Retro Review: Golden Axe
Platform: Sega Megadrive
Golden Axe is quite possibly my favourite game of all time! I’d even go as far to say that it is a perfect game. The graphics are fantastic, it has amazing music, it’s got excellent gameplay and it’s long enough that that you feel like you’ve had a great time by not out staying it’s welcome. I have lost count of how many times I’ve completed Golden Axe and I play it at least once a year. It’s one of those games that if I pick it up I have to play it to completion and I can’t just play it for 5 minutes. To me, those are the qualities of a perfect game.
If that isn’t enough to convince you of its credentials then where else can you ride on kickass beasts, walk on the backs of a giant eagle and turtle and kick the crap out of annoying little pixies!
My first memory of Golden Axe is playing it in the arcade. I remember being taken by its fantasy setting which reminded me of movies I loved like Conan the Barbarian, Red Sonja and Hawk the Slayer. Ok maybe not Hawk the Slayer because it’s a bit crap but you get my drift!
My real love for Golden Axe started on the Megadrive and later on with the fantastic Amiga version. It’s no understatement to say that Golden Axe was a reason to own a Sega Megadrive. It showed off the capabilities of the machine and made you feel like you had the arcade perfect version of the game in your home. Of course it’s not arcade perfect but it’s as close as it was going to get, plus the Megadrive had a few features that weren’t included in the arcade.
Golden Axe is a side scrolling hack and slash game where you get to choose from three characters each of whom have motivation to fight the evil Death Adder. The fantastic character selection screen is a huge skeleton hand where you get to choose from the male barbarian Ax Battler, the dwarf Gilius Thunderhead and the female Amazonian Tyris Flare.
Although each character technically has the same moves, they also feel different enough to have their own qualities and reason for choosing your favourite. Ax Battler is your all round character who is quick with his sword but also has a good amount of magic to use. Tyris is weaker than the others but she is quick and her magic ability is unparalleled. Plus her costume is skimpy enough to distract the enemies and make their mothers blush at the same time. My personal favourite character who I still choose to this day has and will always be Gilius Thunderhead. There is something about him that means I always pick him first. It’s definitely not for his magic ability as old Gilly (as I like to call him!) must have failed every wizard class known to man and as a result he has the weakest spells of all the characters. It could be because of his enormous chopper which is quite literally as big as him. The way he swings around his chopper is a sight to behold and always gets me very excited. Sorry, I got carried away for a second then!
One of the many things that I love about Golden Axe is the varied move set available to each character. You can run and do shoulder barges, jumping attacks, double jumping attacks, slash at enemies and depending on how close you are finish them with a couple of smacks to the head with the hilt of your weapon, or pick them up and throw them away. Golden Axe 2 improved on this slightly by allowing you to decide whether you threw them left or right and also throwing them into enemies caused them damage. Although it is quite limited compared to today’s games it offers enough variety which gives you the feeling of mixing up your attacks and developing a strategy based on who you are fighting. There is also a special attack which is the equivalent of the elbow from Double Dragon as you spin around and smack a bad guy who is sneaking up on you.
There are various enemies in the game which obviously have a sword and sorcery element to them and some of them have stepped straight out of a Ray Harryhausen movie. There are your standard orcs and brutes who look like they are holding a bunch of flowers, but I would imagine it is really a mace. Skeletons rise from the grave and they are some of the toughest enemies in the game due to their speed. There are also giants who carry around massive swords and hammers, which are especially dangerous because they will swipe you away with their shields or kick you in the head. In fact the giants revel in their evilness as they stand with their arms folded laughing at you as you prepare to attack. One of my favourite and most hated enemies are the axe wielding women. I hate them because they are especially fast and love shoulder barging you but I also like them because they wear a nice basque and I always used to get a little bit turned on when they appeared. Surely that can’t just be me…….can it?!
As I’ve already mentioned each character has different strengths and types of magic. Gilius has lightening magic, Ax does volcanic damage with massive boulders smashing into the ground and Tyris doles out fire attacks. You collect potions to increase the strength of your magic and the other thing I love about Golden Axe is that the magical effects differ depending on how many potions you have. If you have full potion strength the heavens unleash with Tyris being particularly impressive as she calls to the sky and a huge dragon appears burning all the enemies on screen to a crisp.
There is relief between each level as you try to fall asleep by your camp fire only to be disturbed by pesky pixies (little people, not the band) who run around you giggling like idiots. This is going to sound really mean but they deserve a good kicking because they steal any potions you may have and run around quicker than the chickens from Rocky. If you do manage to hit them the blue pixies drop potions and green pixies drop food.
There are opportunities to get on the back of a wild beast to cause even more mayhem and destruction. There are three creatures you can mount (ooh err!) which have different attacks. One of them smashes his massive tail into bad guys whilst the other two look like dragons and spit fire.
Each level is broken up with a map and progress report of your quest. This is beautifully done as a quill literally draws where you have been and your current destination. This always gives the game a more epic feeling that you are traveling the length and breadth of Yuria on your way to fight Death Adder.
The Megadrive version comes with extra features including a duel where you can test your skills against the many enemies in the game in a very early version of horde mode, whereas in two player you fight against each other. There is also a bonus level after you think you have completed the game.
Golden Axe is a timeless classic video game! You can complete it in about 30 minutes and I know this because I timed myself earlier today with yet another play-through. I honesty don’t know how many times I’ve completed this game but it must be into triple figures. If video games had a hall of fame then Golden Axe would sit very proudly amongst the very best games of all time.
Graphics – Fantastic graphics for a game from 1990 with lots of variety in terms of locations and enemies. 9
Sound – The music from Golden Axe is so catchy and memorable that I often find myself humming it 25 years after its original release. 9
Playability – Golden Axe has that pick up and play factor about it but enough variety with the different moves that it never feels old. 10
Re-Playability – I play Golden Axe to completion at least once a year and always have a good time with it. 10
Overall – Golden Axe is a classic video game and one of my all time favourites. There aren’t many games which I regularly replay but Golden Axe is one of them and I believe I will be playing it for the rest of my life. 10