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
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.
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.