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In 1989 Golden Axe was released in the arcades and was a great success. Makoto Uchida, who previously worked on Altered Beast, was said to have wanted to create a game that was inspired by Double Dragon and his love for the Conan films. With SEGA’s mission to offer an “arcade at home” experience, it wasn’t long before it was ported to the Sega Genesis and Mega Drive.
As far as home conversions go, Golden Axe is incredibly faithful to the original with only a few minor differences. Obviously the graphics and sound take a bit of a hit, but the art style is very similar. The enemies no longer stay on screen when they die and the classic ending has changed, but overall the Mega Drive version is impressive with the addition of an extra stage after the original final boss and a duel mode for 2 players.
When I was younger I grew up watching Ray Harryhausen movies such as Clash of the Titans and Jason and the Argonauts, which mixed with my Uncle introducing me to Warhammer and Dungeons and Dragons, made me want to experience these kinds of adventures myself. Golden Axe was the first game I remember which allowed me to do this and I absolutely fell in love with it. The ability to play it co-operatively with a friend significantly added to the enjoyment and over the years I’ve found myself coming back to this time and time again.
You can choose to play as Ax Battler (the Barbarian), Tyris Flare (the Amazon), or Gilius Thunderhead (the Dwarf). Each of these are slightly different with Tyris being physically weaker but with more potent magic, Gillius who is physically stronger but lacks punch with his spells, and Ax Battler being somewhere in between. My choice was always Gilius the Dwarf.
The basic premise of the game is to defeat Death Adder who has captured the King and his daughter while in possession of the Golden Axe. This adventure has you traversing on the back of a giant turtle, flying on the back of a giant eagle, going through villages and castles while fighting giants, skeletons and beasts which you can even ride to help take on your foes. One such rideable creature is called the “chicken leg”, which is a bit strange, and is actually featured in the Altered Beast game. There’s nothing better though than jumping onto a dragon and breathing fire on your enemies!
At the end of each level and sometimes in between, you’ll come across little gnome things with sacks which you can punch and kick to steal their magic and health potions. Each character has a different magic meter, which as you store more magic potions, increases the potency of your spells. These can be very fun to watch, especially when maxed out as you destroy everything on screen.
As mentioned previously, the graphics and music for the Mega Drive and Genesis version is impressive for such an early title. In terms of controls, I’ve never had an issue with them, but I guess by today’s standards the characters can feel a little bit slow and sluggish if you’re not doing a lot of charge attacks.
Of course, this game isn’t perfect. The AI can be really dumb sometimes, walking off ledges and it can be frustrating when you’re caught in the middle of them attacking from both sides. Fortunately the basic AI can be exploited to your advantage, so it’s not all bad.
Overall, with nostalgia aside I’d say this game has aged reasonably well. It’s simple side-scrolling beat-em-up action is ideal for quick playthroughs with a friend, and as a single player experience it still holds up quite well due to its enjoyable fantasy setting. Sure, it’s not quite up to the same standard as Streets of Rage 2, but it’s certainly better than Altered Beast in my opinion.