How many copies of Golden Axe do you own? How many of those copies are actually cartridges? If you are anything like me then you have at least three different versions of the game, not for the sole purpose of being a fan of the series, but because Sega has a tendency to include their classic games on as many platforms as possible. Golden Axe has seen light on everything from Genesis and Gamecube, to Commodore 64 and even iOS. This begs the question, is this collection really worth your hard earned Bill Gates Bucks or Kevin Butler Dollars? Hit the jump button to find out, young beast rider!
Even before the title screen loaded, I had a feeling I was in for a well-polished vintage treat with the presentation M2 put behind this Sega Vintage Collection. Slightly pixilated animations of Golden Axe characters introduced the SVC logo with a modernized version of the classic two-note Sega logo chime and I couldn’t help but smile at these careful touches – and I had not even begun playing! Prior to the Vintage Collections, Backbone had done the majority of Sega’s digital re-releases, which were received with mixed reactions, so I was not entirely sure what to expect with the presentation outside of gameplay and will admit I went into this collection somewhat skeptical. My worries were quickly disregarded as I was treated to a game selection screen incorporating a classic arcade cabinet to representing the first Golden Axe game, while the second and third iterations being represented with Model 1 Sega Genesis systems plugged into what look like Sega PC monitors. Behind all of these items is a background inspired by the boxart of each game, which would change depending on which game you most recently selected. The presentation of menus can say a lot about a collection, and this one shows that the game selection is something in which you should be interested, especially if you want to slay dragons.
The menus for each game are easily laid out with some selections having further menus such as the Xbox Live/ PlayStation Network option where you can select whether or not to play with friends, create your own match, or jump into a random game. Each game also has its own “Trials Mode,” which differs slightly per iteration. The first Golden Axe has 3 different Challenge Modes which is essentially the same as the main game, but with a visible score number on the bottom of the screen. There is also a Sudden Death Challenge, in which your character has no health bar and every enemy will die with one hit. The Golden Axe II Trial Mode includes the same Challenge Modes, as well as “The Duel” with a clock running in the corner. Finally, Golden Axe III has again the Challenge Mode and also the Monster Wagon Challenge, which is essentially a survival mode incorporating the second level of the game.
Below the Leaderboards option, is the “Replay” section, where you can save and watch up to 12 saved replays of your own gameplay. I for one will never save my own replays, but it can be interesting to see just how ridiculously good some people are at these games with their near-perfect run-throughs.
The Help & Options menu is rather detailed in itself with the ability to adjust your screen size, select background images, graphical smoothing, and the ability to apply “turbo” functions to any button on the controller. Bare in mind that no achievements will be unlocked when the “Game Settings” or “Controller Settings” are altered, which I learned the hard way after attempting The Duel multiple times.
The ability to play these games on a widescreen TV in actual widescreen is quite amazing in my opinion. I have grown accustomed to playing classic games in the usual 4:3 ratio up until this point, which sometimes forced me to sit closer to my TV rather than from the comfort of the furniture on the opposite side of the room. To reiterate, small touches like these make a collection all that more playable compared to today’s modern games. It is very nice to see that M2 took the time to modernize these games to the best of their ability, but does each chapter of Golden Axe stand up to the test of time? Jump on the back of that giant turtle to continue the journey…
Golden Axe: Original release 1989.
You have your choice of 3 brave warriors: Ax-Battler the barbarian, Tyris Flare the Amazonian, and Gilius Thunderhead the dwarf. Each character has a personal reason to pursue the game’s antagonist, Death Adder. Death Adder killed Ax-Battler’s mother, Tyris’s father and mother, and Gilius’s brother. Death Adder is an asshole. To end the villian’s reign, the three heroes equip their weapons of choice (in this arcade version, Gilius is actually using the Golden Axe as his weapon), and as with any brawler, fight clones of villains until reaching bosses twice their size in hopes of saving the king and princess. Thrilling stuff! Golden Axe does things a bit differently by incorporating magical attacks that have varying levels of effectiveness depending on how many urns you have collected to fill your magic meter. Gilius and Ax-Battler only have four magic slots, while Tyris has an extensive 6 slots with the first one requiring 4 urns alone. Magic spells aside, each character has a punch and jump ability and when both buttons are pressed simultaneously the characters perform a more powerful attack.
What else would you need to save the world? The power of teamwork of course! The journey can sometimes be difficult alone, as enemies will come at you from both sides. While damaging one enemy, another can approach you from behind and interrupt your attack. I found this to be a problem and quickly remedied it by making sure all enemies stay on one side. During two-player however, you can cause harm to your partner, and there is no way to turn off this “friendly fire.” This can make for some difficult group battles, as you can accidentally kill your companion during the madness. Along with hand-to-hand fighting, you have the ability to saddle beasts in Golden Axe. The beasts add for more fun as you can find fire-breathing dragons and also a type of bird-lizard, which just looks awkward and hilarious. While the hit-boxes for some enemies seem to reach further than they should, once you learn their patterns you can fly through the entire game in roughly 30-40 minutes. Also, since this is an arcade port, there is an “insert credit” button, which essentially allows for infinite continues. One minor letdown of the game would be the ear-piercing sound effects, as it shows the early stages of the 16-bit Sega soundboard, but does not completely hamper the gameplay.
Golden Axe can sometimes be unfair, but once you learn the ropes you will be flying through the game in no time and will quickly be able to aim for a better score with each playthrough, while adding a friend only adds to the fun.
Golden Axe II: Original release 1991.
Ax-Battler, Tyris, and Gilius must save the world again, this time from an evil group led by Dark Guld. Golden Axe II is more of the same from Golden Axe I, but with improvements and variations in a few areas. The game is easily three times the length of Golden Axe, being that it was made for consoles rather than arcades in mind. When beginning the game, it is immediately apparent that the world is more colorful and has a bigger variety of landscapes from bridges and lava pits to castles and even a dragon’s mouth. Gilius, Tyris, and Ax-Battler return with their signature weapons and slightly different magic abilities. Speaking of magic, the meters are handled differently this time around. Instead of simply tapping a button to cast a spell, one must hold down the button until the desired amount the meter illuminates to perform a different level of magic. This can be incredibly handy for the sake of clearing out an area of enemies while conserving magic for an upcoming boss battle.
Golden Axe II poses more of a challenge in some areas with larger groups of enemies attacking simultaneously, but the enemies alone felt weaker to an extent. There are also more death pits in the game to take advantage of when dealing with hordes of villains. Magic urns are replaced with spell books, which are plentiful in the first half of the game, lessening the challenge for fans of the series who may have become accustomed to storing magic spells.
Overall the game felt easier than the first Golden Axe, which can be seen as a positive or negative thing depending on whether or not you are looking for a challenge in this brawler. The battle can be treacherous at times, but with plenty of magic, and fire-breathing animals on your side, nothing will stop a hero from succeeding in what may seem to be a less challenging but still enjoyable medieval adventure.
Golden Axe III: Original release: 1993 (Japan only, briefly available on North American Sega Channel)
Golden Axe III, or as I like to call it Golden Axe III: Gilius’s Retirement, stars an entirely new cast of characters. Unexpectedly, Gilius is standing in the background of the character select screen instead of being playable. Ax-Battler is replaced with Kain Grinder, and Tyris steps aside for Sarah Barn, both of whom are identical to Ax and Tyris in appearance. Along with the two humans, a giant named Braoude Cragger, and a panther man named Chronos “Evil” Lait join the fray. Why, you ask? Because two half-man mutants could only replace the amazing Gilius! Being that I preferred playing Gilius and his overpowered axe, I tried playing as Chronos and Braaode first. I barely made it to the third level with Chronos, and then barely made it past the fourth with Braoude. I assumed that the Golden Axe III designers decided to crank up the difficulty, so I went with the familiar magical vixen, Tyri- I mean Sarah Barn, and through much tribulation made it to the final level. Even though the new characters have a more impressive appearance, they do not have the best move set. In Golden Axe III, each character now his/her own set of moves that vary slightly from others. Braoude and Chronos both have a mid-air dive attack, which causes many accidental ledge deaths, while Kain and Sarah have their usual stationary sword-wailing attacks. Sarah and Chronos both have a double jump, while Kain and Braoude have throwing abilities. Everyone also has a slightly different “heavy” attack activated by pressing the “jump” and “attack” buttons simultaneously, which can sometimes free oneself from an onslaught of enemies. The enemies however, have become incredibly cheap in GA III, seeing that they have now gained the ability to block attacks, which they will literally do forever until you try a different pattern of attack. Magic attacks work the same way they did in the first Golden Axe, which means you must plan their use carefully. As with previous games in the series, Golden Axe can become quickly one-sided once you learn the enemies’ patterns, but you can also get cornered and die quickly if you do not hastily outmaneuver your foe.
Golden Axe III introduces a few additions to the gameplay. The first of which is varying paths. The path selection usually includes proceeding down or up on the screen. Upon choosing different paths, you will be treated with different scenery and sometimes different enemies. From what I noticed, the downward paths lead to enemy bosses who are actually your brainwashed companions. Moving upward introduces more powerful varied version of the regular enemies. Another addition is the ability to save civilians and earn extra lives by doing so.
Golden Axe III seemed to be more challenging overall not because of the amount of enemies, but simply due to their ability to block attacks and somehow interrupt your own. Many boss attacks did not even appear as actual attacks as I was getting destroyed just when a boss would jump up while I happen to be next to them. Apparently that is some extremely course hair on that giant’s kneecaps. Enemies also enjoy juggling you by literally hitting you the very second you stand up from an attack.
With the parallaxing backgrounds, I almost felt that more emphasis and time was put behind making the game pretty rather than focusing on balanced gameplay. Playing mainly by myself, the cheap shots from enemies made the near-end of the game more frustrating than any other part in the Golden Axe series. Unfair enemies aside, Golden Axe III is another game that shines with multiplayer, as teamwork is the only (or atleast the less stressful) way to conquer evil yet again.
Sega has put this vintage collection in good hands with M2. The attention to detail within the menus and replayability with the Trial Modes make this a collection that any Golden Axe fan will love and have no issue paying the requested $10/£6.37. Curious adventurers unsure of the Golden Axe series would do well the try the demo, but not at all feel weary of buying the entire collection if they enjoy a small taste – especially when the original Golden Axe previously sold for $5/£3.18 digitally on its own. With leaderboards, online co-op, trials, and the achievement/trophy list, the Sega Vintage Collection: Golden Axe is well worth the asking price and should be considered by any fan of the beat-em-up and brawler genre. Have at thee, Death Adder!