Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Search for the Ultimate Barbarian Game (Part 3)

Today, we delve further into the Golden Axe franchise.  If I'm not mistaken, I think Sonic the Hedgehog and Phantasy Star are the only Sega properties that had more games than the Golden Axe series. The success of the original arcade game spawned numerous sequels and offshoots.  Let's take a look at them.

Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder

This is considered by some to be the "real" sequel to the original Golden Axe arcade game, completely ignoring Golden Axe II (seriously, people, quit your goddamn whining).  Some have even been so bold as to fully call this Golden Axe II:  The Revenge of Death Adder.

Here's a reality check for you assholes out there.  Even though this game came out a few weeks before Golden Axe III, chronologically, it would have to take place after the third game.  You see, at the end of Revenge of Death Adder, Gilius Thunderhead dies, which means he can't come back to help the characters in GA III.  If this game is part of the canon, Revenge of Death Adder would have to be considered Golden Axe IV.  Sega didn't put a number two in the title of this game, so either face facts or shut the fuck up.

As an arcade game, Revenge of Death Adder does make improvements over the original arcade game.  The game did receive a serious graphical overhaul, better sprite animation, and better sound.  It's the first Golden Axe game to allow up to four players at once, making this game great for you and three friends to hack through the game.  It also does another first: Revenge of Death Adder has branching areas that let you choose which path you want to take, which allows you to play certain levels in one playthrough, and try another route the second time.  Golden Axe III also utilized this, but Revenge of Death Adder was the first.

I must say, this is a pretty impressive offering.  It keeps a bit of the sword & sorcery feel intact.  It has some good levels, utilizing upward scrolling to change things up.  The bosses are cool.  All the ridable beasts are giant insects that either shoot fire or sting the opponents with an electric shock.  The magic for two of the characters is fucking awesome (both Stern, the barbarian and Goah, the giant have magic attacks that let you see a close up of an enemy as his flesh turns to stone or burns in a firestorm).  For the most part, Revenge of Death Adder is a solid game.

There's just one thing that keeps this from being the best Golden Axe game: the main characters.  Someone had some lame ass designs for some of them.  First off, we have Stern, the requisite barbarian.  Nothing wrong with him.  He's pretty much filling one half of the staple of characters you expect in a Golden Axe game. 

For those who want a hot female warrior, there's Dora  But I've got good news and bad news for you.  The good: she is a nicely stacked, hot female warrior.  The bad: she's only hot if you look above the waist because she's a centaur.  This kind of sends mixed messages here.  I mean, you take a nice piece of ass and cross it with a horse.  Unless you are really interested in some sexual encounter that could only come out of greek mythology, you're going to be a bit uncomfortable with that.  To top it off, when she gets on a beast to ride it, her lower half transforms into human legs.  What the hell is up with that?  If you were going to let her have a full human body when she rides a giant bug, what's the fucking point of making her a centaur at all?  If you check out the video, you'll see what I mean.  Watch when the heroes go through the waterfall in the first level.  She'll be riding a flame mantis, sidesaddle, no less.

If you look at the arcade marquee pictured above and the video below, you'll see that Dora wields one of those boffer staves like the ones used in the Joust event on American Gladiators.  I guess the game designers wanted a female that was sexy, disturbing, and slightly ridiculous all at the same time.  Mission accomplished, guys.

If you thought that a horse woman wielding a giant Q-tip was bad enough, they also had to include some stupid kid with spiky hair and a trident.  Trix (yes, that's his name) seems like the bitch character that no one wants to play.  His magic, while it may be extremely useful in an arcade game with no other health pick-ups, has got to be the most retarded.  His magic grows tiny fruit trees, that's it.  Sure, the fruit gives you health, but what kind of stupid power is that?

The cast is rounded out by Goah, a big guy wielding an axe.  Gilius Thunderhead is actually riding on top of his shoulders, so, in a way, Gilius is actually a playable character in this one.

Despite some lame character choices, Revenge of Death Adder isn't a bad game.  In fact, it's actualy pretty good.  I still wouldn't say it's preferrable over Golden Axe II.

Golden Axe Warrior

When it came to 16-bit systems, the Super Nintendo had better graphics and sound than the Sega Genesis.  However, for 8-bit systems, the reverse was true.  The Sega Master System had games with much better graphics and sound than the NES.  Unfortunately for Sega, that didn't stop the NES from outselling the Master System outright.  Since that is the case, most people never got to play a Master System game during their childhood.

Fortunately, the Virtual Console for the Wii and, again, Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection have given some Master System games a new lease on life.  Besides the port of the original Golden Axe, Sega made Golden Axe Warrior for the Master System, which is available as an unlockable game on Sonic's... yeah, you get it.

Basically, this is an unabashed Legend of Zelda clone.  It does have better graphics than the game it rips off of and it does feature new things, like a town, where you can rest and save your game.  If you liked the first Zelda game, you might like this one.  Despite being a Zelda clone, it's actually a pretty good game, even to be considered one of the best Master System titles ever made.  About the only sword & sorcery element I've found so far is that the main character (who may or may not be Ax Battler) has a horned helmet.

Ax Battler: A Legend of Golden Axe

Ax Battler was released for Sega's portable Game Gear and a lot of people say that this is a rip off of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.  While I can see some good similarities, I don't see this as a direct rip-off.  I've played games that were more of a Zelda II clone than this one.  Most notably, this game is actually tolerable to me, which is saying something because I hate Zelda II... a lot.

For the most part, Ax Battler displays in the typical overhead view of most RPGs.  When you enter battle, the view changes to a side-scrolling mode where you fight one-on-one with an enemy.  If you deplete the enemy's life, you win.  If the enemy hits you, even once, the battle ends (I guess they run away or something).  It's the dungeons you enter that are the most telltale sign of a Zelda II rip-off.  Despite this, I must say I enjoyed this better than the game that it took from.  Zelda II sucks.

Golden Axe: The Duel

It's about this time that the franchise seems a little too desperate.   Golden Axe: The Duel is a one-on-one fighting game that came out in arcades in 1994 and on Sega's floundering Saturn system in 1995.  Basically, Sega wanted to cash in on the burgeoning fighting game craze that had come to a head at that time.  What they did was take elements of the world of Golden Axe and implement them into a fighting game.  Both fans of the series and fighting games were disappointed with the result.  I played a little bit of this game and responded with a resounding, "meh."  It's another tiny footnote in the franchise; nothing more.

Golden Axe: Beast Rider

Which brings us to the most recent addition, Beast Rider.  This time, all three of the original characters return in this re-imagining of the franchise, but you can only play as Tyris, who, while easy on the eyes, dresses like a barely legal slut.  If this world had stores like The Gap, I would imagine that's where she got her clothes.  The barbarian chic outfit disillusions me almost as much as the fact that this game is pretty much your typical modern action game with no real meat on it. Reviews of this game have ranged from mediocre to just plain terrible.  There are some interesting things to look at in this game, but gameplay seems to go back and forth between boring and frustrating with most people.  If there were a demo available for it on XBOX Live, I'd try it.  Needless to say, I don't want to waste money on renting this game, so I'll go with the consensus on this one.

Anyway, that about covers all the games in the Golden Axe franchise.  It's really obvious that Golden Axe II is my pick for the best game of the series, but this is merely my opinion (which happens to be correct, as always).  If you find yourself disagreeing, well, there's something seriously wrong with you and you need to take care of that, now.
Tomorrow, I'll take a look at another classic arcade franchise, the Rastan Saga.

Kaiser out

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