Video games set in fantasy lands have always been popular. There is something enthralling about controlling musclebound and bronzed barbarians, big-breasted Amazonian women and axe-wielding dwarves who can not only hack their way through masses of monsters but also use fantastical magic when the situation warrants it. I mean, who doesn’t want to play a video game like that?
Golden Axe is a side-scrolling arcade hack ‘n’ slash developed and published by Sega, and released for the arcade in 1989. Over the next few years, it was later ported to the following:
For this review, I replayed the Mega Drive version from 1990.
Set in the high-fantasy land of Yuria, the evil Death Adder has risen to power. His soldiers are responsible for the massacre of thousands of peaceful villagers. Soon, he kidnaps the King of Yuria and his daughter and steals the Golden Axe. Thankfully, three warriors emerge who are capable of saving the kingdom:
Ax Battler – a mighty barbarian from the far plains. He seeks to avenge the death of his mother. He is brave and strong, and wields volcanic magic.
Tyrius Flare – an Amazonian from deep within the jungles whose mother and father were killed by Death Adder. She has skill with the sword and possesses immense magical power that can rain down fire upon her enemies.
Gilius Thunderhead – a dwarf who wields a mighty axe and uses his speed and cunning to defeat his enemies. He seeks to avenge the death of his brother at the hands of Death Adder. His magic ability sees bolts of lightning strike from the heavens.
Together, they have sworn to purge Yuria of the pestilence that is Death Adder’s army and rescue the king and princess.
To progress through the game, your heroes must battle through hordes of Death Adder’s ugly minions. Along the way, you will come across elves whom you can attack for magic and food. If things become too desperate, all three can use their individual magical powers to destroy their enemies. Gilius is limited to three bars, Ax to four bars and Tyrius to six bars. Tyrius magic is the more powerful of the three.
The controls are slick and responsive, and the hit detection is spot on. The two main tactics you will use is to either hack and slash your way through or charge at your enemies from a distance and either kick, shoulder barge or headbutt them. So, it’s not just a case of button mashing. You need to change your strategy depending on the enemy you’re facing. Occasionally, you may capture a Bizzarian. These weird creatures consist of one weird pink creature with a beak that uses its tail to swipe at your enemies, or dragons who breathe fire (blue = flame, pink = fireball). Interestingly, the tail swiping Bizzarian looks similar to the one’s seen in Altered Beast. Could it be that Golden Axe and Altered Beast are in the same universe?
The graphics look fantastic, expecially the backgrounds which are very detailed. The sprites look great and are animated well. Interestingly, Gilius Thunderhead seems to appear as a shopkeeper in Shining in the Darkness. Even one of his sacks in the store contains a face of one of the elves from Golden Axe. Again, does this mean that Golden Axe, Altered Beast and Shining in the Darkness are all set in the same universe?
Naturally, the game can be played in one- or two-player mode. There are three difficulty settings: Easy, Normal and Hard, and you can adjust the number of life bars you begin from three to five. You also begin with three lives and three continues. Watch out though, in two-player mode as you can damage your co-op buddy.
Arcade mode sees you play through all the stages whereas Beginner mode only takes you to level three where you fight Death Adder Jr. Duel mode sees you fight in 12 consecutive battles against increasingly harder opponents.
I have a lot of memories with Golden Axe playing with my siblings. Again, it is a game that has given me many hours of fun, and I have returned to it year after year, even though I can easily complete the game. When I play in two-player mode, I don’t necessarily think it is about the challenge, but more trying to recapture an adventure with my younger brother.
Did I complete the game?
Yes, I have completed this game many times over the years on easy. Strangely, I don’t think I have ever played this game on the Normal or Hard settings. I must remedy that.
What the critics said:
Electronic Gaming Monthly: “The screen graphics are perfect, with exceptional detail in in both the characters and background. The game is almost exactly like the arcade, with endless fighting filling each round. Axe moves slow, but has all the hack and slash action you could ask for. Overall 29/40”.
Mean Machines: “A flawless conversion that even improves on the arcade game! Superb! Overall 91%”.
Game Machine: “The character sprites are all big and bold, with more than a rainbowful of colours. The pounding soundtrack only adds to the involving and inviting atmosphere of the game. Fast action, superb attention to detail in the fight sequences and some breathtaking magical spells makes Golden Axe a must for all arcade action fans. Overall 92%”.
Zero: “Everything about this game is good; graphics, sound and playability. One-player is brill; two-player is unbeatable. Overall 94%”.
Wizard: “Again, another first generation Sega game. Medieval action game. Overall C”.
Sega Power: “Hack-‘n’-slash with all the frills of the classic coin-op. Two-player mode isn’t as smooth as expected and for one it’s easy to finish. Still, hugely playable and addictive! Overall 4/5”.
MegaTech: “Golden Axe is a pixel-perfect replica of the arcade machine, containing identical graphics, sound and gameplay. This is one of the best arcade conversions ever seen, and a game with no Megadrive owner should be without. Overall 94%“. 
“An excellent coin-op conversion. It looks great, plays great and the two-player mode will have you coming back again and again.”
What are your memories of Golden Axe? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @Nicklovestogame.
 ‘Review: Genesis – Golden Axe’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (March 1990). Issue 8:22.
 ‘Mega Drive Review – Golden Axe’. Mean Machines. (October 1990). Issue 1:42-4.
 ‘Review: Mega Drive – Golden Axe’. Game Machine. (March 1990). Issue 28:30-1.
 ‘Review: Mega Drive – Golden Axe’. (April 1990) Issue 6:74.
 ‘Game Reviews – Golden Axe’. Wizard. (January 1993). Issue 17:24.
 ‘The Hard Line – Golden Axe.’ Sega Power. (October 1991). Issue 23:53.
 ‘Game Index – Golden Axe’. MegaTech. (May 1992). Issue 5:76.