You know what I REALLY hate, giant ghostly dragon heads!...There's one right behind me...isn't there?
Gold all up in my Chicken Leg.
Here we stand at the precipice of an important moment in this blog and this quest. This is the birthplace of a Sega franchise. A big one at that, one many people closely associate with the console itself. Now its true that pretty much everything we’ve played so far has been a sega game and many have been part of a sega franchise. What makes this one unique is its lack of obscurity and its continuing, albeit somewhat diminished, presence as a sega staple. The most recent Golden Axe game came out on the PS3 and Xbox 360.
The Genesis itself would get three games in this series, though the last one only saw a brief release in the US through an online service. And sadly, the best installment of this series never saw a console port. But we will get to these things later. Along with installments on the Master System, including a zelda clone, and game gear Golden Axe is definitely a staple of Sega and is closely identified with the Genesis.
How well does it hold up though?
Firstly let me say beat em ups are one of my favorite genre. In single player or multiplayer, they are one of the most addicting and enjoyable experiences I’ve had with video games. So by genre alone, I already have a softspot for this one.
That said I wouldn't call Golden Axe my favorite. Another sega beat-em-up franchise claims that place in my heart. But this one is certainly a worthy starting point and in many ways a great introduction to the genre.
You play as one of three warriors - the thunder wielding dwarf Gilius Thunderhead with your might axe, the amazon Tyris Flare, or the barbarian warrior Ax Battler. Your mission is to rescue the King and Princess from the clutches of the invading Death Adder, who has killed your friends and family. Each of you has a slightly different balance of abilities. Gilius is the strongest but his magic is the weakest. Tyris has the strongest magic, and Ax is balanced. In addition each of you has a gamut of spells powered by blue “jars” (they call them jars they are clearly bottles). Gilius uses lighting, Tyris fire, and Ax has earth related powers like quakes. The animation on this is very cool for a very early Genesis title.
My favorite magic animation in the game.
The difficulty level can be just a bit cheap at times on single player, which is why I recommend starting off by increasing your health bar in options before your first venture and if you want to master the game reduce it back to normal once you get some crowd control strategy’s down. Crowd control is really the kick to these early beat em ups.
If you wait a bit at the title screen you get to see these really awesome sketches.
One of the major selling points of the Genesis version of the game is that it featured a bonus level and new ending not found in the arcade version. This new last level is interesting- multiple pit falls could be the end of you or it could work to your advantage depending on your skill. However, the new end boss, Death Bringer, is a very cheap fight and even when I’m at my best it's usually a game of just having enough lives left over to kill him before he kills me.
If I have any other complaints its that the tactics in this game can sometimes get monotonous. Jumping attacks have to be used a bit too frequently compared to standard moves. But the worst is a running lunge attack performed by double tapping in the direction of movement to run, and then slamming the attack button which will cause the character to headbutt or flying kick etc. depending on who you are playing as. Its actually a cool technique. The problem is for some of the boss fights this is the only safe way to dispatch them, and performing this technique over and over can be repetitive.
Overall I enjoyed my time with Golden Axe. Its not my favorite beat em up on the console by any stretch but its a great place to start and the campy silly Conan the barbarian flavor makes it an enjoyable adventure, especially with a friend. I look forward to watching this series evolve over the course of its future installments.