Like Altered Beast, Golden Axe is always top of the list of “Oh you should totally play Golden Axe” when you say you’re getting into Retro Gaming.
Set in the high fantasy world of Yuria, the dastardly Death Adder has captured the King and Princess, along with the nations symbol, the Golden Axe. Death Adder threatens to kill the King and Princess as well as destroy the Golden Axe unless the populous agree to follow him as ruler.
Enter our three brave heroes, who are all motivated by the fact Death Adder killed family members; we have Ax Battler, a bloke in blue budgie smugglers wielding a broadsword. Tyris Flare, an Amazonian woman that wears a bikini for armour and has a regular sword. Finally we have the Dwarf, named Gilius Thunderhead, of the three he is my preferred and wields a big fuck off axe (in the arcade it was gold).
Each character plays slightly different, Gilius Thunderhead hits harder, but has toss magic. Tyris hits like a butterfly, but gets epic magic power and Ax is somewhere in between.
You will most likely notice the strength on a boss, as with Tyris is feels like it takes an eternity to down people.
As Golden Axe is a side scrolling beat ’em up, you walk left to right, with a pseudo 3D plane, and you punch things with your sword/mighty axe. Little gnome people occasionally appear, and if you smack them in the face they’ll gladly drop a magic potion (health if they’re green), the magic is then used as a special weapon which is usually reserved for a boss. As each character has a different magic power and each level of power requires a different amount, there is a slight tactic in when to use your power. Gilius only needs 4 pots to get his ultimate, Ax needs 6, and Tyris needs 9. As mentioned Tyris’ is the hardest, and Gilius’ is the weakest. But almost every player saves their magic until their meter is full.
Making a “guest appearance” are the chicken-legs from Altered Beast, I didn’t know they were popular, but here they appear as ridable mounts. You also get to ride on two different dragons, one shoots a fireball that will move across the screen, the other shoots flames towards the ground. Avoid the mounts, they’re bloody annoying.
The combat is not good. It isn’t as bad as Altered Beast, but it isn’t on point, or even as in depth as games like Double Dragon II, Batman Returns, Turtles in Time, Final Fight, Streets of Rage, or even Alien Storm. Enemies will ALWAYS move to get either side of you if there is more than one, and the controls aren’t fluid enough to deal with that. You can spam jump and hit, but that is no fun.
There simply isn’t a tactic here, just punch, and hope the AI isn’t especially lucky that day. It is worst on levels with 2 bosses, if the Knights can get either side of you, say goodbye to that credit.
Perhaps the worst thing about Golden Axe is the stun lock, you can be stun locked and beaten till you’re dead. But at the same time, you can stun lock a boss. If you smack them slowly, waiting for the frame of animation of them standing, and hitting them again, and repeat… You can hold the boss in stun lock until they die. It takes all skill out of the game, meaning the hardest bits are dealing with more than one standard fodder.
Stun Lock is also the only real way to beat the game sadly, in arcades the game finishes at level 6, after you beat Death Adder, but on the home port you got level 7 and 8. My fuck Death Bringer, the Level 8 boss is a chore.
He has two skeleton companions that stick to you like flies on shit, and he spams magic attacks. It is possible to beat him in one player, but the reality is you need two players for this bit. One holds him in stun lock, the other deals with the seemingly invincible skeleton buddies.
Golden Axe isn’t bad, but it certainly isn’t good, and it is fun for about 5 minutes. Of all the beat ’em ups I have played it has one of the weakest combat systems, and the lack of strategy makes it mindless. It’ll only take you 25 minutes to beat the game if you can beat it, and it’ll probably take you 10 attempts to be able to beat it.
My advice though, play a better beat ’em up, the game isn’t bad, it just doesn’t hold up well. It barely holds up to it’s 16bit peers. If you really want to play Golden Axe, it is probably best to get in on the many Virtual Arcade type marketplaces, or the SEGA Mega Drive: Ultimate Collection for Xbox360/PS3.
Pros: Each character plays differently, the mission map
Cons: It really isn’t very good.
Back in the day
Golden Axe was very well received in its day sweeping up tonnes of awards, and getting 90%+ scores across the board.