Golden Axe is one of the more memorable arcade game titles of yesteryear –though that honor actually belongs more to the game’s sequels than the original one. But that is not to say that the first game in the series was a pushover. When Golden Axe first came out, players welcomed the game with open arms –and they were quickly rewarded with an impressive hack and slash gameplay with pretty neat graphics. A single button allowed players to hack, punch, and kick their way across a variety of fantasy-inspired enemies for the price of a single token. For two tokens, you can have a friend play alongside you.
Alex, what has happened?....
Story-wise, there’s very little narrative. But one interesting scene opens up at the very start of the game –the players’ chosen characters encounter a heavily wounded NPC named Alex, who quickly dies from a sudden ambush. While there is obviously so much more to the story than that (especially since all three characters have a bone to pick with final baddie Death-adder), it would be a pretty silly premise to play the game seeking justice for Alex. Just kidding, the whole game is actually a quest by the three heroes to rescue the king and princess from Death Adder.
The game features three main characters, there’s Ax Battler, the barbarian who is on a quest of revenge against Death-adder for killing his mother. Tyris Flare, the amazon who was orphaned after Death-adder killed her parents. And finally, Gilius Thunderhead, a dwarf whose brother was killed by Death-adder. Yeah, we’re kind of getting the distinct impression that this Adder fellow is a pretty horrible fella (we assume that he is also responsible for killing Alex).
Aside from having some of the most heavy metal names we have ever heard, these three characters provide a slight bit of difference in playstyle. Tyris moves and attacks the fastest, but her melee damage is lowest of the three. Her magic, however, is the strongest. Gilius is the slowest moving character but also has the strongest melee strength. His magic is the weakest. Finally, there is Ax. He is the totally average character with decent speed, melee damage, and magic power.
Time for Axe Grinding
The game is a side scrolling beat-em-up, so playing it is a matter of moving forward, killing baddies, and then moving forward again. It is all about timing your attacks and positioning yourself during combat scenarios. Since the battlefield is a large flat terrain, there is not much strategy other than to keep moving and luring your enemies into your range of attack.
During combat, you may find yourself running into mounted enemy units. These guys tend to be fast and strong thanks to their steeds, so dealing with them will be challenging for first time players. But the effort to take them down is worth it. A well timed attack can knock and enemy unit off their mount, and this will allow you to walk up to the mount and take it for yourself –quickly turning the tide of the battle.
If you spot a Keebler-elf looking enemy in the game, quickly attack them a few times over. These guys drop those precious blue mana potions which are used for casting those super-strong magic powers. Each character has a full screen attack that makes use of a single potion. Stock up on these and use them during critical moments when you are being overwhelmed by enemies or bosses.
Genesis Version and Future Legacy
Golden Axe has been ported over to the SEGA Genesis from the arcade and like many arcade ports, the original is still better. Despite the nicer font and more shadows on the console release, the arcade version has much better colors and animation. The narrative is also more clearly depicted in the coin-op release. Aside from being better than its home release, Golden Axe was also a pretty great game at the time of its release, and the simultaneous two player mode is probably the best way to experience this game.
Still, the greatest thing about Golden Axe is not just the game itself, but its legacy. The fact that it had such a strong presence on the arcade scene that a sequel was all but a given and Golden Axe II is one of the greatest arcade games ever made. Chances are, for many of you reading this, it is more likely to be because you are already a fan of Golden Axe II and wanted to know more about the original game before it.