Guilty Party – Golden Axe 2
Crime – being one of the most disappointing sequels of all time
Redress – Golden Axe II is to be given a second chance to see if it really is a disappointment
The next game on my Sega Holiday list is Golden Axe II, which in my opinion is a big disappointment and a pale shadow of the original Golden Axe. From what I’ve seen online, people seem to really like Golden Axe II and see it as the best of the series…but I completely disagree. I’m not saying Golden Axe II is an awful game (it’s not) or that the original Golden Axe is perfect (it’s not), but in my eyes, Golden Axe II is no improvement on the original. I will go further than that bold statement – I actually prefer Golden Axe III, the black sheep of the family, to Golden Axe II. However, let’s give Golden Axe II a second chance – it’s my holidays and I’m feeling charitable…
Firstly, let me give a bit of background on my disappointment. The orignal Golden Axe is one of the Sega games I loved as a kid, whether it was the arcade version, Mega Drive port or even the Atari ST port… not the Master System port though, it’s another victim of ‘Sega Master System Arcade Port Syndrome.’ Everyone loved Golden Axe as kids too – whenever I bring up Sega games, Golden Axe is usually one of the first three they mention (often second after Streets of Rage 2). Sure Golden Axe has it’s flaws – it’s an easy game with some daft A.I. – but as a dumb but fun brawler, it’s one of the best, and one of the most fondly remembered. This is partly due to it’s excellent Mega Drive port, which was fairly faithful to the arcade and added an extra two levels plus Duel Mode. Lots of people owned this port and have a lot of happy memories of Golden Axe, me included.
I never played Golden Axe II ‘back in the day’, but I remember the reviews not being that great. Mean Machines gave it 69%, with the consensus being that Golden Axe II was generally the same game as Golden Axe, but worse in some aspects. So I was apprehensive when I finally got to play the game a few years back…and rightfully so. I was disappointed after playing Golden Axe II, even without expecting much. How could Sega not improve on the original? The original Golden Axe was ported to the Mega Drive in December 1989, while Golden Axe II came out two years later – surely Sega must have had more ideas and skills to improve the Golden Axe concept? Compare the difference between Streets of Rage and Streets of Rage 2, they almost feel like two unrelated games, such is the improvement.
Another reason for my disappointment is the Golden Axe sequel we never got, Golden Axe: Revenge of Death Adder. This 1992 arcade only sequel to Golden Axe blew me away when I played it – huge graphics, close ups of enemies during magic attacks, branching paths, double team moves and a variety of characters and magic. The jump in quality from Golden Axe II to Revenge of Death Adder is incredible and the gap between them is only around six-nine months. We got a few of Revenge of Death Adder’s features in 1993’s Golden Axe III, but it feels like we got a stop gap (GAII) instead of a full sequel (Return Of Death Adder). Return of Death Adder was never released to home consoles (then or now) and is fairly rare to the arcades too, so it’s a game that has sadly been lost to time…
Anyway, now I’ve laid out some bad vibes, back to Golden Axe II and it’s quest for redemption…This time, the three heroes from Golden Axe return to face Dark Guld. The attract sequence tries to big Dark Guld up, but he just sounds like a rip off of Death Adder – same sort of armour, sitting on a throne ala Death Adder at the end of Golden Axe etc. The title screen then follows…and, after a promising start, kicks into some horrid funky techno music that couldn’t sound any less suited to a Golden Axe game if it tried. Frankly, Golden Axe II is off to a bad start.
I start up the game, trying to erase that music from my head. Gilus is my pick, as always – a dwarf with a huge axe is usually the best solution to any problem. The first thing I notice is the sound effect the enemies make when they die – the brilliant sampled scream of Golden Axe is gone, replaced by a squeaky ‘eh!’ sound, that sounds like a disgruntled fourteen year old boy. Level 1 is a rundown village that isn’t as inspiring as Level 1 from Golden Axe. Remember the first time you got to the end of Level 1 in Golden Axe and faced Col. Malt and Sgt Bitter for the first time? Here you get a halfhearted scrap with a humanoid wolf and some grunts to end the level. I’ll give Golden Axe II some credit though. Firstly, being able to ‘charge up’ the magic you use is a excellent touch and adds a bit of strategy to the game. Do you wait to use all your magic at the boss or do you choose to use a few small spells during the level? Secondly, I like that the source of potions, the mages, are actually an enemy who can fight back. I know kicking small elves in the arse was fun in Golden Axe, but having them being an actual enemy makes sense. You get your magic from beating an enemy as opposed to kicking a randomly wandering elf with no provocation.
Level 2, the ancient ruins, is better. The ominous music is good, plus the level introduces skeletons to add to the challenge. There are some slightly off looking backgrounds though – look at the way in the above screenshot. In theory it’s fine, but look at it closely and you can’t unsee the strange perspectives. The boss of Level 2 is a headless knight, accompanied by some pink skeletons. The headless knight fights like the Col, Bitter on Golden Axe, so once I get into the groove (running attacks a kimbo) he’s done for. There is a lot of Golden Axe II that is just ripped from the first game – the programmers have simply altered a few sprite images. I understand that they would use assets from the first game, but Golden Axe II so far feels like a computer randomly generating code from Golden Axe into a new game…it’s more Golden Axe; Redux than a sequel.
Level 3 is the Enemy Headquarters. Remember the likes of Turtle Village from Golden Axe? Here we get generic descriptions like ‘headquarters’ and ‘ruins’…the level itself isn’t bad, but it’s very similar to the ‘Eagle level’ in Golden Axe in terms of layout. Worse still, enemies still foolishly wander off platforms to their death like in Golden Axe. I’ll accept I’ve been harsh on Golden Axe II, but they could have at least improved the A.I. to stop enemies falling to their doom. You think Dark Guld would have heard the legends of the first game and thought “I need to hire troops who aren’t like lemmings if I want to take over the kingdom”…The bosses are four lizard men, who are easily taken down via Gilus’ new special attack, where he digs his axe into the ground and spins around kicking everyone. It’s effective, but silly…I mean, why does no-one just kick the axe away and make Gilus fall on his face?
Level 4 is a cavern, that looks like a red palette swap of the extra level from the Mega Drive port of Golden Axe. To be fair, there is a nice river of fire in the background and the music is decent, a sinister number with a stomping synth drum. Still, it’s all a bit samey and I’m thinking another issue with Golden Axe II is it never builds up to anything. There is no change of pace, just club two enemies, repeat, repeat – no ambushes, no big jumps to clear, no sub bosses. I’m instantly surprised by a rousing boss theme and being attacked by two humanoid wolves and three lizardmen. Still, I just bust out Gilus breakdancing spinning kick of doom and the battle is over. I’m walking through Golden Axe II, with no practise and having eaten a tub of Ben and Jerry’s…the original Golden Axe was harder than this and I’ve always found it pretty easy.
Level 5 is the castle, which to me looks like Sega just used backgrounds from Golden Axe. I’m getting sick of making comparisons myself now, but I can’t help it – Golden Axe II really is a pale imitation of it’s predecussor. I actually forgot to take a screen shot of this level, as it looked so simliar to Level 3. The bosses are two knights, which I make hard work of. Thankfully, Golden Axe II is a damn easy game and all I need to do is mash B to take care of the knights.
Level 6 is the castle where Dark Guld ‘must be’…I’m glad we did our research after fighting across the entire kingdom. To be honest, I’m getting bored now and making silly mistakes. I’ve beaten Golden Axe II before, so I’m just going through the motions. The levels for Golden Axe II just meander on and on and on…they don’t inspire you to keep playing. The music is actually starting to grate too – there is no variety, every song is just ‘miltary drums then throw a tune over the top.’ Enemies are still wandering into pits too which is farcial. That was the one thing they should have improved for Golden Axe II and didn’t.
Dark Guld is up next, but I have little health or enthusiasm and fall quickly. He’s just another knight again, surely a boss should have a unique design and attack pattern? Either way, my playthrough is over and so is the redress.
Verdict – Having played Golden Axe II again, I’m more disappointed than I was the first time I’ve played it. Having played and beaten Golden Axe III (bad ending though) I would argue that III, as much as it is lacking in graphical flair and originality, is the better game. III is a much more challenging game, with more story and better combat.
My advice would be, stick with the original Golden Axe. If you love that, try III. II is a waste of time in my opinion, a weak remake of the original.