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.

Golden Axe II – Review

Golden Axe has gone down in history as arguably one of the most famous hack ‘n’ slash videogames ever to grace the arcade, warranting its conversion to the 16-bit consoles. With such success, questions surrounding sequels are bound to be asked. Can lightning strike twice or will Golden Axe II be nothing but a damp squib?

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Golden Axe II is a side-scrolling hack ‘n’ slash game that can be played in single and two-payer modes (Be careful in two-player modes as you can damage the other player if not careful). It was developed and published by Sega and released solely on the Mega Drive in 1991. It would later be released on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 as part of Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009), as well as iOS. For this review, I played the Mega Drive version found on Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009).

Although this is the sequel that was released on home consoles, in 1992, another sequel, Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder was released but only appeared in the arcade. As far as I can tell, this sequel was set after the events of Golden Axe II.

Plot

A few years after the defeat of Death Adder, evil once more rises to threaten the world. After many years imprisonment, Dark Guld escapes and steals the Golden Axe. With his army of evil demons, he terrorises the world bringing death and destruction to peaceful villages everywhere. Once again, it is up to the mighty barbarian Ax Battler, the Amazonian Tyris Flare and the dwarf Gilius Thunderhead who defeated Death Adder, to come forth once more and reclaim the Golden Axe, defeat Dark Guld and bring peace to the world.

Ax Battler once again swings his mighty sword against the armies of evil (screenshot taken by the author)

Gameplay

The three playable characters from the first Golden Axe, Ax Battler, Tyris Flare, and Gilius Thunderhead, return in Golden Axe II to take on Dark Guld and his army of evil minions. The game features a total of seven levels: six scrolling levels and a final end of game boss battle against Dark Guld:

  • Ravaged Village
  • Ruins
  • Tower
  • Dragon’s Throat Cave
  • Castle Gates
  • Castle
  • Dark Guld’s Chamber

As before, each character has a unique move set and magic spells. Gilius Thunderhead is the strongest and so has weaker spells. To cast spells you first need to collect spell books. These can be found either lying around, or will be dropped by evil mages when you attack them. In the option screen under the magic heading, you can select ‘Special’ or ‘Normal’. When ‘Normal’ is selected and you use your magic, you will automatically use the strongest level of spell you can according to the number of spell books you have acquired. When you select ‘Special’, you can press and hold the ‘magic’ button in order to select how strong you wish your spell to be. This is a nice new feature as it adds an element of strategy to the game and means you don’t have to waste your strongest spells on the lesser minions.

The Bizarrians (Chicken Leg, Green Dragon, Red Dragon) are also still available. When you find these along your journey, it is advisable that you ride them and use their abilities. If you get hit whilst rding a Bizzarian, you won’t lose any of your life bars.

An additional sub-game is The Duel. In one-player mode you must fight total of 15 rounds against ever increasingly strength of opponents. In two-player mode player one and two fight each other.

Amazonian Tyrius Flare also returns to fight Dark Guld and his evil army (screenshot taken by the author)

How Does It Handle?

I did notice a slight change in the tactics of the computer sprites, in particular, the bosses. In the original, you simply kept the bossses on either side of you and ran back and forth using your diving attack. However, in this game, the sprites are wise to this and move slightly up or down the screen to avoid this tactic. The final boss also seems to stay half off the screen, meaning that you cannot ambush him in two-player mode.

Now, is it me, or is this game very short? Both this game and the original can be completed within 25 minutes, but for some reason, this game feels shorter. In reality the game length is around the same as the original. Funny how the mind can play tricks on you, but then again, humans are notoriously bad at gauging time without the aid of a clock. Either way, as a sequel this game should be longer.

Graphics

There seems to be very little improvement in the graphics (if any), although parallax scrolling has been added on the Dragon’s Throat Cave level and the spell graphics have slightly improved. Other than that, there is very little to discuss here.

Music

The music over the title screen does not fit with the theme of the game. It sounds like it would be more fitting in a game associated with crime such as Dick Tracy (1991) or Bonanza Bros. (1991). The in-game music is very…meh. It is easily forgettable and a little annoying. You’ll be forgiven for not recognising it when you hear it again.

Replay Value

This game has plenty of replay value. When playing the single or two-player standard game, you can change the difficulty setting to either ‘Easy’, ‘Normal’ or ‘Hard’, as well as adjusting the number of life bars you have per life.

Did I Complete The Game?

Yes, I have completed it on Normal Mode.

What The Critics Said:

Mean Machines: “A disappointing sequel which lacks new ideas, and challenge, and is just too similar to the original to be really worthwhile. Overall 69%.[1]

Mean Machines: “What a con! Golden Axe II is almost identical to the original game. It follows the same formula, has virtually no new features and certainly isn’t worth the money. Buy the original if you haven’t already got it. If you have, look elsewhere for your beat ‘em up thrills. Overall 69%. [2]

My Verdict:

“There is nothing glaringly wrong with this game. The issue is that there is very little to distinguish it from its predecessor. It’s almost an exact carbon copy and just feels like a lazy money-grabbing move by the creators. A disappointing sequel.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Golden Axe II? 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] ‘Megadrive Review – Golden Axe II’. Mean Machines. (December 1991). Issue 15:142-4.

[2] ‘Game Index: Mega Drive – Golden Axe II’. Mean Machines. (October 1992). Issue 1:139.

Astyanax – Review

Game creators have never been shy about using aspects of ancient mythology as a basis for their games, and why wouldn’t they? Ancient mythology is filled with stories of derring-do: defeating giants, outsmarting the Gods and rescuing fair maidens. In Greek mythology, Astyanax (also known as Scamandrius) was the son of Hector, prince of Troy, and Andromache. When Troy fell, he was either thrown from the walls to his death by Neoptolemus or killed by Odysseus (depending on your source).[1]

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Astyanax, known in Japan as The Lord of King, is a side-scrolling platform action game developed by Aicom and published by Jaleco. It was first released in the arcade in 1989, then later that year on the NES in Japan before getting a release in Europe and North America in 1990. For this review, I revisited the NES version.

Plot

Astyanax is a 16-year-old student from Greenview High who keeps having a recurring dream of a woman calling his name. One day, he is transported to another dimension where he meets a fairy named Cutie. She persuades Astyanax to rescue Princess Rosebud, Ruler of Remlia, from the evil wizard Blackhorn. Using either the legendary axe known as ‘Bash’, a spear or a sword, Astyanax must fight through forests, caves and a castle to reach Blackhorn.

Graphics-wise, the game looks good. (Screenshot taken by the author)

Gameplay

You have energy three bars: the first is a power gauge showing how hard you hit the enemy. This descreases anytime you swing your weapon at an enemy. When you stop attacking, the bar increases again. The length of your power bar increases as you find power-ups. The second is your health bar, and the third is your magic bar. Unlike the arcade version, the NES version can only be played in one player mode.

How Does It Handle?

The controls, whilst easy to learn, are frustrating because you can only strike straight ahead, whilst crouching or whilst jumping. you cannot jab upwards. It is ridiculously tough too. Many enemies attack at awkward heights, and you find yourself accidentally pressing up and attack which casts a spell and uses up your magic supply. Some later levels have an insane number of monsters swarming the screen at once. Oddly enough, the end of level bosses are not that difficult to defeat.

Attack of the Green Monster type thing! (Screenshot taken by the author)

Graphics

Graphically, this game looks good, especially when compared to its contemporaries such as Iron Sword: Wizards and Warriors 2 and Clash at Demonhead, both released in 1989. It has detailed and colourful backgrounds, and well defined sprites, especially the end of level bosses. After each level, you are treated to some beautifully illustrated cut scenes which help move the story along. However, there is a bit of flicker when you attack the enemy and at times, whole blocks of detail disappear.

Replay Value

Once completed though, there is little to make you want to play through again as the game only has one difficulty setting.

I wanted to give this game a better score but due to the monotonous music, the attacking issue, and the fact that you will need a cheat code to complete this game, lowers the score for me. There are better, more enjoyable games out there. I just didn’t enjoy playing this game that much so I doubt I shall be returning anytime soon.

Did I Complete The Game?

Yes, but I had to use the invincibility cheat, as this game is too damn hard. Without the cheat, I could only get to the end of level boss on level 3.

What The Critics Said:

As of yet, I have been unable to find contemporary reviews.

My Verdict:

“This game looks good, has tight controls, and a challenge that hardened gamers look for. The issue is that the controls are limited. It is perhaps too tough for the average gamer and has little in the way of replay value. It’s worth playing, but it’s not a game you’ll return to very often, if at all.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Astyanax? 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] ‘Astyanax’. (22nd December 2015). Oxford Classic Dictionary. (https://oxfordre.com/classics/search?siteToSearch=classics&q=astyanax&searchBtn=Search&isQuickSearch=true Accessed 24th November 2020).

Golden Axe – Review

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?

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

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:

Mega Drive/Genesis

Master System

Sega CD

IBM

PC

Amiga

Atari ST

Amstrad CPC

Commodore 64

Turbo Grafix-16

Wonder Swan

ZX Spectrum

For this review, I replayed the Mega Drive version from 1990.

You can choose to fight as either Ax Battler, Tyrius Flare ot Gilius Thunderhead (screenshot taken by the author)

Plot

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.

My personal favourite is Gilius Thunderhead (screenshot taken by the author)

Gameplay

To progress through the game, your heroes must battle their way through hordes of Death Adder’s ugly minions using only their swords and a bit of magic. 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.

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.

Some Bizzarians can come in very useful (screenshot taken by the author)

How Does It Handle?

The controls are slick and responsive, and the hit detection is spot on. The two main tactics you will use is to either to 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 (1988). Could it be that Golden Axe and Altered Beast (1988) are in the same universe?

Graphics

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 (1991). 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 (1988) and Shining in the Darkness (1991) are all set in the same universe?

Replay Value

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.

Personal Memories

I have a lot of memories with Golden Axe playing with my siblings. I always played as Gilius Thunderhead. 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 cComplete 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.[1]

Mean Machines: “A flawless conversion that even improves on the arcade game! Superb! Overall 91%.[2]

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%.[3]

Zero: “Everything about this game is good; graphics, sound and playability. One-player is brill; two-player is unbeatable. Overall 94%.[4]

Wizard: “Again, another first generation Sega game. Medieval action game. Overall C.[5]

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.[6]

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%. [7]

My Verdict:

“An excellent coin-op conversion. It looks great, plays great and the two-player mode will have you coming back again and again.”

Rating:

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.


[1] ‘Review: Genesis – Golden Axe’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (March 1990). Issue 8:22.

[2] ‘Mega Drive Review – Golden Axe’. Mean Machines. (October 1990). Issue 1:42-4.

[3] ‘Review: Mega Drive – Golden Axe’. Game Machine. (March 1990). Issue 28:30-1.

[4] ‘Review: Mega Drive – Golden Axe’. (April 1990) Issue 6:74.

[5] ‘Game Reviews – Golden Axe’. Wizard. (January 1993). Issue 17:24.

[6] ‘The Hard Line – Golden Axe.’ Sega Power. (October 1991). Issue 23:53.

[7] ‘Game Index – Golden Axe’. MegaTech. (May 1992). Issue 5:76.