As I've said before, Golden Axe was one of those arcade games that truly motivated me to spend quarter after quarter when I was a kid. Chopping up skeletons with a big sword and while riding on a chicken stinger is like crack for small boys. As for home translations of Sega games in 1989 our options were very few. Master system owners were lucky in this regard as for a few years they had exclusive access to many of the Sega arcade titles at home (at least until the Genesis came out.)
So how's the game? Well, it's a little substandard (okay, I take that back. It sucks. It blows monkey chaod.) I have a sneaking suspicion that less than stellar arcade ports were intentionally released on the SMS while much better, cleaner, more thoroughly tested translations with larger budgets were slated on the Genesis hardware for the express reason of making the Genesis look that much better. Call me crazy, but I know the SMS is capable of giving us better games than this.
First thing to go is the two player simultaneous play. Big deal, a lot of 8-bit games switched to one player in their home versions. But the thing is they were able to do it with other SMS translations (notably Double Dragon.) Second is that the only playable character is the barbarian, the dwarf and the amazon have both been removed. Instead you get to choose which type of magic you want to use. Lame.
Of course I didn't expect an exact arcade game here. True in the 8-bit era we were used to major sacrifices in our games - no arcade translations ever really looked or sounded the same. So one could argue that the extra characters and lack of two player mode was done in order to maintain the size of the sprites or detail of the graphics. Then you play the game and realize the graphics aren't that good in the first place, so where's the pay off for the sacrifice?
The graphics really suck, they're really washed out and animate like rocks (At least there's no flicker going on.) Some of the characters use two or three step animations. Backgrounds look extremely ghetto, some of them seem just like they took a screenshot of random television snow and tried to pass it off as dirt or rocks or something. Seriously it's that bad; Sometimes you can't tell where they "ground" ends and a "wall" begins. Hit detection is totally off too, you can jump in the air, swing your sword at the crest of the jump, and still hit people underneath you, as well they can hit you by swinging at the air under your feet. On the good side it seems all of the major enemy types from the arcade have made it, all the skeletons, thugs, "Bad Brothers," etc. are represented, also the chicken Stingers and dragon mounts are present, which are pretty cool. Also the level cut scenes are also present, where the map shows your progress on the way to kill Death Adder.
What I don't understand though is why major gameplay elements were removed while things like cut scenes were included. I'm sure if they would have taken out some of the magic effects, removed the cut scenes, and reduced the size of the characters they could have freed enough memory to animate everything more smoothly and include the other playable characters. Priorities, people, priorities.
All of this could be forgiven if the game played decently, which it doesn't. You can swing the sword and walk around good enough but that's about it. Trying to dash is an exercise in futility, getting off a dash attack is more luck than anything else, attacking on the mounts is totally useless... thing is there are better games that show what this system is capable of, you know it can do better than this.
Due to lacking graphics, crappy control, less than stellar gameplay, and deletion of major features, I must tell you all to avoid this version of Golden Axe. In the age of emulators it may be fun for a few minutes to experience how much it sucks exactly, but do not bother trying to hunt a cartridge of this game down.
Graphics: Crappy, badly animated, lazy-man graphics abound. There are so many other SMS games with better graphics, just shows how they spent one afternoon and $4.95 on actually producing this game.
Sound: Thankfully no attempt was made to include any of the voice samples from the arcade, which would have made the game that much more unbearable.
Gameplay: Loose, wonky controls restricts you to walking around and using the standard attacks as anything else is instant suicide.
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