Sometimes, you just want to hack down enemies twice as big as you, in an environment with a false title. If that’s your present mood, Golden Axe is the game for you!
Released in 1989 by Sega, Golden Axe–which, in a bit of false advertising, does not actually contain any axes made of gold–has you taking control of one of three heroes. The plot is simple: The evil Death Adder is wreaking havoc on the land, and has kidnapped the king and princess. He also killed Alex, a friend of the heroes. It’s your job, playing as either Tyris Flare (A woman who, at peak power, can summon dragons), Ax Battler (Who battles using….a sword), or Gilius Thunderhead (The actual axe user of the group), to navigate the countryside, including a village and the dreaded Fiend’s Path, to make it to Death Adder’s castle and a final confrontation with him.
Your three characters are different, but not along the power-speed axes so common in beat-em-ups. Instead, the characters are sorted by weapon range and magic power. Gilius has the longest range with his weapon, and at exactly the right distance, can perform an infinite combo with his axe. His magic power is the weakest, though. Ax Battler is your balanced type character, while Tyris Flare has the strongest magic by far, but the shortest range. Knowing when and how to use your magic is paramount, as throughout your adventure, and after each level, you’ll come across bandits who will yield more magic containers. Particularly with Gilius Thunderhead, it’s easy to find yourself wasting these opportunities due to already being full of magic.
For a game released in 1989, Golden Axe has an impressive variety of moves. Your character can walk, dash, and jump, and attacking during various combinations of these will yield different moves. You can also hit jump and attack at the same time while on the ground to do a back attack. As with many beat-em-ups, though, there is one move in particular that will become your go-to move once you realize how useful it is. The other way Golden Axe adds variety to the formula is with its mountable creatures. These beasts can attack with either their tails, fireball, or streams of fire, depending on the animal. Be careful, though, because your foes can also mount these and use them against you.
This port of Golden Axe also includes a Beginner Mode. In this mode, you play only the first three levels, and magic isn’t used up all at once like in the main game. A third mode, The Duel, gives you one long life to make it through a series of one-screen battles, draining the enemies’ health before time runs out. While these, especially The Duel, are a neat add-on, they’re still just that–a distraction from the main game.
Getting through the main game isn’t the easiest thing in the world, at least at first. You start with three lives, and can continue three times, for a total of twelve lives to make it through. And the final boss is difficult to the point of being cheap. Still, it’s doable on the default settings (Three “health points” per life; you can set this to be as high as five points a life). Additionally, the game isn’t very long, being roughly 20 minutes from start to finish. At a very high level, it’s possible to beat it in under 10 minutes with full knowledge of the mechanics/what does the most damage/etc.
Golden Axe is a quick, fun little romp through a fantasy land that’s cheap enough to be worth investigating. There are several versions available–the Genesis version in particular was re-released a number of times. I played it on the Playstation 2 Sega Genesis Collection (Which, oddly, removed some of the voice samples), and I would say to pick it up as part of a compilation of games to get the most value for your money (Be it the Sega Genesis Collection, Sega 6 Pak, or another collection.