Golden Axe (MD) Review

Golden Axe was a very early Mega Drive game, and one of the first ones I played. I enjoyed it, but I never got fully into it, the closest being when me and a friend completed it when he slept over (which isn’t that impressive, looking back at how short the game actually is). Still! It’s a scrolling beat ‘em up, so let’s take a look!

Background:

This is how they played tennis back in the day!

Golden Axe was, surprise surprise, originally an Arcade game, released in May 89. That being said the Mega Drive port arrived in December that year (apart from Europe, who got in December 90) so it shows a home version was always on the cards. A TurboGrafx-CD version was released in Japan in 1990, while a Master System port was released in English speaking markets March 90 (and probably later in Europe). The MS port is single player only and created a new character for the player to control…

It was later included in many, many game compilations over the years, from a Mega CD release I had up to the recently released Mega Drive collection on the PS4, and many in between.

Gameplay:

“Hey, check out my amazing magic! … Oh. Erm, it was bigger yesterday, I swear!”

This is our first fantasy-based scrolling beat ‘em up, so it is a bit of a change in pace to beat up mace-wielding barbarian-looking guys, or skeleton warriors. Otherwise, you scroll to the right and beat people / things up, but with a few catches. Firstly you can build up a magic meter, and when it reaches one of four levels you can unleash a magic attack that damages everything on screen, the more magic you have filled, the more damage it does (and impressive it looks!). You can refill your magic and health during or in between levels by attacking thieves that run around with sacks of potions, the in between levels part taking place while your party is camping, the background music that plays during those moments is pretty much iconic between myself and my friends…

The other major difference in gameplay comes from mounts you can, well, mount and control. You have the Cockatrice and its tail whip, and a few Dragons with various fire breathing attacks. That’s it really. Obviously there isn’t much in terms of genre clichés here given the setting, there are pits to throw people down, and female and overweight enemies but they don’t match the stereotypical look or breathe fire, respectively…

I will point out that the combat is EXTREMELY slow. You can do a single short combo, throw enemies and do a running and jumping strike, the latter being the best way to deal with most enemies, frankly. It’s also extremely short at only eight short levels, which is admittedly two more than the Arcade version…

There’s also a duel mode where you can fight each other in a 1 on 1 fighting game mode, though with such simple combat I don’t know why you would.

Graphics and Sound:

“Oh God, Battler, I said attack the thieves!”    “Children can be thieves sometimes….?”    “*sigh*”…

The graphics are okay. It was an early release on the system, so I can forgive things for looking a bit… plain and undetailed. The backgrounds and foregrounds are unique and detailed though, and moments where screaming civilians run past as you advance is a neat touch.

Sound is… weird. The background tunes are catchy and fine, but the sound effects are, well, as I said, weird. When you hit an enemy there’s an odd “plip” sound, which is my best attempt to describe it, and then when an enemy falls to the floor there is a weirder soundeffect that I can’t describe. Beyond a comical butt-of-the-weapon-hitting-skull knocking sound, civilians screaming and the magic soundeffects, that’s it. Again, early days for the Mega Drive, but there is something about that enemy falling sound that I always identify with the game, ever since I was young…

Story:

The giant red knight of yore… is probably not what they’re called.

The evil Death Adder has stolen the mythical Golden Axe and captured the King of Yuria and his daughter. Three warriors decide to travel across the land to save them: Ax Battler, the man who wields a… sword and whose mother was killed by Adder, Gilius Thunderhead, an ax wielding dwarf whose twin brother was killed by the forces of Death Adder, and Tyris Flare, an Amazon with a longsword who lost both her parents to Death Adder.

The three travel across the land, encountering a village on the back of a turtle and travelling the skies on a giant eagle before confronting, and killing, Adder himself… OR IS HE REALLY DEAD?! Either way, the land is saved… although this is the Mega Drive version, so it’s not over yet! Instead you do a bit more travelling and fight Death Adder’s mentor: Death Bringer. Once he’s dead the King gives you the Golden Axe.

Thoughts Then:

Skeletons with shields pop out of the ground atop a giant eagle’s back… Makes sense to me!

As I said in the opening paragraph, I enjoyed it, and had a great time completing it with a friend, but as soon a faster-paced games like the Streets of Rage series or my copy of Final Fight CD joined my collection it was too slow and dull for even child me’s tastes. Add in the fact I was never really into fantasy and I soon went off it. Still, it was fun for a while.

4 Star Game Old

Thoughts Now:

“I told you they were thieves!”    “You were right all along, I’m sorry for doubting you, old friend!”

It was a good nostalgia trip, playing through this game with the same friend I did a few decades ago, but it was a short trip, and one full with frustratingly slow combat. It just isn’t up to much nowadays, beyond a quick trip for old time’s sake…

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