Golden Axe - Sega Ages 2500
Sega's classic beat-em up receives a next-gen revival on the Playstation 2, so how was the trip from 1989 to 2003? Find out what was lost.
Conspiracy Games (US, UK)
Golden Axe was quite a hit with arcade goers when released in 1989. Utilizing Sega's System 16 arcade board, Golden Axe featured 2-player co-op play where players took control of warriors on a mission to avenge the senseless deaths of their loved ones at the hands of the evil Death Adder. But what initially began as a quest for revenge quickly changed into a rescue mission after their dying friend Alex informed them that the king and princess were being held captive by Death Adder.
Armed with weapons and powerful magic attacks that could wipe out multiple enemies at once, the three warriors made their way towards Death Adder's castle and battled a variety of enemies along the way including fierce skeleton warriors, lethal vixens, twin giants, evil knights and even beast riding enemies who could be knocked off their rides, allowing players to engage in some medieval grand theft auto by mounting these creatures and using them against Death Adder's minions.
After enjoying a successful run in arcades Golden Axe eventually made the trip over to Sega's 16-bit console with a respectable conversion that came complete with extra features. While I wasn't particularly fond of the console version compared to the arcade original, it was still solid nonetheless and the extra level and play modes served to provide it with longer lasting play..
Not immune to the sequel treatment, Golden Axe eventually received a few follow-ups in the form of 1992's Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder - a four player, 32-bit continuation of the original, and 1994's Golden Axe: The Duel - a very mediocre fighting game released on Sega's Titan ST-V board and Saturn console. But as history would show, the original remained as the best in the series and the announcement of a remake certainly had fans anxiously waiting to see how one of their favorite beat-em ups would turn out in the 3D world of polygons and texture maps.
While the game's audio and visual presentation made the trip over to the 3rd dimension in enhanced form, the gameplay fortunately remained in the 2D realm. Unfortunately for this remake, there's a laundry list of problems that pop up throughout the course of the game with some of the more glaring issues rearing their ugly heads in the gameplay department.
The gameplay of Golden Axe is pretty simple and should take newcomers less than a minute to figure out thanks to the game's simple control scheme. The characters can walk, run, jump, as well as perform running and jumping attacks, counters, and simple attack combos. Unfortunately, not only do their attacks lack variety but there are lots of collision detection problems throughout the game. There were plenty of instances where our characters seemed to be hallucinating and performed their combo attacks on nothing but dead air - going through the motions as if they were actually making contact with an enemy. A very noticeable flaw, but a funny sight nonetheless.
Along with their basic attack moves, the three warriors are equipped with special magic attacks they can use to strike down any enemies that dare stand in their way. The power unleashed by their magic is determined by the amount of magic potions they have in their possession and they can easily obtain more by smacking the little thieves around and picking up the potions and health restoring meat they leave behind while making their escape. Unfortunately, as easy as that sounds, the developers made things worst by trying to 'fix' what originally wasn't broken and ended up modifying the gameplay so players are automatically awarded magic potions whenever an enemy is killed - making the game much easier this time around and eliminating the significance of the little thieves.
Regardless of that, the different levels of magic the warriors can unleash remains are one of the game's strong points. Tyris Flare, the weakest but fastest of the group has the strongest magic. Her fire magic requires more potions than the others in order to reach maximum power, but when it does, a great fiery dragon can be summoned to roast Death Adder and his scumbag following. Gilius Thunderhead, the slowest but strongest of the three, uses lightning magic to send a charge down the spine of his enemies. His magic requires the least amount of potions and isn't as impressive as the others but gets the job done. Ax Battler, if you've noticed the pattern so far, is the most well rounded character of the group. His speed, strength, and magic are on equal levels, making him the ideal character to play through the game with. His magic, while the 2nd most powerful of the group, is actually my favorite since the quakes and eruptions it brings about look impressive regardless of what level it's at.
As players start their journey near the Turtle village and make their way towards Death Adder's castle hideout, they'll encounter wave after wave of his evil goons and need to clear each section of them before being allowed to proceed. The difficulty of the battles were toned down quite a bit even though some enemies behave more aggressively than before by charging at you a lot more now, turning the game into a constant dodge-fest. On the plus side, enemies from later Golden Axe games also appear to spice things up.
One of the coolest aspects of Golden Axe was always the ability to knock enemy warriors off of the creatures they ride into combat with and stealing their rides to use against them. Dragons that breathe or spit fire as well as bizarre little creatures with power tail swinging attacks are at your disposable and can make short work of any of Death Adder's goons. However, unlike in the original where you could get knocked off of a creature and have it stick around for a little while, the creatures in this remake apparently have things to do and usually take off pretty quickly.
Golden Axe was never high on replay value in my opinion and the remake has even less. The game can be beaten in 40 minutes during your first time through, and with the exception of the enemies that constantly charge at you, the difficulty of the game is just way too easy. That was made painfully obvious when we were able to waltz right through the skeleton warriors without getting pummeled to death. A sharp contrast to the merciless fiends they were in the arcade version. Also, most of the death drops were removed, and despite being a longer game with added levels as well as a few modified ones, the gameplay feels more repetitive and boring than before.
Of course no remake would be complete without its share of extra features and Golden Axe serves up 3 additional play modes alongside the arcade mode. Versus mode allows you and a friend to select from a whopping 3 characters (whoopee!) and fight to the finish. Sadly, the fighting engine sucks pretty badly. Not only are your fighters limited to the same basic moves used in the arcade mode, but their slow recovery time, and the constant cheap shots from CPU controlled opponents make the experience too much of a hassle to be bothered with.
Other modes include a Survival mode where you battle against a constant wave of enemies in the level of your choice. If you can survive long enough on a single life, killing as many enemies as possible, you'll achieve a new record. Time attack is very similar except that you're racing against the clock trying to kill as many enemies as possible within the allotted time. Personally I find it to be the best mode in the game since you're always striving to outdo your previous record.
Graphically Sega Ages: Golden Axe is a mixed bag. While it would have looked great as a Saturn or PSone game, the visuals are OK at best for a PS2 game. Most of the characters are modeled well enough to resemble their 2D counterparts, but look smaller by comparison and animate a little too stiffly. Tyris Flare looks anorexic, forgot her fighting stance, and walks around as if she serious back injury. The hammer swinging giants also look as if they went on an Atkins diet during their long hiatus from the gaming world. On top of that, some of the characters jitter a bit too much during the cut-scenes, probably a result of being malnourished for so long. Ax Battler's character model doesn't look too bad but his sword is huge! It's almost taller than he is.
Probably the most significant changes made to Golden Axe are the backgrounds. The landscapes are rendered in 3D with rotating cameras providing a few of the areas with a little more depth. While many of the levels look nice, they're still nowhere near as detailed as the arcade original, making it plainly obvious that the developers took the easy route and did a watered down remake of the already watered down Megadrive/Genesis version (Boo!). They even forgot the map screen that appeared after completing each level.
In addition to the 'updated' graphics, a variety of cheesy new cut-scenes were added and look pretty bad even for real-time. Unfortunately the cutscenes can't be skipped - prolonging the pain even further.
Despite the many cons in this remake, and there are many, the one area where the game excels at is in the music department. Featuring a great selection of orchestrated tracks, the music throughout the game is quite pleasing and provides the game with more of an adventuristic feel. The sound effects on the other hand -while good- tend to sound a little out of place and would be better suited in a more realistic 3D action game.
Overall, Sega Ages: Golden Axe was a major disappointment. The game deviated a bit from the original, and with the exception of the orchestral soundtrack, nothing else stood out in a positive light. Had this been a remake of the arcade version I would have scored the game a little higher, but as it is, it's just a watered down version of the already watered down Genesis conversion and that just doesn't cut it unfortunately. If you're still interested, you'll be happy to know that the game is very import friendly and cheap. All of the menus are in English with Japanese subtitles appearing during the cut-scenes, but since they're really not up to par I seriously doubt English subtitles would have made them any more bearable.
It's up to you to decide whether you're a big enough fan of Golden Axe to overlook this remake's many flaws - the operative word being 'many'. And in the end a better option would probably be to search through your closet for that old Golden Axe game cartridge, fire it up on the old Genny/Megadrive unit and play through the next best version of the arcade original - all while staying far away from this botched effort.
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Golden Axe - Sega Ages 2500
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