Golden Axe has been ported to more platforms than most people knew existed. The game’s biggest home console presence was undoubtedly felt on Sega’s most popular console, the Mega Drive. During a competitive rivalry with Nintendo, Sega needed to put out as many games as possible that would differentiate themselves from Super Mario Bros., Metroid and the like. One of the most recognized titles to launch this was Golden Axe.
In an era where nearly every arcade title was a side-scrolling, beat ’em up, hack and slash variant that would inevitably have a port to a home console, Golden Axe stood out from the masses. Not due to visuals or sound, as one would expect, but rather from an engaging story and medieval / fantasy themed setting.
The evil Death Adder has captured the King of Yuria and his daughter. To make matters worse Death Adder has taken control of the Golden Axe, a highly sought-after magical weapon that grants him great power. The quest to rescue Yuria from its moment of torment is taken on by three warriors. An over-sized battle axe-wielding dwarf (compensating much?) named Gilius Thunderhead. Thunderhead seeks to revenge his brother’s death by the hands of Death Adder’s minions. Joining him is the barbarian, Ax Battler, who is well equipped with his broadsword and vengeance from the murder of his mother. Lastly there is Tyris Flare, an amazon warrior whose parents were both slain by the hands of Death Adder. Talk about three characters with some serious family drama.
All three characters have nearly identical regular attacks with a few exceptions. For example; Double-tapping either left or right will allow your character sprint. If you select attack while sprinting you’ll either pull off a shoulder charge, head-butt or flying kick, depending on which character you’ve selected. As you progress you’ll come across blue potions dropped by sneaky elves. Find one of these elves and attack them as much as possible to acquire more potions. At the end of a level you’ll have the opportunity to top up on these potions as you stop the elves from stealing your hard earned loot. Tyris has the ability to collect more potions than the other warrior, it may take longer to build up your spells to the maximum level but it’s worth it when she unleashes her final form spell. Gilius on the other hand has far more attacking power but a poor grasp of magical attacks. Ax Battler falls in between the two as a balanced fighter. The highlight of the battle system is when you get to ride different beasts and use them to attack your enemies. The weakest of the creatures are the Cockatrice that attacks with the swing of its tail. The more powerful beast come in the way of blue and red dragon that shoot flames and fireballs respectively.
The Mega Drive port of the game, while holding its own, does fall flat in some aspects when compared to the Arcade version. Due to hardware processing restraints the Mega Drive version wasn’t able to deliver the visuals of the fantasy landscape. The pace and flow of the level side-scrolling and fluidity of character movements are also noticeably lacking. While processing may have been an issue on the home console version capacity wasn’t. Due to this an extra level was added to the game which makes up for its processing short-comings. Over and above the regular game campaign this version also includes a Beginner Mode, for less experienced players and a Duel Mode which sees battles get more difficult as player’s progress.
Golden Axe is a title with its pros and cons. While some of the arcade features are lacking the Mega Drive version delivers in other aspects. One thing is for sure though, Golden Axe remains a shining example of a time where Sega were in their prime and an absolute force to be reckoned with.