Golden Axe is a belt scrolling hack and slash beat’em up most memorable of its medieval fantasy setting of blades and magic. The game has a real cool factor going for it. Enemies scream when they die in a digitized voice. There are mounts you can ride to change up the way that the game plays. What other game can you see scantly clad women riding fire breathing dragons? Well, just about any game in the late 80s. I have always felt it is one of the most overrated games out there. It plays slow and the combat is shallow for a game so melee focused.
You start the game by selecting one player or two for cooperative action. After that you each get a selection of three characters. The barbarian is decked out in a blue loincloth and swings a sword. The Amazon wears even less clothes and she has a shorter sword, but can carry the most magic to use. The dwarf swings a battleaxe and can carry the least amount of magic only up to a third tier.
I’ve never been able to tell the three apart in terms of gameplay. Maybe the dwarf does the most damage, but the barbarian’s sword is longer. The playable characters look different and that was a step up from the original NES, but in the 16-bit era, every character looked different. This was a mere transition from 8-bit to 16-bit.
The game plays simple enough, one button for attack, another for jump and the third for magic.In a lot of ways, the combat feels similar to Battletoad. If you tap left or right twice, you’ll dash and you can add to it a running attack that enemies have no way of blocking. The dashing attacks become the safest way to take out bosses whose reach is longer than yours. It makes for some dull fights, waiting for them to get up off of the ground and walk back into the screen. Some bosses always stay in the screen, so that expedites things.
You have a typical slash, you can get in close, and lift enemies to throw them, but those are the basics. When you press the attack and jump at the same time, you’ll whirl into an attack behind you. Even with your weapon out, it still only hurts the foe behind you. Its an attack that feels like it does more damage to make up for the skill level and timing involved.
Jumping feels useless even for leaping over the few gaps the game has. It feels easier to dash forward and attack to clear over the jump. A dashing leap does nothing to get distance. This jump gets some major height and its meant to downward thrust enemies to instant death. To do the downward thrust, its a bit more complex than just jump and attack; sure, you can still do that if you want, but to do a downward thrust, you need to dash, jump and then attack to split a skull and instantly kill an enemy. This is the most efficient way to take out enemies, but the problem is they can just move out of the way.
The magic might damage every enemy on screen, but it also takes a while to let the animation play out. The more magic you have, the bigger the attack, but I doubt its doing any more damage than lesser attacks. Its just odd that any of your attacks do such little damage and any foe can take down your health if you’re careless. Another nice touch to the game is that death and even continues let you keep your magic. There’s no pressure to use it if you get low on health.
The way that you’ll collect magic is by kicking gnomes in the face. Yes that’s right, one of the cool things about this game is that thieving blue gnomes carry magic viles and green gnomes have food to replenish your health. They dart back and forth on the screen and stick around until you kick them around. Its a sheer joy, even if it completely puts a halt to the game. Between levels as a bonus round at a campfire where you’re awakened by a blue gnome stealing whatever magic viles you have lying around. Are they stealing them or taking them back from you?
As for the bosses, they’re just big goons with a long reach. Some of them fire projectiles and one can slam the ground to send a shockwave after you. Jumping over it only means that he’ll send out a new one after you. The bosses aren’t immune to your throws either. No matter how big a boss is, you can still pick him up and heave him. Too bad when you fling an enemy, they just pass through their allies.
One of the unique things about Golden Axe is the ranking system. Once all of your lives and continues are gone, you’re given a score and a ranking. Its one of the things to give a quick twenty minute game some replay value.
The Sega Genesis version of golden axe gives you a standard four continues, but you can select how much health you have per life. Enemies always feel like a threat, two of them beating on you just means that they’ll deplete two bars of health instead of one. If you get pinched, you can die easily. Even when you stand up, before you can even attack, you’re still fair game, so your foes can smack you back down to the ground.
Outside of the standard arcade mode, there’s a duel mode that forces you to fight against a gauntlet of enemies. Each victory carries over your existing health to your next opponent. Its a nice addition and you see your health up at the top as well as your foes. When the enemies from the arcade game have so much health, the health bars would have been helpful.
Until you get better at the game, there is a beginner mode that will let you play through the first three stages, before the game cuts you off. This mode is much easier. The enemies seem to only have half of their health. Its a power trip for players where one whirlwind strike can kill an enemy.
I appreciate the game’s choice of button configurations, because its default setting was just too difficult to accurately perform the whirling attack. It felt like I had to rely on lock or I’d end up in the air with a jump.