Almost 15 years before games like Baldur’s Gate and Champions of Norrath revolutionized the hack and slash genre, Sega’s Golden Axe was at the forefront of that revolution and was the best beat-em up available on any system, promoting cooperative play, deep gameplay and a bevy of modes to keep gamers up all night long. Re-released on the Nintendo Virtual Console, Golden Axe is back and it’s still just as fun and challenging as it was back in the day.
While the single-player mode has always been great, Golden Axe truly shines in a multiplayer setting. Using one of three characters, a barbarian, a dwarf or a female warrior, who all have different abilities and strengths, in order to defeat the Death-Adder and his myriad of evil cohorts, Golden Axe featured the type of gameplay that made it a smash hit in the arcades way before it was released on the Sega Genesis. Luckily however, very little has been lost in the Genesis version that has been ported to the Wii VC.
If solid gameplay wasn’t enough, the game has some of the best graphics during the early Genesis years and is home to some of the best animations and backgrounds of any game during the era as well. Taking a step away from the cute and pixilated sprites featured in games like Mario, Gyromite, Kid Icarus and Mega Man during that time, Golden Axe was one of the first games to ever make the player feel they were actually in a fantasy land, killing giants and skeletons. This in effect turned Golden Axe into a cult classic, keeping gamers infatuated with it, despite its short length.
Despite there not being too much available in Golden Axe to overwhelm you, as there are only a handful of levels, the fact that all three characters play differently gives the game solid replay value, while the other modes available, such as the duel mode, which is almost like a gauntlet version of the game, where the player only has one life and is trying to defeat as many foes as possible, give the game enough substance and polish to warrant multiple plays.
In addition, the game is still great at doing exactly what it was originally intended to, being a solid arcade game that can take up anywhere from 15 minutes to three hours of free time off your hands. Simply put, the same way that games like Donkey Kong and the original Super Mario Bros. have kept their luster after so many years, Golden Axe does as well.
In the end, players who missed the game when it was originally released in 1989 will finally realize what all the hoopla is about and will see the similarities between it and the classics that soon followed it like Final Fight, Streets of Rage and countless others, showing just how influential the game was and still is to this day.