Debuting in arcades in 1989, Golden Axe was yet another blockbuster arcade hit from SEGA that set the company on a path different from Nintendo but which would see the two companies clashing head on in the 16-bit console wars years later.
Filled with Conan the Barbarian-style art and narrative, Golden Axe was a side-scrolling beat ‘em up that gave you control of Tyris Flare, Gilius Thunderhead, and Ax Battler as they make their way through hill and dale to defeat the evil Death Adder. Showing off gameplay concepts that would later underpin console classic Streets of Rage, Golden Axe is very much an arcade game from the 1980s.
Laden with high-fantasy concepts and looking every bit the off cast of a black metal movie shoot, Golden Axe’s gameplay “keeps it simple, stupid” and gradually increases the player’s challenge as they proceed through the game. There are no complicated maneuvers to learn, magic to level up, or choices to make – you’re on an express train straight to Death Adder’s lair and it is awesome.
Completely competent as a single-player game, Golden Axe nonetheless shines as a co-op experience. This is because so much of the fun comes from seeing and experiencing the world of Golden Axe together. You and a friend can tactically deploy magic, dominate wild beasts to tame crowds, and work together to take down gigantic baddies bent on doing you harm.
But, for modern gamers, that’s about it. There is no sweeping story that keeps you up to date on the latest details, there are no cinematic cutscenes, leveling, grinding, or other filler content. Golden Axe is pure arcade combat and fans of that will love it. But others might keep asking “is that all there is?”
Yes, that is all there is, and it is an awesome time all the