Overall Rating: 4/5 Stars
Before first-person shooters entered prominence and sports simulations became advanced enough for Madden to change the way we look at digital sports, one of the most popular video game genres was “beat ‘em up,” featuring dozens of titles across the 8-bit and 16-bit systems that featured a side-scrolling action platform adventure with one simple goal: Kill every other character you encounter.
They varied widely in their setting, their characters, their style, and general overall presentation, ranging from sci-fi epics with guns to the Double Dragon back-alley brawl types. One of the more classic selections was a particular cartridge released for the Sega Genesis in 1989, also ported to the Megadrive, called Golden Axe.
Goldenaxe was the first of a trilogy of medieval fantasy themed hack-and-slash games. You could choose one of three character: A blue-clothed barbarian, a red-clothed warrior princess, or a green-clad dwarf. Each has their own respective play experience, as they slightly vary in walking/running speed, leaping ability, attacking power/reach, and magic powers.
In a showcase of the advancement of the Genesis over previous, 8-bit systems, the beat-‘em-up experience has greatly progressed from the simple “one button punches, another button jumps” gameplay of the prior generation. The characters in Golden Axe can walk, dash, leap, and attack, similar to the move set found in the classic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle NES games, with the dash being one notable addition, but another even more so: The use of magic, granted by gathering little blue pots (?) of magic power, that allow a single spell to unleash. The more magical energy you have accumulated, the greater the strength of the spell. Using weapons and magic attacks throughout the side-scrolling levels, the hero (or heroes, in the notoriously fun two-player quest) must vanquish many dark forces, including bosses, before beating the game entirely and completing the Golden Axe quest.
Considering not only its age in context but also how little the graphics improved over the next two entries in its trilogy, the visual presentation of Golden Axe is fantastic. It definitely set the tone for many imitations over the years, and seemed to bring the vision of previous fantasy-style iterations like Gauntlet to life in a more fully fleshed-out way. The characters are large, the action is intense, and the Golden Axe looked mighty sharp.
Any old-school gamer who ever started up a Golden Axe session will lapse into fond nostalgia upon trying it again; every sword swipe, axe strike, and death knell is richly distinctive, with a singularly unique quality to them that reverberates in the minds of Axe fans worldwide. Then there is the soundtrack which, though arguably generic and mildly repetitive, perfectly complemented the high fantasy setting and the torrid on-screen action. Golden Axe was one of the rare hack-and-slashers to have a soul behind it; a wonderfully well-defined backbone of all the detailed effects necessary to create a more all-encompassing play session.
Though the genre had been tread dozens of times before, Golden Axe did manage to bring a refreshing take on a tired form. With its original setting and mythos, it put forth its own enjoyable brand of mindless baddie-bashing and unleashed a new arena in which side-scroller fans could hone their skills. The use of magic (though perhaps similar to an effect found in Streets of Rage) would become a trademark effect for all the entries in the series, and just one other mark on what would otherwise be considered a success, even a classic.
For being fondly remember as a solid game in its own right, with an individualism enough to hold its own memorable flavor, Golden Axe is a classic romp still worth a play-through and still deserving of four stars out of five.