golden axe

a review of Golden Axe
a videogame developed by SEGA
and published by SEGA
for dos, iOS, mobile phones, the amiga, the arcade legends sega genesis volume 1 handheld tv game, the arcades, the armstrad cpc, the atari st, the commodore 64, the microsoft xbox live arcade, the nintendo wii virtual console, the sega master system, the sega mega drive (genesis), the sony playstation network, the wonderswan color, the zx spectrum and turbografx-cd
text by Thom Moyles

1 star

Bottom line: Golden Axe is “not insulting, it's just dumb.”

When Sega Classics came out, there was a hue and cry about how horrible the remake of Golden Axe was, about how it was a desecration of the original game, how an all-time classic had been destroyed, etc. This is funny because it’s actually a faithful recreation of the original. It’s just uglier (okay, far uglier). That the game was now rendered in blocky 3D should have been enough to pull the wool from everybody’s eyes and reveal that really, Golden Axe is a terrible game. Only nobody could take the shock of this revelation and instead pretended that it was this new version of Golden Axe that was awful, that their memory of the original was actually as great as it seemed when they wandered up to the towering arcade cabinet and gasped at the gigantic sprites and impressive visual effects, that when they finally built up the courage to put their popsicle-sticky hands on the buttons and put in quarter after quarter, they had been experiencing gaming at its finest. People will believe just about anything to let themselves think that they’ve never been fooled.

You know, I have some fond memories of reading Archie comics in the mountain sun while on vacation with my parents. This doesn’t mean, were I to go back to the yellowed and brittled comics still stuck in an outhouse somewhere north of Yosemite, that I’m somehow obligated to argue that they’re actually any good. I’m older now and besides a brief nostalgic burst when I first see something that rises to the surface of my memory from decades in the murk, I can’t ignore the often-sloppy penmanship, the banal plots or the insipid jokes. Likewise, when I see Golden Axe, I’ll put in a quarter, remember playing it on a boardwalk with a kid twice my age and doing better than him and I still won’t be able to stop thinking about how slow your character moves, how cheap some of the enemies are and how, if you really want to get to the end of the game, all you’re going to need is what would have been a fairly flush bankroll for a 10-year-old in the 1980s (or just a lot of patience, if you’re lucky enough to be near one of those second-run arcades that charges a flat fee and sticks all the old machines in the back on free play).

Even though I have pleasant memories of Golden Axe, they’re also pretty damning, in that I can vividly remember seeing the ending, which was the first time that I’d ever seen an ending for an arcade game. What I can’t remember is whether I beat the game or whether I was just watching some other kid blow his wad to the tune of 4 dollars in change. Now, I also remember the fight against Death Adder, so it’s most likely that I did in fact beat the game myself, especially since I remember putting in about two bucks worth of quarters during that fight because God Dammit Mabel, not today, not today! That I can’t remember whether I did so or not personally is because playing Golden Axe was not a matter of skill, it was a matter of attrition aimed at your wallet. It was a movie, only if the usher kept jabbing you every minute or so for your spare change and if you didn’t give it to him, they drew the curtains.

 

Just a second to catch my breath guys

There were two times in my life where I was crushed by the difference between a console port and the arcade original. The first, Cyberball for the Genesis, redeemed itself after my initial shock because the developers realized that with the change from the quarter-pushing glitz and emphasis on multi-player of the arcade to the ugly sprites, tinny sound and unilimited-tries context of the family den, that the game itself had to change to match the context. So the game slowed down, became more strategic and the money you used to upgrade your team was now based on scoring and gaining yards, rather than pushing in quarters. Golden Axe, on the other hand, was the same game, just uglier. In the same way that the Cyberball port disguised the shallowness of the original, Golden Axe on the Genesis set the shortcomings of the underlying design in sharp relief.

Without those huge colorful sprites, the game was fully revealed as the quarter-sucker that it was a decade before the Sega Classics remake caused a massive Selective Memory Event. Without the draw of seeing what would come next (okay, maybe there was some draw in seeing how spectacularly disa ppointing the end result would be when compared to the original arcade version), there wasn’t much point to slowly walking right and taking turns trading glacial blows with other brown-ish looking sprites until you eventually got bored and put in something worthwhile, in much the same way that once you’d been all the way through the arcade version, there wasn’t any point in doing so again.

Now, don’t let this make you think that I hate Golden Axe. Golden Axe isn’t insulting, it’s just dumb. It’s a relic of older days worn smooth by adoring hands. To those of you who still cherish your sepia-toned memories of Golden Axe, I urge you to hang on to them for dear life and remember, you can’t go back again.

–Thom Moyles

Comments

15 Responses to golden axe

  1. heck off icycalm

    This is a pretty good review of the brawler genre in general, thom. I feel only streets of rage ever really punched out of that quarter feeding mentality.

  2. Perhaps because Streets of Rage never had to worry about quarters to start with?

    If you think about it, River City Ransom is kind of postmodern in this way. It’d be more postmodern if your characters had to use the quarters to play Renegade.

  3. Oh yeah, and RCR. It’s fairly implicit SoR/Bare Knuckle is as good as it is because it was tailored for a home system.

    Double Dragon 3 made you credit feed to buy power ups!

  4. Remember Golden Axe from the arcades, then played it in MAME while working an early-2000s office job that didn’t require a lot of my time. And I must say some part of my lizard brain enjoyed pummeling ape-looking dudes until they lay down, flicker and vanish.

    If you take it on its own terms, it’s an integral part of the beat-em-up genre, which, admittedly, has never been one of my favorites. Maybe it DID suck, but it had style compared to its colleagues of the time.

  5. the xbox 360 controller gives whole new meaning to MAME emulators, particularly when you play some of the schlock the Japanese will dump their paychecks into. how they can seamlessly integrate porn into nearly every game genre is mind-numbing.

    blah. there’s always something to be said for nostalgia, as long as that something doesn’t empty the wallet too bad (or at all). as with Gauntlet, the games were fun at the time, but a replay serves only to highlight the obvious shortcomings.

    btw, guys, love the site. although i disagree with a few points (music in LoZ: TP, FFVII), overall you’ve had me approaching my own games with a different perspective.

    which, i believe, was your primary intent from the beginning.

    well, that and a few laughs.

  6. Thom, you should change the bottom line to “a hell of a lot worse than you remember”.

  7. Although I’m generally opposed to editing something after publication, that’s a much better line.

  8. Yeah. I mean. Beyond the front-page juxtaposition hijinks, it probably would help declare your point in neon lights to those inclined to miss it. Which… seems to have happened. Thanks to Internet.

  9. Maybe it’s the nostalgia talking, but I still enjoy Golden Axe, even if it is a bit clunky.

  10. Golden Axe is just as good (with co-op, anyway) as I remember. This “review” is hecking terrible. Icycalm is absolutely right, James, and you are a circle-jerking moron, not sorry to say (lol at the Streets of Rage comment; it shows how knowledgeable you are of beat-’em-ups).

    On to this diarrhea-stain of a review:

    Golden Axe is only a quarter-sucker if you aren’t good at videogames. The game is easy as far as arcade games go. GA is a better game than this guy is a reviewer. I’ve one-credited the game many times, and if you want to make it easy on yourself, just pick Gillius Thunderhead. Dude is cheap as heck, something you guys can probably appreciate as long as you’re the ones being cheap.

    Anyway, seriously, read this stuff:

    “Golden Axe was not a matter of skill, it was a matter of attrition aimed at your wallet.”

    Does anyone read or edit this stuff before it gets put up? It is BOTH. A matter of skill and attrition aimed at your wallet. If it was not a matter of skill, no human being on Earth would be able to 1CC it. My brother and I used to have one-on-one duels in the Genesis version of GA II all the time, and he always won, because he was BETTER, MORE SKILLED at the game.

    “It was a movie, only if the usher kept jabbing you every minute or so for your spare change and if you didn’t give it to him, they drew the curtains.”

    I don’t even want to bother with that movie analogy, because there is no way in hell that analogy is anywhere near accurate. You, like the many who write for ABDN, just string together analogies for the hell of it, and this is a good example of that. If you sit there and watch GA and just keep popping quarters into the cab, you will get nowhere fast. [Insert insult against the reviewer’s intelligence and writing ability here.]

    You mostly talk about how GA looks, as if the only reason ANYONE would ever want to play it was because of how pretty dem dere culuhs once looked. It’s not sepia-toned, and you don’t trade “glacial” blows with enemies. That statement in the penultimate paragraph makes you look like a fool, like you never figured out how to dash and tackle or ride the beasts. In fact, the three characters’ regular attacks aren’t that slow anyway.

    Your best point against the game (if it were true) would be that it is not a matter of skill, and that would DAMN it in my eyes. The problem is you never build on this point, and only go off on other, more trivial tangents.

    “In the same way that the Cyberball port disguised the shallowness of the original, Golden Axe on the Genesis set the shortcomings of the underlying design in sharp relief.”

    You never elaborate on this, and go back to talking about how it looks in the very next paragraph:

    “Without those huge colorful sprites, the game was fully revealed as the quarter-sucker that it was…”

    You are more shallow than the game you criticize.

    Yep, it’s hard for an imbecile to see through something if it looks nice. That’s the problem with ABDN readers most of the time. Sometimes I wonder if it isn’t you yourselves praising some of your stuffty reviews. You reviewers hardly ever talk about the games themselves, their mechanics, how they play, etc. Many times you barely speak of the game at all, merely using a review as a platform to post your opinions about everything else and your life, merely stringing together catchy sentences with no real insight. Plus, after reading Samuel Kite’s and J. Jonathan Bennett’s latest piles of textual dog stuff, I’m convinced now you don’t care much about quality.

    “I still won’t be able to stop thinking about how slow your character moves, how cheap some of the enemies are…”

    Again, a clear demonstration you never figured out how to dash, ride beasts, or just hecking pick the dwarf. Since you’re so concerned with looks, though, you probably avoided him.

  11. “You mostly talk about how GA looks, as if the only reason ANYONE would ever want to play it was because of how pretty dem dere culuhs once looked.”

    That’s not what he mostly talks about, you hallucinating hecktard. In fact, whenever he saw anything about the game it’s a miracle.

    “You never elaborate on this, and go back to talking about how it looks in the very next paragraph:”

    Actually, he kind of implies the reason people were fooled into liking it was because of the big, colorful, purty sprites, which really doesn’t help him either. But if you’re going to be a critical douche, do it right.

    There are a few more flaws and stuff in your argument I could nitpick, but I have a badminton match to go to. I’m with you, though; this dude’s review sucks.

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