Friday, June 24, 2011

Of Import: Golden Axe (PC Engine)

This week, we're looking at another one of those unexpected licenses -- Sega was apparently feeling generous in the early 1990s, or greedy, as it allowed a number of its arcade and Mega Drive hits to appear on competing platforms.  In 1990, with the Mega Drive in full swing, Golden Axe appeared on the PC Engine CD-ROM format in Japan, courtesy of Renovation Soft.  It never came to the US, but the text is in English and it's perfectly playable on a TurboGrafx-CD system.

Unfortunately, there are good reasons this release never saw the light of day in the more punishing North American market; it looks pretty much like Sega's Golden Axe, but it's not as much fun to play.  The conversion effort makes a lot of odd and apparently pointless compromises.  For some reason, there was sufficient production budget to add an animated intro, and character-specific opening segments (with some reused artwork.)

But it was too much trouble, apparently, to render the arcade game's spooky, death-shadowed character selection screen properly -- instead, we just select from three big, static portraits:

And while the game is recognizable as Golden Axe, it's not particularly attractive.  The background graphics are flat and colorless, and the character sprites all look like they've been converted over from a Commodore 64 original, with wide pixels and smeared coloration obscuring anything that might look like detail.  The level designs are faithful to the original game, from what I can tell, but they feel shorter -- battles are quick and clumsy, and enemy behavior is fairly predictable.  Most of the challenge comes from trying to line up an attack properly.

Jumps are even harder to line up -- I lost Gilius' steed, and the rest of Gilius' lives, trying to make it across what should be a very manageable gap, shown below.   Most annoying, sometimes he would pause on the other side, then fall, making it seem like his toe caught hold and yet the game decided to send him plummeting to his death.

As is often the case with Japanese arcade games, the text is completely in English, if sometimes not quite right -- Death Adder is apparently "OUR SWOWN ENEMY":

The sound effects are dismal, with all three characters' attacks accompanied by the same flatulent-sounding noise.  The game's only real audiovisual attraction is the CD-Audio arrangements of the familiar Golden Axe themes -- these were remixes before there were such things in video game land, and fun to listen to if you're familiar with the strangled version rendered by the Genesis' limited sound capabilities.

Tyris Flare threatens the locals.

At least I learned where the jaunty closing theme from the PC Engine City podcast comes from -- it's the Game Over music for Golden Axe:

I could continue, but I think that's more PC Engine Golden Axe than anyone should have to endure.

There are superior and cheaper domestic versions of Golden Axe available, but if you simply must have the PC Engine CD edition, you might be able to find it here.

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