Golden Axe III – Review

Golden Axe (1989) has gone down in history as being one of the greatest hack ‘n’ slash games of its generation. Golden Axe II (1991) was a respectable sequel but isn’t held in as high regard as its predecessor. The arcade sequel Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder (1992), wasn’t released onto home consoles until decades later. Naturally, one can be forgiven for thinking that the franchise had ended. However, Sega decided to have one more stab at rivalling the original.

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Golden Axe III is a side-scrolling hack ‘n’ slash developed and published by Sega. It was released on the Mega Drive in Japan in 1993 and north America in 1995 for the Sega Channel. For some reason, it didn’t get a European release until it became available as part of Sega Genesis Collection (2006) for the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable, and the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 as part of Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009). It can also be found on Wii Virtual Console. I chose to review the version found on Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) for the PlayStation 3.

The sprites are more detailed than in Golden Axe (1989) and Golden Axe II (1991) (screenshot taken by the author)

Plot

It has been many years since Gilius Thunderhead, accompanied by Ax Battler and Tyris Flare, retrieved the Golden Axe from Dark Guld. Both Battler and Flare has since passed away, leaving only Gilius, a dwarf whose life expectancy is greater than humans, to relive their battles alone. Gilius vowed to travel to the ends of the Earth to find the Gods who had bestowed the Golden Axe among the humans to return it to ensure that future dark powers could not use it for their evil ends. As his ship sailed across the ocean and mighty tempest sank his ship. The next thing he knew, he had awoken in a land he had never been to before. He may have imagined it, but he could have sworn that the last thing he heard before losing consciousness was an evil laughter. There was one thing he that he is sure of. The Golden Axe he was carrying to the Gods has been lost…

Half a year later, Gilius’ injuries are healing and he feels strong enough to set out again in search of the Golden Axe. He is soon caught up in war between good and evil. The Kingdom of Splash Hill where he had been recovering is under attack from the armies of the evil Damned Hellstrike who has conquered and enslaved the people. The king is missing and the queen is confined to the castle. Gilius soon puts two and two together and realises that Damned Hellstrike is in possession of the Golden Axe. However, Gilius is too old to go into battle and must seek out four warriors to go in his place.

These four warriors are:
Kain Gurindaa – A soldier who wields a battle sword. His closes friends were killed by the Demon Army and he is seeking revenge. He is basically Ax Battler.
 
Sara Baan – Once part of a troupe of travelling entertainers, her friends were killed when the Demon Army invaded. Possessing the Blue Dragon Sword given to her by her father, she too seeks revenge. She is bascially Tyris Flare.
 
Puraudo Kuragga – A descendant of the giants, he lends his strength to the cause after Gillius rescued him from the Demon Army where he was being held captive.
 
Kuronosu “Ibiru” Reito – This half-man half-beast was once a human. He has been cursed by the Demon Army and seeks to regain his human form.

Gameplay

As with the prequels, you must battle through a variety of areas using hand to hand combat and magic. You can now block enemy attacks. To do this, you need to push the D-pad backward away from the enemy.

One nice addition to this game is that there are times when you can choose which path to take. Some paths will be easier, but the harder paths yield better power-ups, so the choice is yours.

Once again you can use Bizzarians. There are four types. The Red Dragon who fires flames, the Green Dragon that bites, the Purple Snail that uses its tongue to attack, the Green Snail, which is superior to the Purple Snail, because it has a longer tongue. Unlike Golden Axe II, if you are riding a Bizzarian and you get hit, you WILL lose some of your health. If you wish to mount one, you will need to press the action button near one. You will not mount one automatically. This also goes for picking up potions and health.

As with previous games in the series, you can gain potions to increase your magical power (screenshot taken by the author)

How Does It Handle?

The gameplay is very simple, if not a little repetitive due to the limited move set that each character has. The enemies are wiser to your offensive tactics and defend themselves better than in previous instalments. This is particularly noticeable when fighting the skeletons who have shields, and the big bosses who are exceptionally good at defending themselves.

In previous Golden Axe games, the attributes of the characters were clear. Gilius Thunderhead was the strongest in hand-to-hand combat but had the weakest spells, Ax Battler was in the middle ground and Tyris Flare was weaker in battle but had the strongest spells. In Golden Axe III it is unclear who the strongest is in hand-to-hand combat. To me, it seems that it’s Puraudo Kuragga as he seems to take less time to kill the evil minions. However, each character seems to have the same number and strength in spells, which doesn’t make sense as this means there is no advantage in playing with Sara Baan who is weaker and has less of a reach even though she wields a sword.

The new blocking action doesn’t work very well. You need to guess when they are going to attack else your fighter simply turns around and starts walking the other way. This method of defence is fine for one-vs-one fighter games when attack will only come from one direction, but when attacks can come from multiple directions, its just doesn’t work. It would have made more sense and would have been more intuitive to have a button to act as the blocking function. Also when fighting the baddies, they have the odd ability to be either slightly high or lower in the foreground and can still hit you with an attack which is incredibly annoying.

Annoyingly, you now seem to have no control over how much of your magic you use. I don’t understand why they didn’t keep this in from Golden Axe II (1991) as this adds strategy to the game.

The Bizzarians really are pathetic in this game and really are not worth the hassle of mounting them only to get knocked off almost instantly.

One good feature of this game is that you can rescue villagers to gain extra lives (I think it’s five per extra life). You can also find hearts which increase the size of your health bar.

Graphics

The graphics, as far as the sprites are concerned, are much larger and more detailed than in previous instalments and look great! However, the backgrounds are very lacklustre (only occasionally is there parallaxing), and the animations of the spells are really crap!

Out of the four characters, I preferred weather playing as Kain Gurindaa or Puraudo Kuragga; the former because of the reach of his sword, and the latter because of his strength.

Music

The music is more fitting than it was with Golden Axe II (1991), but again, is very forgetable.

Replay Value

There are two endings: one good, one bad. To get the good ending, you’ll need to reach the final boss with at least one continue left. Incidentally, when you do die, a message appears on the screen stating “And You Dead!” which made my brother and I laugh. It must be a translation issue.

Did I Complete The Game?

No, I made it the castle but have not gotten any further as of yet.

What The Critics Said:

Electronic Gaming Monthly “The graphics are by far some of the most plain looking on the Mega Drive. Plus, the new magic effects aren’t as impressive as before. No rating given.”[1]
  
Sega Power: “Not the sequel we expected, I’m afraid. Everything about this game smells. If you’ve got the superior Golden Axe II, be content with that – you won’t find anything here. Overall 34%.[2]

Sega Pro: “The competitive two player mode still remains, but the moves are limited and the control a little too shabby in comparison to modern head-to-heads we see today. Again, the challenge is far too easy and the gameplay soon becomes repetitive and boring. This is one too many. Overall 54%.[3]

Computer & Video Games: “Loads of levels and stacks of moves. Boring, tedious, dull, unattractive. Is that enough? Overall 62%.[4]

My Verdict:

“A disappointing sequel. This game is just not fun to play. Which is a shame as the graphics of the sprites are greatly improved from the previous instalments. There is more wrong with this game than right.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Golden Axe III? 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.


[1] ‘Golden Axe III’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (December 1993). Issue 53:111-1.

[2] Mortlock, D., ‘Mega Drive Review: Golden Axe 3’. Sega Power. (September 1993). Issue 46:50-1.

[3] ‘Short Reviews – Golden Axe III’ Sega Pro. (September 1993). Issue 23:84.

[4] Anglin, P. & Rand, P., ‘Review Mega Drive – Golden Axe III’. Computer & Video Games. (September 1993). Issue 142:54-5.

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