Thursday, March 24, 2011

Ultra Review Roundtable: Golden Axe (Sega Genesis)

Ed:  Time for another Ultra Review Roundtable from the team, including yours truly, Sushi-XPired!  Thanks to Hagen Dragmire at for doing the heavy lifting on this project every month!


Golden Axe is classic hack ‘n slash all the way, complete with combos and similar moves sets for multiple characters. Your three characters are Ax Battler with a short sword, Tyris Flare with a short sword, and Gilius Thunderhead who is a dwarf with a powerful axe. Each character has unique magical spells that increase in power as you gain more potions. The story of Golden Axe is your typical Tolken inspired fantasy. The evil Death Adder and his followers have massacred the villages of Yuria, have stolen the Golden Axe, and killed off the royalty. The families of the three main characters have been killed and it is up to them to stop Death Adder’s evil reign of terror.


Golden Axe’s gameplay is simple, chop down everyone in your way, kick little men with bags for magic and health, and mount beasts to control them for added power. There are nine stages which get more difficult as you progress. While using the normal attack is sometimes good enough, there is also a shoulder tackle and jumping attack in order to allow you to change up your tactics. It is also notable that the attacking in the 16-bit port is much slower than the arcade version. Each time you attack you are limited to about two or three swings in a row max which can let enemies gang up on your if not timed properly. There is also a duel mode where once you pick your character you fight each enemy in the game, sometimes in hordes.

Graphics and Sound

Graphically Golden Axe sticks pretty closely to its arcade counterpart although it does seem to cut corners on the amount of color used. The only way you will notice this degradation is if you have played the arcade version a lot. The level graphics stick with the whole fantasy theme and do a decent job of drawing you in to the land of Yuria. Each of the character graphics is decently done, although Ax Battler’s sword does look a bit like a white stick. What really sticks out as outstanding graphically is the magic effects which usually take up the entire screen. This being said, there is always noticeable slowdown in the frame rate whenever magic is being dispelled.

The music in Golden Axe is a drab rendition of the arcade version that uses too much bass but overall gets the fantasy feel across. The sound effects have that same off feeling to them when you compare to other games in the 16-bit era. The magic sounds the best, but it also uses too much bass to create false intensity.

Tag Lines

“How better to kill an evening than by progressing level after level through a medievalfantasy slash-fest?” -

“If you own a Genesis, this is one game you should have in your collection.” -

“Each play through doesn’t go much longer than 30 minutes which makes for a great game for a quick go.” -

“The fantasy land of Yuria is a nice change from the dark, gritty urban environments typical of the genre.” -


Published and Developed by: Sega
Released: August 14, 1989
Platform: Sega Genesis / Mega Drive
Genre: Beat ‘em Up, Hack ‘n Slash
Perspective: Side-Scrolling

Sushi-Xpired from

Favorite Gaming Collectible You Own: Donkey Kong Bubble Gum Cards circa 1982

Most Valuable Gaming Collectible You Own: Atari 2600 Custer's Revenge CIB

As I recall, my younger cousin Ellard was afflicted with a terrible speech impediment when this game came out. He laced up his Oxfords, rode his velocipede to the general store, walked up to the video game dispensary and asked for a copy of Golden Axe. Oh, those old boys did have a laugh at his expense! It sounded like he was saying Golden A$$, of course, and Parson Withers gave him a right good boxing around the ears for using profanity in public. Ellard died shortly thereafter of an awful cranial hematoma, but everyone at church just called it "the consumption."

Gilius Thunderhead readies his Battle Axe against the uh, Club of Carnage! And the Grapes of Wrath. I guess.

I came to the Sega Genesis version of Golden Axe in a roundabout way. The first serious time I spent pursuing Death Adder was with the 3-D remake included on the PS2 Sega Ages collection released in the US.  Then I heard the great music from the otherwise awful PC Engine port on a podcast, inspiring me to play the original coin-op version. I only played this cartridge for the first time when I got hold of a copy in a rummage sale Genesis bundle a few years back, and while it's a competent conversion it does pale in comparison to the arcade game. I enjoy the scrolling beat 'em ups once in a while, and the fantasy land of Yuria is a nice change from the dark, gritty urban environments typical of the genre (though, based on the name, one suspects it still smells of pee.) But these games haven't evolved much since Double Dragon, so even the best of them doesn't rate very highly in my book. I like the addition of dramatic magic attacks, and the rideable beasties. But there's not really much to do besides swat or be swatted. It's clearly designed to suck quarters, and home videogame design had already moved on when this game was new.

3 Dead Death Adders out of 5

Mr.Armitage from

Favorite Gaming Collectible You Own: Rollergames Pinball Machine

Most Valuable Gaming Collectible You Own: Dance Dance Revolution Extreme Machine (I actually have 3)

Back what seamed to be a life time ago there where Arcades and in them, depending on your skill level, you could suspend reality for as long as you could make a quarter last. One of the leaders for a while in the side scrolling beat ‘em up, after Double Dragon, was Golden Axe. About a year after the arcade version came the Genesis port which back then was a huge deal.

A fairly good arcade port to a home console was unheard of. Was it the beginning of the end of arcades? Sega cranked out a few other arcade to console ports for their Genesis with Strider, Altered Beast, Alien Storm, and Golden Axe. While nowhere near a perfect conversion from the arcade, Golden Axe was indeed very good for its time. With most of the levels intact and actually contained a few bonus levels on the Genesis as well as new modes. These new modes included the Duel where you can battle a friend or each enemy one on one and Beginner which is a dulled down version of the first three stages. Golden Axe has suffered a little in the graphics department with time. The graphics are very washed out color wise, not that the Arcade version was very colorful to begin with. The sound is quite good with a decent number of tracks to rock along with. If some of the screams and death sounds are familiar, it’s because Golden Axe reused some sound bytes from Rambo, Conan, Commando, and American Werewolf in London.

Golden Axe has got fairly good replay value because for the three player choices. It was one of the first games to have an option of player select rather than just one player. The characters are all balanced with fighting skill and magic, good fighting/weak magic, middle of the road on both, or week fighter/good magic. I prefer Tyris Flare which was the weakest in fighting but had huge fire magic when levelled up to the max. Plus you can play as a kick ass dwarf but sadly due to the Genesis lack of Graphic capability he now has a brown or gray axe instead of golden one. What no Golden Axe in Golden Axe? Also one of the few games I can remember that you can kick gnomes, little #$@@ stealing my magic and food. I'm going to kick the @!#$@# out of them. With all beat ‘em ups you usually have the ability to pick up weapons. Since the heroes already have weapons, Sega used a different tactic with the ability of using mountable enemies to power up your attack, one of them which was featured in Altered Beast.

While not an incredibly difficult game, you can beat Golden Axe in about 40 minutes with the continues available. I find it great fun. Golden Axe has a reasonable move set for the use of three buttons with magic, attack, and jump. It often tends to be a little frustrating if you have an enemy on either side as you will get cheaply attacked. It is definitely a handle one enemy at a time game. Golden Axe is one of the few built in games I play on a GenMobile often when I have about an hour to kill. If you own a Genesis, this is one game you should have in your collection. I would however warn you to stay away from the Sega Ages or Sega Collection version on the PS2. Sure the gameplay is similar and the graphics are updated, but the charm is definitely lacking and the controls are very broken.

4 Dead Death Adders out of 5

HagenDragmire from

Favorite Gaming Collectible You Own: Sharp Nintendo Television

Most Valuable Gaming Collectible You Own: Either the Super NES Kiosk or Original Galaga Cocktail

So we jumped into the 2-player mode of Golden Axe after not playing the Genesis version in years. It was very easy to pick up and play. Very quickly, we found ourselves bashing in the brains of enemies with very little damage being taken. Right off the bat I noticed the slowdown in the attack speed as we have been playing arcade beat ‘em ups a lot lately at parties. My friend made the mistake of choosing Ax Battler who he said, “Looks like he is attacking with a toothpick.” I chose the little axe wielding dwarf as I always liked his short stature. Boss Rushes always meant you were near the end of a stage.

Right off the bat, we both ended up using our magic on accident as we didn’t bother to check which order the buttons were in. We also both commented on how easy the game seemed to be with the default difficulty setting. Besides for a few jumping deaths and inadvertent dragon burn deaths, we rarely died until the eighth or ninth levels. Once we got to the later levels, that’s when the enemy team ups started to occur. Once they started teaming up on us, especially the skeletons, there was nothing we could do to shake them. Every once in awhile we could save each other, but usually that just resulted in hitting each other on accident. By the time we got to the boss fights at the end of the later levels, we were but a hit away from death.

Golden Axe is a fun play through and a solid experience on a 16-bit console. Besides for a few annoying gripes, it is a great first edition of the series and a decently solid arcade port. Most of my gripes were fixed in the sequels so at least Sega listened to the game players/testers. One of the best things about Golden Axe is that each play through doesn’t go much longer than 30 minutes which makes for a great game for a quick go.

3 Dead Death Adders out of 5

NintendoLegend from

Favorite Gaming Collectible You Own: Golden holographic Majora's Mask cartridge. Is it really all that collectible or rare? No, but it's still my favorite.

Most Valuable Gaming Collectible You Own: My NES cartridge and weird controllers collections.

Golden Axe is the perfect game. I know, I know, that sounds incredibly audacious and maybe even ridiculous – but think about it: Whether by yourself or with a friend, it’s a good stand-by, always fun for a playthrough. It’s like a Snickers bar, or Wednesdays – nobody would say it’s their favorite, but you just kinda like it.

The sound effects are wet, crunchy, and impactful. The action is at the perfect challenge for a casual gamer. Those little dwarf things are a riot. How better to kill an evening than by progressing level after level through a medieval-fantasy slash-fest? Be on the look-out for those fire-breathing creatures and enjoy the ride. It may not be the best video game in any technical, graphical, auditory, or gameplay aspect, but there is a reason why it is a long-time, much beloved classic: It is just fun. If you haven’t fired it up in years, give it a try, and see what the pacing, difficulty level, and fun-with-a-friend component stand the test of time.

4 Dead Death Adders out of 5

Ultra Review Roundtable
Overall Rating

4 Dead Death Adders out of 5

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