Golden Axe was one of my favourite games. I played it with both my sister Alex and cousin Matteo. Alex wasn't as big a fan of it as I was, so I played it far more often with Matteo, who had no choice other than to moan about having to play Golden Axe again, and being sick of playing Golden Axe.
The object of the game is to work you way through the levels, which are really just sections of a long journey towards a castle, fighting baddies/minions, until you reach the end and have to overthrow the usurper; a hunky looking so and so called ‘Death Adder’ who appears to have spent rather a long time injecting steroids and pumping iron. He wears a Viking-esque helmet and has decided he wants to take over, probably the world eventually (like they usually do), but to start with he’d laid claim to the little shit hole where the people you are playing as live.
As you progress through the game you can collect extra lives, magic potions and hijack creatures like dragons, which are being ridden by baddies, and ride them yourself. It is mainly set against a backdrop of villages, cobbled streets and farms. The more I think about it, Death Adder might have been a Viking, because apart from the fact that they have him wearing a helmet with horns on it, which is arguably one of the most quintessential Viking accessories (although having horns in it has never actually been historically proven), the scenery, with the villages and castle, could have been 1000 years ago in somewhere like England, where the Vikings famously invaded multiple times during the European Iron Age period. Second thoughts, the characters are wearing next to nothing, so maybe not England. I think the game designers sort of ruin the idea that this was Vikings, with the minions that are working for Death Adder – none really look that much like Vikings, and there in no consistency with either their outfits or weapons.
There was an ‘all right’ variation in baddies, could have been a bit more variety, especially when you look at other platform games from back then, sometimes each level had its own set of unique baddies. Mainly the Golden Axe baddies were just men and women who were fighting for Death Adder. They would change colour depending on what stage you were at, or their clothes would be a different colour. One man had a truncheon with spikes/nails sticking out, another was carrying what looked like a bunch of flowers – pretty generic thug-like characters. There where these skeletons too, they fought with pirate swords and a shield – they were quite good and I liked the way they rose from holes in the ground to come and get you, I played so many times that I knew when the skeletons were coming, and I never stopped thinking how stupid it was that you could kill them when they were clearly already dead and buried. There were women too, well, like I said, it was only one woman; she was basically just a slag wearing corset, with a flap over her nether regions and a sort of Cleopatra-like hairstyle – she/they came on in twos carrying little axes for weapons. My favourite ones were these fat giant ones, with little pot bellies and bitch tits, and hammers/mallets for weapons; usually, two came on at once. They had these really annoying faces; I don’t know if they were supposed to be Chinese or something, either that or they were constantly grinning at you. As you got close to them, they’d knee you away and then just stand there with their arms folded looking at you, doing this sort of shuffling motion up and down which looked like they were laughing at you. I liked them because it was always more satisfying to kill them and it looked funny when you threw their ungainly looking bodies across the screen. At the end of a couple of stages, leading up to the last stage in the castle, there were Knights for you to fight. They were pretty hard to be fair and a good way of leading to the final showdown.
At the end, before you get to fight that sexy beast Death Adder, you first have to fight a few others, while doing so you can see him in the background, from the waist down, sitting on the thrown in the castle. Once you kill the others he gets up and basically just goes around the screen sending electric shocks across the floor for you to jump over and try to strike him with your weapon. Here’s the best time to unleash your magic, not because you couldn’t kill him without, it would have just taken ages, and when you’re that close to the end you just want it over with so you can save the king and queen for the hundredth time. When you do kill him the King and Queen descend onto the screen tied up with rope, the King has been tied by his ankles and is upside down, but the Queen by her waist and is the right way up – I always thought that was really unfair, but even as a child I knew that it was because being a sexy woman made Death Adder give her preferential treatment over the man - an important message to get through at the end incase you’d used the woman as your character, and up until then had been lead to believe it was necessary for women to be more than just a pretty face.
The characters that you play with include a woman, a man and a dwarf. The women and man appear to be based on contestants from Mr and Ms Olympia, circa 1980-something, even down to their outfits - which would be completely impractical for the sort of combat that includes using more than your own bare hands. The dwarf is wearing slightly more appropriate clothes, which include a helmet with horns for head protection, boots and dress thing with a belt, which covers his torso. The man and woman both have swords, and their fighting style is basically the same; swinging their swords at enemies. You do this by clicking the fire button incessantly. Occasionally, after you have been pressing fire for a while, if the enemy is quite close and has been struck multiple times by your sword, they sort of keel over slightly which enables you to bash them on the head with the bottom of the handle of their swords a couple of times, making a ‘knock knock’ sound, before kicking them across the ground or throwing them. The dwarf does basically the exact same thing, only he is swinging his axe, and using the bottom of his axes handle. In my opinion, there is no skill whatsoever needed to operate the weapons. There is one skill you can master though, this is where you can run at the enemy and either, do a flying kick at then in the case of the woman, sort of barge into them with your shoulder in the case of the man, or something else for the dwarf, I can’t remember. All you really can try to get good at is when you attack and how close to get to an enemy, and getting your character out of the way by jumping or running away if they are surrounding you, to give yourself time to attack properly. Throughout the game, each character had the opportunity to use their ‘magic’ to kill off, or nearly kill off, all the baddies on screen.
Depending on who I played with would depend on which character I played with, if it was Alex I would be the man if Matteo then I’d get to be the woman. I don’t know where the idea came from, but for some reason we knew (whether we were correct or not) that the woman was the best one to be. I think this was largely down to her requiring more ‘pots’ to set her magic to its most powerful. Magic is something that must be collected as you go along in the game, between attacks from groups of baddies, these little blue hunched characters appear on the screen, with sacks over their backs. You have to follow them around the screen trying to kick little blue pots, or whatever they are, out of their sacks. Each time you collect a pot it adds to your magic, which is displayed at the top of the screen as a bar split into sections, where the amount of pots you have collected are displayed in a row. The dwarf has three sections in his bar, and only enough room for four pots, the man has four sections and enough for six pots, and the woman has six sections and enough for nine pots. When you enter a new section of the bar, your magic supposedly becomes more powerful and looks different to the one before. Once you unleash it, no matter where you are up to in the bar, the bar becomes empty, and you must start collecting pots again.
Looking back, and remembering what I thought at the time, I don’t believe the woman had the best magic; it didn’t seem as strong as the man’s one; all it was at its best was a dragon going across the screen with fire coming out of its mouth, yes it looked cool and everything, but the screen didn’t shake like it did with the man’s one, it just didn’t look like it was causing as much damage. The man’s one, on the other hand, when full, was like a sort of atomic bomb going off in the middle of the screen, with stuff being thrown out of it, and the screen shaking vigorously. And the dwarfs power, which was this sort of electricity or lightning that came down and engulfed the bad guys; although I didn’t think it looked as good as the other characters, the screen shook and it looked like it was doing some real damage! In fact none of the woman’s magic, no matter what level in the bar she was at, made the screen shake, the man’s and the dwarfs did. I wonder if this was a mistake by the developers? Also, I’m not even sure that it mattered how many pots you had collected either. Anytime you unleashed your magic, it always seemed to pretty much kill, or nearly kill, all the bad guys, apart from maybe the big giant ones. But if it was more effective at full capacity then it leads me to conclude that the dwarf must have been the best one to be, since you only needed to collect four pots for his power to be at its best, meaning you could just unleash it ‘willy nilly’ and know it was OK, because you’d be able to fill up again soon enough. When I played with the woman I rarely unleashed her magic unless it was full. I suppose it was a sort of gambler mentality, ‘I’ve come so far, no point in using it now when there are harder baddies to get, and if I hold out I can get all the pots’, then by the time I had collected all her pots I would be worried that if I used it then, I wouldn’t be able to collect enough pots to get her back to full capacity before the end, when I had to face the knights or Death Adder. Upon reflection, I think what a waste of time it was being the woman. After playing as the man for some time, Matteo decided he would rather be the dwarf; I never recall feeling like I was accompanied by an inferior partner after his change of character preference. This leads me to conclude that all the characters were the same, their magic was equally as powerful, only, the woman was a pain in the arse because you had to collect significantly more pots for her.
The best bits about Golden Axe for me was that sometimes the baddies would come on riding either this fish looking thing or a little dragon, which you could hijack and use yourself if you knocked them off. I also liked the way you could actually beat up the other person you were playing with – it might not have made sense as far as completing the game, but preventing Matteo from replenishing his magic by attacking his character when the little men came on never got old.
All in all I really enjoyed playing Golden Axe, although, upon reflection, I can’t for the life of my tell you why, because it certainly wouldn’t appeal to me in the least bit now, but I suppose for a child, it was straight forward, with no strategy involved and took next to no skill to operate the characters. If I could've made the game any better I would probably have had about double the number of baddies, and put them in more consistent outfits so it looked like they were from the same place, I would have based it on a Viking invasion because I just think this would've given the concept more substance. Also, and last but not least, as you walked from one fight scene to the other, occasionally a crowd of frightened little children would run past you. You couldn't do anything to them (I tried), they were just for show. I would have made it so you could've actually interacted with them and been able to attack and kill them should you have chosen, which I would have.
Thank you for reading my Golden Axe review.
By Victoria Latham Hall