Sega‘s classic Golden Axe is a scrolling beat ’em up first released into arcades in 1989. It is fondly-remembered, often re-released, and has been converted to many other systems.
What’s so good about Golden Axe, then?
Well, it’s a fairly derivative game, reminiscent of Double Dragon, Sega‘s own Altered Beast, and every other dual-player, side-scrolling beat ’em up that ever existed, although the developers chose a swords and sorcery setting, instead of trying to re-make Michael Winner‘s Death Wish again, and it made the game fairly unique back in 1989.
Golden Axe is also full of interesting and humorous features that were quite influential on games that came after it. Like, for example, the fact that you can knock opponents off the beasts they’re riding, then ride the animals yourself. Or that you can pick up and throw opponents, or actually indulge in a bit of ‘accidental’ friendly fire and beat up your allies.
While Golden Axe plays fine in single-player it was really designed to be played two-player, and that is where the main fun lies.
Each human player gets a choice between three playable characters – each with their own standard weapon and special abilities. There’s a blue barbarian called Ax Battler; a dwarf dressed in green called Gilius Thunderhead, and a red-attired Amazonian woman called Tyris Flare.
The aim of the game is to keep moving towards the end of a stage by beating up opponents in each area, then beat the boss(es) at the end of the level.
If you take too long, skeleton warriors come out of the ground to fight you.
The standard attack does have some variety, and you can pick up and throw enemies if you’re in the correct position, but key to progress is in dodging attacks and learning how to do a dash move to knock your opponents down. Each playable character also has a special magic attack (like a smart bomb) and these can be recharged by collecting potions. If the action gets too hot: drop a lightning bolt or fire storm into the mix to soften up your opponents. With any luck maybe even kill them.
There’s a bonus stage where you’re asleep and have to wake up and whack thieves for extra magic potions. It brings some much needed variety to proceedings.
As mentioned earlier: at certain points you’ll be attacked by opponents on bipedal beasts, and these can often breathe or spit fire, so the idea is to knock them off and use the beasts against the enemy. Staying on a mount is quite a challenge, though, when there are many opponents on-screen. These creatures definitely add an extra dimension to the gameplay.
Boss battles are reasonably impressive (the giant hammer-wielding twins are a sight to behold) and there are nine different stages to complete in total.
Overall, Golden Axe is still great fun to play now. The good thing is: you can keep pumping ‘money’ into it and keep continuing where you left off, so could easily play through it with a friend in one sitting. Which is worth doing if you’ve never done it before.
More: Golden Axe on Wikipedia