire breathing dragons to odd bright pink beaked lizard creatures that can tail whip. Most side scrollers of the time didn’t have mounts so this added an extra dimension giving Golden Axe an edge.
The levels try for a good level of variety with forests, cliffs, villages and mountains but they all have a similar colour palette and not a lot sets them apart. The levels do however have multiple levels of play which helps to break them up as well as some deadly drops and the odd weather effect. The music is as to be expected with a game from this era, but it does well to change with each stage, unfortunately this doesn’t stop it from becoming monotonous.
The gameplay is smooth although as with all titles of this ilk, the hit detection isn’t great at times. This can be forgiven by the sheer fun it is to play, especially on local multiplayer with a friend. The main downfall is that it’s incredibly short, around 40 minutes from start to finish, however, with almost all games of this time…it’s very challenging so the odds of completing it first time are slim. 40 minutes for a full game is unforgivable today (unless it’s free), but it is important to remember that the original release of Golden Axe was nearly 30 years ago and these games were carving the way for games to come.
Going this far back for a retro title isn’t for everyone as they can be very frustrating at times but if you’re looking for a short but fun title, especially with a few friends, Golden Axe is the way to go.