The Sega Genesis is, if we’re being frank here, one of my favorite systems in the video game console canon. I had friends who grew up with the NES or the SNES, but the Sega Genesis was my jam. You had the Sonic series games, X-Men, Disney games like Aladdin and The Lion King, or of course Earthworm Jim. However, one game I’ve never played personally up until now, was Golden Axe. I was well aware of its reputation, but had never played it. As it turns out, there’s a pretty good reason for that.
Golden Axe was a Sega Arcade original that was ported over to the Genesis. One of the many beat-em-up platformers of its day (i.e. River City Ransom or The Simpsons), Golden Axe took place in a sword and sorcery world. It also had three lead characters ranging from the dwarf Gilius Thunderhead, the Ax Battler, and Tyris Flare — an amazon warrior.
The playable characters each have their own distinctive play styles. This boils down to the utility of their physical attacks and the power of the magic attacks that each character can use by collecting magic pots throughout the levels. For my money, I personally found Gilius Thunderhead to be the most useful character, especially in terms of his speed. That being said, Golden Axe’s controls are onerous, with it being difficult to gauge where sprites are relative to each other for attacks, or to break characters into runs, ride animals, etc. Even by the standards of the time the game was made in, the controls are more of a hindrance than a help, especially with a game that actively works against the player like this one does.
That said, the game does keep things interesting. You have the Arcade Mode which is standard-issue for this type of game and allows you to progress through Golden Axe’s story. But I will say that I personally found the Duel Mode to be far more enjoyable than the initial mode, mainly owing to that aforementioned problem with figuring out where you are relative to your enemy, especially in large spaces. Duel Mode is easier to manage since it’s one-on-one (or one-on-two) and is a small arena compared to the larger environments of Arcade Mode.
The rest of the game is a mixed bag though. While the soundtrack is on par for a Sega Genesis game of the time, the graphics are… uneven. While it’s understandable that this was an arcade game port, the player and some of the enemy sprites just look pretty unremarkable or flat. It’s difficult to dismiss it as a relic of its time, since plenty of other games for the same system look flat-out gorgeous (Sonic the Hedgehog being a favorite example of mine). While it wouldn’t drag the game down entirely for me, it makes it difficult to become engaged with a game that already is somewhat frustrating on its own terms.
Golden Axe overall has a lot to enjoy and is quite a paradigm shift from the Genesis games I’m familiar with. However, it’s probably not a game I would’ve enjoyed even as a child. While I’m certainly no stranger to the beat-em-up, on-par controls are a necessity. Unfortunately, Golden Axe’s controls are too sluggish most of the time. It’s still a fun game to be certain, but not one that would hit the top of my list for the best of the Genesis. That won’t stop me from giving Golden Axe II a try though,