One of Sega's classic arcade titles, Golden Axe features three fantasy characters on their quest to destroy the evil Death Adder. At the beginning of the game you get to choose from the dwarf Gilius Thunderhead, the woman Tyris Flare and the man Ax Battler. The game itself is a scrolling beat 'em up with the player having to defeat waves of enemies as you progress. There are also a few creatures you can mount, such as dragons and the chicken-leg from Altered Beast which has a nice tail-whip attack to keep the bad guys at bay. At various points (and between each level) you will encounter tiny little humanoids dressed in blue or green - the green ones drop food to increase your health bars, the blue ones drop magic potions (although you have to put the boot in to get anything from them). Each character is able to cast magic spells, and the more potions you have, the more impressive and powerful the spells are. Gilius casts lightning spells, which are the weakest, Ax casts earthquake spells and Tyris casts powerful fire spells which can be powered up to give you a giant dragon that breathes flames all over the landscape.
What the hell have they done with this? Golden Axe was one of my most frequently played arcade games in its time and the Mega Drive version was a joy. This, however, is a travesty. The PC Engine is more than capable of a great conversion, but in steps Reno/Telenet and makes a complete dog's breakfast of the whole thing. Firstly, the visuals are awful. Basic backdrops and poorly drawn and coloured sprites resemble the arcade, but not nearly enough. Animation is sloppy, and character movement is ugly and cumbersome. The magic effects are also half of what they should have been. And fans of the original will be shocked by the corners they have cut with the gameplay also - gone are the position specific attacks. No more throwing your enemies or bashing them over the head with your sword hilt - these are the things that made Golden Axe fun! The music is also for the most part very badly arranged, with the cheapest synth sounds being used that do nothing to evoke the spirit of the original. But the icing on the cake is the sound effects, which prove once and for all the programmers have no clue what to do with the hardware - the sword slashing sounds like a duck quacking, and some of the magic spell sounds will make your ears bleed. Some may think that the extensive animated sequences that introduce each character are a big plus point to the game, but to me they only show where all the budget went, which was certainly not on the game itself. It's no wonder that NEC Avenue took over most of the Sega conversions after this sloppy piece of work. If you're not familiar with Golden Axe then you may get some small enjoyment from this game, but for me, just knowing what it could have been like frustrates me all the more every time I force myself to play it.