By Neo Rasa, GrendelMK2 and Kurt Kalata

Back in 1986, Technos' Renegade defined the "beat-em'up" genre as we know it. Despite it's innovation, it's not a terribly good game. Rather, the genre has since been defined by three other games of the late 80s: - Technos' Double Dragon, Capcom's Final Fight, and Sega's Golden Axe.

The Golden Axe series was created by Makoto Uchida (Altered Beast, Dynamite Cop). It's a barbarian themed beat-em-up that's heavily inspired by the "Conan the Barbarian" stories, featuring buff warriors in tights and Red Sonja-style warrior goddesses in bikinis. The series is also known for its fantastic artwork that resembles classic Conan the Barbarian and Frank Frazetta work, though a lot of other fantasy action games borrows from these as well.

The whole "Golden Axe" series tell us a tale about a mythical weapon called Golden Axe that can grant its user great power (The Japanese characters in the Golden Axe logo roughly translates to "Battle Axe" - there's a sword, a hammer, and an axe hidden inside the stylized kanji). The main antagonist is an evil lord called Death Adder. A towering monstrosity of a man who wears a frightening mask just to let the player know he's evil. It started as an arcade game, which later spawned two sequels for the Genesis, and another sequel for the arcade. There are also several spinoffs outside of the main series, including two role playing games and a 2D fighter.

Golden Axe (Arcade)

Golden Axe (Arcade)

Golden Axe - Arcade / Genesis / Sega Master System / PC Engine CD / PC DOS / Amiga / Amstrad / Spectrum / Wonderswan / Gameboy Advance / Playstation 2 (1989)


American Genesis Cover


European Mega Drive Cover


Japanese Playstation 2 Cover


American SMS Cover

European Commodore 64 Cover

American Commodore 64 Cover

People criticize this game today. It's boring! The game is too short! It's too repetitive! Absolutely not, this game represents and outstanding effort from Sega. It has great controls (even compared to modern beat'em ups), consistently good art direction, a fantastic soundtrack, and unlike modern beat'em ups doesn't wear out its welcome with overly long levels.

Everyone's out for revenge in this game going by the plot available in the arcades. You just get four splash screens that tell you:

Ax=Battler: The Warrior
His mother was killed by DEATH=ADDER. He's a typical super muscular barbarian, with an incredibly stupid generic name to boot. Why is he called Ax Battler when he just fights with a sword? He's an all around average fighter, with balanced attack and magic power. When you perform his special move, he attacks whoever is behind him.
Tyris Flare: The Amazon
Her father and mother were killed by DEATH=ADDER. She's the resident hot chick, and princess of the kingdom. The way this was supposed to work is that she has the lowest attack power, but the most powerful magic. However, due to the inherent combo system of the game, Tyris generally ends up inflicting about the same amount of physical damage as Ax Battler with the same efficiency. Her fire magic has some of the most impressive effects in the game.
Gilius=Thunderhead: The Dwarf
His brother was killed by DEATH=ADDER. Gilius is a dwarf - despite his diminuative stature, he's the strongest character, but has the weakest magic power. However, his initial attack is the slowest of the three characters, so good timing is mandatory.
DEATH=ADDER
The main bad guy, an evil badass barbarian who wields the Golden Axe. Incidentally, Death Adder is quite similar in design to Frank Frazetta's Death Dealer character, and his name is a type of poisonous snake.

The gameplay of Golden Axe is fast paced and typical of most beat-em-ups. There's a single attack button, a jump button, and a magic button. Successfully hitting an enemy repeatedly with the attack button will begin a combo that the player can end by either throwing the enemy away from them or by hitting them with the blunt end of their weapon repeatedly for extra damage. A particularly brutal animation for the time that keeps the game true to its barbaric inspiration.

Pressing attack and jump at the same time lets you attack behind you. Gilius actually rolls backwards quite a distance when performing this technique, allowing skilled players to keep from getting surrounded since he will down enemies before they have a chance to close in on you. You can also dash forward by double tapping the joystick. Finally, If you run, jump, and press attack at the peak of your jump you'll do a downward stab. This is very difficult to hit an enemy with, but will kill most non-boss enemies with a single strike! All the visceral punch of the game's animations are helped by the fact that, unlike most beat'em ups, enemy bodies remain on the screen forever after being defeated.

Each level is also filled with little gnomes, which drop magical pots when they're hit. Although the kind of magic depends on the character, the number of pots you have determine which kind of spell you cast. All of them will attack every enemy on the screen, but the spell level will determine how much damage it'll do. Naturally, the stronger the spell, the cooler the effect. On a low level, Tyris Flare will summon flaming ghosts to wail around the screen. At a higher level, she'll summon a dragon to breath fire on everything. It's a quick and easy way to damage bosses, and keep the crowd of enemies under control. Between each level of the game, a bonus round is initiated where these same gnomes come and steal your magic while you're camping for the night. You have opportunity to get back more magic than you lost though by efficiently beating up the gnomes for their trouble.

After these bonus rounds, each new level begins with one of the characters writing in a journal, describing their adventure into the lair of Death Adder. The game world itself is pretty cool - one village is actually on the back of a giant turtle, and you actually board the back of a gigantic bird at one point. The stages are filled with various kinds of barbarians, including a pair of gigantic, fat, bald headed dudes with gigantic hammers. There are also plenty of animated Ray Harryhausen-style skeletons, who are some of the toughest foes in the game.

Most beat-em-ups grant you power-ups in the form of weapons, effectively doubling your strength. Since all of the players in Golden Axe already have weapons, the game goes one step further and lets you ride on a variety of beasts known as Bizzarians. These include a cockatrice-like creature that whips enemies with its tail as well as two different types of dragons. The first type breathes a fiery jet of flame. The second type only appears at the beginning of level three and attacks by spitting a fireball clear across the screen. This animal makes you realize why you don't get to keep your Bizzarians between levels, as this one can easily defeat any enemy in the game with minimal risk to the player.

The color palette is a bit dull, mostly consistent of brown, shades of brown, and more brown. That's not to say it looks bland though - the backgrounds are well detailed, and the enemies look pretty cool, even though they're limited in number. The music in Golden Axe is composed by Tohru Nakabayashi (Thunder Blade) and resembles Conan The Barbarian in almost every way. The drum samples in the title are great and the songs "The Wilderness", "Turtle Village I", and "Path of the Dead" are just amazing. There are also a ton of cool, cheesy digitized screams that were lifted from movies like "First Blood" and "Conan the Barbiarian". The most memorable one is the "OH GAWD!" sound clip from when David Caruso's character is attacked in "First Blood". Compare this to Final Fight, which just had generic grunts and groans. The Japanese version has a blood dripping from the letters on the "PLAYER SELECT" menu, which was removed from the World release.

The arcade version has a totally awesome ending in that it begins with the serious business of the Golden Axe flying into Death Adder's hands and then landing in his gut, causing a bloody shower. Then immediately changes to the cast of Golden Axe busting out of the arcade game and into the real world. Such strange endings were not out of place in some of Sega's older arcade games - Altered Beast had a similarly light hearted ending.

Thankfully, Golden Axe was extremely popular in the arcades. It was later released on a wide variety of gaming and computer systems over the years. The accuracy of these releases, however, vary wildly in quality.

The only thing close to an arcade perfect port is the version on the Xbox Live Arcade for the Xbox 360. Like all of the other arcade ports on the platform, it suffers from muddy, upscaled and filtered graphics, but is otherwise perfect, and even offers online play.

The Genesis port of the game is well regarded and highly enjoyable to play. Everything is scaled down (most immediately noticeable is that the bodies disappear now and several voice samples are missing) but its controls are very close to the arcades. Two levels are shortened but what content is in the game is structured identically to the arcade version. An extra final level has been added where you fight a very annoying palette swap of Death Adder known as Doom Bringer. Not only does he have two (nearly) invincible skeletons assisting him, but every time you get knocked down, he performs one of several magical attacks just as powerful as your own. Basically, if you get knocked down once you're probably going to lose that life regardless of how much energy your character has left. Some bits are censored. The intro where you see Alex die was removed and replaced by the hero explaining the story, and the Sega Beer Barn in Turtle Village was removed. The few instances of blood were removed as well, and the ending has been changed to something significantly more generic. This version is two player and was also released on the Genesis in a package called "Sega 6 Pack". which included Columns, Sonic the Hedgehog, Streets of Rage, Revenge of Shinobi, and Super Hang-on, obviously a great selection. It also adds a mode called The Duel, where you either fight through stages of increasingly difficult groups of foes or engage another player in one on one combat. This version also appears in emulated form on the PS2 and PSP versions of the Sega Genesis Collection, the Windows and Dreamcast versions of the Sega Smash Pack, and on Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection for the PS3 and Xbox 360. The Dreamcast port, like most of the games on the disc, suffers from terrible sound emulation.

Golden Axe was also released on the Sega CD, in a compilation that came packaged with the original release of the unit. It's basically just like the Genesis version, except the animation is a bit better, and most of the voice samples were removed, with only a few being used to cover every instance of voice in the game. However, all of the music is redbook audio that streams from the disc - the only game on the compilation to do so - and sounds better than the Genesis version. Oddly enough, this version is only single player even though the version of Streets of Rage that is on the disc has two player support.

The Sega Master System version is more or less a tragedy. You can only play as Ax Battler, renamed here as Tarik. Tthe only reminder of the other two heroes is that you can choose to use their magic attacks during the game. Pretty much everything is pathetic - it has ugly graphics, terribly choppy animation, and awful control. It does have a new intro and ending not found in any other version, at least. It also removes the two player option.

The PC Engine port is a shame, another disk full of broken dreams and mediocrity from the masters at Telenet. It's completely horrendous, and almost as bad as the Sega Master System version - miscolored graphics, a lack of background details, and awful animation and controls. There are some poorly animated cutscenes that introduce each character's backstory, along with some tragically awful remixed tunes that are significantly worse than the arcade game. It's only single player too.

The WonderSwan Color version is fairly okay, given the limited hardware, but it's more difficult. Enemies only attack in pairs here but are much, much more aggressive than in any other version of the game. It has some very colorful graphics and okay sound. The song arrangement is accurate but this fails miserably compared to the better arrangements of classic game songs on the original GB or NGPC. Many of the moves now look different cosmetically but are the same from a gameplay standpoint. You can now only attack once in mid-air though, but you can still run (and therefore do the running attack and running jump attack.)

The 8-bit computer versions suffer from the most limitations, such as only one enemy being able to appear on screen at a time due to their weak hardware. The graphics on the Amstrad are especially blocky and the character animations are off too.

On the other hand, the other computer ports are fairly decent with faithful graphics and decent controls. The IBM PC version changes the character icons and changed the health icons into gems for some reason. The Amiga and Atari ST versions have excellent music and graphics that are roughly on the same level as the Genesis version.

Golden Axe was also released on the Game Boy Advance as one of three games (along with Sonic Spinball and Ecco the Dolphin) on that handheld's Sega Smash Pack compilation. This version is very poorly coded, with muddy sound and only two songs that alternate from the start of the game to the end. The hit detection is also very inconsistent, making it difficult to judge what distance you should be from a given enemy, the proportions for the characters were changed to fit the smaller screen, so it's quite cramped. This version was a huge disappointment upon its release.

Golden Axe was also one of the first games to be remade as part of the Sega Ages line for the Playstation 2. The initial goal of this series was to produce budget versions of classic Sega games, but with 3D graphics. The series received a lot of flack in its early years, and most of that is due to the Golden Axe remake, which is a total embarrassment. The character models are terrible and the backgrounds somehow look worse than the original game. Also, despite how chintzy the whole thing looks, it actually has the nerve to slow down in certain spots. Even if you don't mind the visuals, the game just doesn't feel right. Each sword strike gives off a huge explosion, which looks cool at first but just manages to obscure the action. The combos don't feel right at all either. Plus, the enemies are absurdly stupid, often just walking around aimlessly and giving you plenty of time to damage them.

For whatever reason, there are now cutscenes. Not many of them, and they aren't long, but all they do is to show how ugly your characters are. The reason for these cutscenes is questioned because almost all of them consist of information that was already delivered without the need of cutscenes in the original game (Turtle Village starting to move, the Bad Brothers laughing before entering battle, etc.). There is a good one though, a new intro that explains the origins of the Golden Axe, though vengeance seems to have been removed from the heroes' motivations. You still get magic bottles from beating up thieves in other parts of the game, but you also regenerate magic automatically by pounding on bad guys. Enemies also have life bars now, for all the good that does. On top of these flaws, each level in the Sega Ages version is absurdly long compared to any in the original game. The only real plus to this is the arranged soundtrack, which is hardly orchestral quality, but still sounds kinda cool. It's shameful, but it's also available on the Sega Classics Collection released in North American and Europe, if you feel the need to hurt yourself.

MP3s Download here

Wilderness (Arcade)
Turtle Village (Arcade)
Death Adder (Arcade)
Wilderness (SMS)
Wilderness (PCE CD)
Wilderness (Playstation 2)

Golden Axe (Arcade)

Golden Axe (Arcade)

Golden Axe (Arcade)

Golden Axe (Arcade)

Golden Axe (Arcade)

Golden Axe (Arcade)

Golden Axe (Arcade)

Golden Axe (Arcade)

Golden Axe (Arcade)

Golden Axe (Arcade)

Golden Axe (Genesis)

Golden Axe (Genesis)

Golden Axe (Master System)

Golden Axe (Master System)

Golden Axe (Master System)

Golden Axe (Playstation 2)

Golden Axe (Playstation 2)

Comparison Screenshots

Arcade

Genesis

Playstation 2

PC DOS VGA

Sega Master System

PC Engine CD

Amiga

Commodore 64

Amstrad

Spectrum

Gameboy Advance

Wonderswan Color

Character Select Comparisons

World

Japan

PC Engine CD Cutscenes

Arcade Intro

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