Golden AxeNOTE: This review is based off of what I played on Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection, so if there are any differences between it and the original Genesis version written and you're going "wait what that ain't true", well, now you know to watch for those instances.
Thunder in the sky. I find it funny that I'm reviewing this while listening to Manowar's entire discography, because when I think of Manowar, I think of songs about barbarians fighting monsters and shit, and when I think of that, I think of the likes of Hercules, Conan The Barbarian, Xena: Warrior Princess and - the game that we're reviewing right now - Golden Axe. As you can tell by the note I put up at the beginning of damn near every Sega Genesis review I've ever written, I didn't grow up with a Genesis - I grew up with the Sega Master System and skipped the 16-bit consoles in favor of a Nintendo 64, so I don't really have any nostalgic ties to this game. What I will say is that Golden Axe took a lot of the steps that Altered Beast was afraid to take, and even if you expect more, it's still a pretty good game that's worth your time - you know, unlike Altered Beast, which was a huge waste of time.
Call to arms. The evil Death Adder has captured the king and his daughter, and has also secured the golden axe. He threatens to destroy the axe and kill the royal family unless the people of Yuria bow down to him. Three warriors journey towards his castle to slay him. All three of them want to kill Death Adder not just because they don't want the people to bow down to him, but also because their relatives have died at the hands of Death Adder. It's got a bit more depth than your usual old school story (this came out in 1989), and between each level, you get a few lines chronicling their travels, which is a neat touch, but it's pretty much your usual old school story, so don't expect much.
Warriors of the world. A neat little thing is that the three characters play differently from one another. I'm pretty sure Golden Axe was the first of its kind to offer multiple characters with differing playstyles, even if they're subtle at best. The male barbarian is the balanced guy, the female seems to be a bit faster yet weaker, and the dwarf is stronger, although he's a bit slow. It's nice little touches like that, that give the game some depth... which it'll need.
Golden Axe's combat doesn't exactly have depth. Most of the time, you'll walk up to an enemy and wail on him. Unlike most beat em ups where they can get a cheap shot in on you during a combo, once you start, they're stunned until you're done. That's a surprisingly nice touch. Too often do I get sick of enemies being able to deliver a hit when theoretically, they should be hunch over, spitting saliva like a redneck spits tobacco on the ground while I wail on them. But yeah, besides the ability to ram into an enemy, throwing enemies and jump attacks, you don't get much in the way of combat besides just hammering the attack button. The bosses are nothing more than bigger enemies with more hit points and they deal more damage. The enemies either ram into you or try to wail on you themselves. The levels don't offer much more than just a straight path to the right with the occasional gap (although you moved in an isometric environment). It seems maybe a tad too simple. But yet, it still works just fine. It was simple enough to get you into it, and after a while, before you know it, you're hooked, but as it was only a half hour long, it wasn't all that bad. Above all else, it was fun to bash enemies' heads in. That's all it is - fun, like, you're having a good time ploughing through waves of enemies (even if it was just a group of 2, 3, maybe 4 if you're lucky). It's fun... just feeling like this badass barbarian/dwarf, *bleep*ing up waves of enemies and bosses!
Oh wait, there are other options. You can ride on various beasts - ones that spin and hit enemies with their tails, ones that breathe fire, and ones that fire balls of fire. These can be pretty helpful when you want to kill enemies a bit easier, but getting hit just once will knock you off and give them a chance to ride the beast. Thankfully, hitting them once will knock them off too, so it works out... in fact, it's a fairly good way to balance it out. The beasts are stronger than you, and not having a repercussion like that would make things too easy. You can also use magic, which pretty much hits every enemy on screen, but it takes up magic power. The sweet thing about this is that there are levels of magic - levels 1, 2 and 3, which are determined by how much magic you gather through kicking little elves with sacks that you'll run into halfway through a level. The higher the level, the stronger it gets, but using magic will get rid of most, if not all of your magic power, so use it wisely.
But despite my positive attitude towards the game, yeah, you have to admit, it looks like I'm just dancing around the issue - it hasn't aged that well. Like I said, this took the steps that Altered Beast was afraid to take and that it's fun, but that's only because I'm assessing it on its own terms. It's not as fast paced as other beat em ups, it doesn't have the most creative bosses, and yeah, it is maybe too simple for its own good, with maybe a few moments where it's not too simple. That's my biggest complaint - it's just fun, but if you're not having fun, then this isn't going to work out for you because in the grand scheme of things, it's slow and very simplistic. Just warning you all on this one, that's all.
Sign of the hammer. The graphics are hit and miss. Where it misses are the colors. They're all so dull and boring. I get that it's supposed to be dark and desolate, but I'm not quite getting that feeling just by looking at the game. All I get is that it's dreary and boring. But where it hits is the detail in the graphics. Everything looked as you think it would, especially the characters. The backgrounds looked neat, but the characters were what stood out. Everything on them was defined - snouts on the beasts included, but above all else, they just look wicked. Shame about the colors, though.
Battle hymns. The sound is also hit and miss. The sound effects don't really have the thud that you'd expect for a beat em up, and the digitized screams... well, we have to evolve from something, eh? Such is the curse of being an early Genesis game. But then there's the soundtrack, which is actually pretty good. Each song sounds like the kind of thing you'd expect in a fantasy movie involving barbarians - all upbeat, heroic, mythological, like as if you're on an epic quest to slay the monster as Conan The Barbarian, avenging the death of his parents. It just works on so many levels and at the end of the day, the tunes will be stuck in your head. Yeah, this soundtrack just *bleep*ing rules.
Achilles, agony and ecstasy. Golden Axe isn't the best beat em up out there - in fact, I'd say that it's simple maybe above average. It's slow, it only gives you 2 or 3 enemies on screen at once, and nothing really stands out as excellent. But what gives it steam is that it's a lot of fun. It's fun to bash enemies' brains in, it's fun to ride a beast and breathe fire on them, and it's especially fun just feeling like a badass barbarian! But honestly, it's the kind of game that only has fun going for it, so I hope you're ready to have fun... it isn't a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, that's for sure!
Story: 8/10 While it gave you the motivation to go through the game and it had those neat little scenes between levels... eh, it's still the textbook definition of old school. Gameplay: 7/10 It feels slower than most beat em ups due to having less enemies on screen, and it's technically not the best out there, but for what it is, it's a lot of fun to play through. Controls: 10/10 Running, attacking and controlling the beasts is smooth and responsive. Graphics: 7/10 They're technically detailed, but a bit dull to look at. The textbook definition of an early Genesis game. Sound: 8/10 The sound effects and voice clips aren't too good, but the soundtrack is excellent.