(VC Arcade / Virtual Console Arcade)

Golden Axe (VC Arcade / Virtual Console Arcade)

Game Review

Golden Axe Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Damien McFerran

Sega's classic fantasy side-scroller hits the Virtual Console in its original arcade form - but is it any good?

It would be fair to say that the expansion of the Wii Virtual Console to incorporate arcade releases has been extremely welcome, but it has resulted in one rather unusual side-effect: we’re seeing rampant duplication of titles already available.

We’ve already had the likes of Solomon’s Key (NES), Altered Beast (Mega Drive / Genesis), Space Harrier (Master System) and Tecmo Bowl (NES) - all of which have already seen the light of day via the original Virtual Console channels - and now we have Sega’s Golden Axe to add to that list.

Released in arcades in 1989 (the same year as Capcom’s seminal Final Fight), this side-scrolling fantasy brawler was one of the first games of its type to shrug off the clichéd “urban” setting and locate the Double Dragon-inspired gameplay in a setting more akin to Lord of the Rings.

The player is given the choice of three different characters. Ax Battler is a stern barbarian and showcases a decent balance between speed, power and magical ability. Tyris Flare is the token female fighter and is blessed with a impressive command of magic as well as a swiftness of foot, but such talent comes at the expense of strength. Finally we have Gilius Thunderhead, a dwarf who is weak with spells but sturdy and powerful, boasting impressive offensive capabilities.

Although the characters are markedly different in appearance their move sets are near identical. All three are capable of devastating multi-part combos, which change depending on your proximity to your opponent. For example, your typical flurry is a couple of slashes, followed by two blows to the head with the butt of your weapon before a final slash is delivered. However, it’s possible to move your character after the initial two attacks, and this results in either a throw or a quick upwards slash, or stab. Tinkering with this combo system is vital when you’re going up against several enemies at once. Often, if you choose to execute the full combo you’ll find that you’re being assailed from all sides before you get chance to complete it.

Although it’s possible to throw your opponent – as we’ve just mentioned – there isn’t a grapple option in Golden Axe, like there is in games such as Final Fight and Streets of Rage. This limits the potential of the combat somewhat, but such an omission is mitigated by the presence of dash attacks – an innovation in 1989 that even the mighty Final Fight lacked. Double-tapping left or right causes your character to launch into a sprint, and pressing attack results in a shoulder charge (Ax), flying kick (Tyris) or a head-butt (Gilius).

In addition to this, pressing jump whilst running causes your on-screen avatar to leap higher in the air than normal. Pushing down and attack executes a particularly potent vertical thrust which is hard to land successfully but causes a considerable amount of damage to any enemy unwise enough to remain beneath you.

While Golden Axe arguably lacks the combat possibilities of other titles released at the time, it does have one unique feature up its sleeve: magic attacks. By collecting the blue potions dropped by the numerous elves that are scattered across the land, you can build up more powerful spells. Tyris – who is the most adept with magic – has to collect more potions than her companions, but can control arcane powers of a truly terrifying magnitude. Conversely, Gilius prefers to let his axe to the talking and therefore requires fewer potions to max out his meter because his magic attack isn’t as potent. Ax Battler – the “Mr. Average” of the Golden Axe world - falls somewhere in the middle.

Another feature that makes this title stand out from the crowd is the variety of imagination displayed in the level design. The unusual settings add immeasurably to the overall appeal of the game, and after scrapping through countless nondescript back alleys in other 2D fighters, they come as a breath of fresh air.

So then, in conclusion Golden Axe is a pretty nifty game, despite the fact that it’s slightly overshadowed by other genre classics. However, with the Mega Drive / Genesis version already available, you might ask if such a game is even worth considering – especially when you take into account the fact that the domestic edition contains extra levels and a “Duel mode” where two players can fight each other or a single player can face off against a succession of enemies.

The choice is made even more difficult when you consider just how faithful a conversion the 16-bit port is. Granted, there are lots of graphical touches missing from the Mega Drive / Genesis version (the awesome coin-op ending has also been removed) but it’s only when you place them side-by-side that they become apparent. When it was originally released, the home port was hailed as “arcade perfect” and while this isn’t quite true, you can see why reviewers jumped to such a conclusion.


It’s hard to see why someone who already owns the Mega Drive / Genesis version would want to download this – unless of course they’re a massive Golden Axe fan. However, if you’ve not purchased Golden Axe in any form on the Virtual Console yet, then this is worth considering. You’ll miss out on the bonus levels that were featured in the home version and it costs 100 more Wii Points, but you get the added benefit of improved visuals and sound – as well as that fantastic ending. Ultimately, the differences between this and the 16-bit release are negligible; both offer plenty of “hack and slash” gratification and both feature a brilliant two-player co-op mode. Which one you decide to purchase is really down to your own personal preference.

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User Comments (50)



Bass_X0 said:

I won't be getting either version but IMO better graphics and sounds is more pleasing than longer levels. The arcade game would be my version of choice. * goes to watch ending *



Stevie said:

I only ever played the Amiga and Master System version of Golden Axe and it is a game that i have fond memories of, however i am slightly confused about the extra levels. Would I be correct in saying the arcade version contains the same levels as the Master System version while the Mega Drive version contains the same levels as the Amiga version? Help here would be appreciated.



Damo said:

The MD version has the most levels of all the ports - none of the other versions have the levels that the MD one does. The Amiga version is a straight port of the arcade, as far as I'm aware - and is nowhere near as good as the Sega version.



Betagam7 said:

I'm glad this review mostly concentrated on the game rather than just comparing it with the Megadrive game as some duplicate reviews have recently done but once again its missing an important factor in deciding which version to get. The Megadrive version in PAL territories is also inflicted with SEGA's usual awful PAL conversion which means big black borders and slower gameplay. This is another area where the Arcade version imporves on the available Megadrive port.
While I'm aware that this won't affect NA when the game hits that territory its worth noting for Europeans and Australians pondering which game to buy.



Stevie said:

Cheers Damo, so I'm assuming then that the Master System version had even less levels?? SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!! If i strain my memory hard enough I believe it ends just before you travel on the turtles back, in the Amiga version you get to cross to the castle on the turtle, fight previous bosses from all the previous levels before one last boss fight. If the Mega Drive version has extra levels to this I am downloading it now!!

Edit - @ Betagam7 - Hmmm now I am stumped on how to relive my Golden Axe memories, extra levels or quality, I will await more comments to sway my decision

Edit again @ Betagam7's comment below - unfortunatly I own neither a PS3 or 360, is there a PS2 alternative ??



Betagam7 said:

Stevie, If you have the option it might be best to pick up the Sega Megadrive Collection for either 360 or PS3 as it features all 3 Golden Axe's and importantly lets you play them in full screen and full speed 60hz which for some unkown reason Sega refuses to let us do on the VC, even with their Hanabi titles which are bizarrely downgraded to 50hz and have big black borders added to them so as not to stand out from their ordinary PAL releases.

EDIT: Stevie, there is indeed a similar PS2 collection:


Features all 3 Golden Axes and gives you the option of choosing between the old 50hz releases and running them in 60hz as they should be to remove borders and slowdown.

Meanwhile you can complain directly to Sega about their lame PAL VC ports by writing here:

Sega Europe
27 Great West Road
United Kingdom

It's a pity that Nintendolife, with their more direct contacts won't pick up the baton on this, especially when it comes to the needless downgrading of Hanabi titles where Sega can't even use the old "it was like that to begin with" excuse.



timp29 said:

Don't worry betagam every post of yours is testament enough to your crusade against 50Hz.



Betagam7 said:

Unfortunately one man can't win a war. But a website with a large readership might make an impact. I know that Damo has explained they contacted Nintendo early on in VC-reviews life about the problem and didn't get any joy but NL is a bigger website with a larger following now and by directly questioning, not Nintendo themselves, but the worst offender in Sega (who they've previously indicated having a PR contact with) then they might be able to get some answers, at least over the shocking Hanabi ports.
Can it really hurt to try again?



Damo said:

Betagam7 - The whole 50/60 debate has been done my friend, as you say in the early days we tried to get Nintendo's attention on this but the simple fact is that most PAL Wii owners don't care about it - in fact, most of them probably don't even realise the issue exists.

While a Nintendo Life-backed campaign might ruffle a few feathers I doubt it would actually result in any action being taken. Consequently, we no longer mention the issue when reviewing software, but needless to say we will keep our eyes on any developments that might occur in this regard.



Ren said:

Hmm, normally I'd dive on the arcade one first, but I do sort of remember the Genesis one being pretty good, mostly because of the extra levels.
As a home game the arcade version is pretty short and designed to just suck up 10 bucks of coins so you can win it in front of strangers in a loud, murky arcade (ah, the good ol' days), but for home it really needed those extra levels. The duel mode is pretty silly, though.



Betagam7 said:

Damo - I've heard you state before that "the debate is done" and that "Most don't care about it" but what exactly makes you sure of this? Have you conducted a survey among your readers or are you just guessing what millions of PAL gamers out there think? There might be bigger support for this than you think.
Many people do care and as you say often its only ignorance of the problem that causes others not to. Often when people are told about it they have second thoughts, much like Stevie did when I informed him about the problem. Without this information, missing from the review, how could he have accurately judged the best version of golden Axe for him to buy?

Aside from this you are repeating that you contacted Nintendo and didn't get anywhere but I'm not asking Nintendolife to contact Nintendo or wage war on them.
I'm asking if you'd speak to SEGA about it; a totally different proposition. Specifically I'm suggesting you politely email the PR person your site said they were in contact with when you were asking readers to submit their most wanted Sega games a while ago, who's job it is to handle criticism and explain controversial decisions.
I'm not even asking you to push the issue of their conversions being ports of the 90's PAL games. I'm specifically talking about downgraded hanabi ports which I believe SHOULD be mentioned in any review as they are fundamentally different to the originals and can't be justified with the usual "like that to begin with" argument that lazy companies often use to explain their sloppy work.
No other Hanabi games are downgraded by any of the other publishers involved so why do Sega do it? I don't get why this is an unreasonable question for NL to put to SEGA if they have the contacts.
I'd do it myself but I have no such contact...unless you want to pass on the details.



Sean_Aaron said:

I only have one Mega Drive game on my PAL Wii (just because I can save 200 points by getting them from the Japanese shop) and I cannot say I've ever had a complaint.



Betagam7 said:

Good for you Sean, you obviously don't mind playing an inferior port. I'm presuming it isn't a speed reliant game like Sonic the Hedgehog:


Watch that comparison, then tell me you don't see a difference. Meanwhile if you look at the original Megadrive review on your site:

You'll see that only four comments in a disappointed reader has bought the PAL version and discovered it to be "no fun" because of how slow it runs. Presumably had he been warned about it in the review he might not have wasted his money. Just a thought.



Luigi-la-bouncy said:

Nicely written review!

I agree with you too Betamangam7 and support your cause. I've downloaded a few megadrive games and been disappointed with them, including Sonic. I probably would've bought more sonics but on the VC they clearly aren't the same as I fondly remember (it's the music as much as anything else), as the video shows. On the other hand, what NintendoLife can do about it I really don't know.

Golden Axe is cool. But a bit pricey for a 20 year old game.



JamieO said:

This review is a great read, because it is fair to the roots of the game. 'Golden Axe' has been over exposed in many ways, particularly because most people have played the Mega Drive version on one of a multitude of compilations. This could lead people to become a bit bored of it, but @Damo has reviewed it completely fairly (ie not overly excited like the 1989 mag reviews, but not overly pessimistic from a 2009 'bit bored' of it angle either).
I have already stated that downloading this Arcade version is a priority for me, I'll keep an eye on Nintendo Life for a US release date. It is nice for gamers to have the choice (eg Arcade or Mega Drive).
Cheers for your review Damo.



Luigi-la-bouncy said:

@Bulbasauras Rex

I used to have Sonic Mega Collection for Gameube but didn't like the controls with the Gamecube controller. I much prefer the classic controller. Thanks for the suggestion though.

If only Sega would bring a Mega collection, including Sonic and Golden Axe and so on, to Wii with classic controller support I would be very happy indeed!



Betagam7 said:

@ Bulbasauras Rex

Yes Sonic Mega Collection for Gamecube supports 60hz so is a good alternative to the VC for Wii.

@ Luigi-La-Bouncy and Opa-Opa, thanks for supporting my views. Perhaps it might demonstrate to those who doubt it that their are other people reading NL who care about this issue and that the argument is far from "done"!

p.s Luigi-La-bouncy, have you tried the hori-pad? Its a great Joypad for GC/Wii that works really well with 2D games like Sonic.



Sean_Aaron said:

@Betagam7: You're correct, it's Crack Down which is fairly slow-paced. After watching that video it's pretty clear that Galaga on Namco Museum 50th Anniversary is a similarly poor PAL conversion from the arcade plagued with slightly slower fire response and, more noticeably, slowed down music.

I definitely support your cause, but I do wonder how many people in PAL territories would have experienced the NTSC version of the game? Surely you'd either have to have played it via an emulator or import Mega Drive, so Sega Europe's position might well be that people complaining about 50Hz are in the minority. I know that if I'm ever in a position to talk to a Sega rep I'll raise the issue; Nintendo seems to have made some small effort to address this issue so I don't see why Sega couldn't as well.



JamieO said:

You know that you are reading a quality 'Golden Axe' review, when it discusses observations like, run and...
"leap higher in the air than normal. Pushing down and attack executes a particularly potent vertical thrust which is hard to land successfully but causes a considerable amount of damage to any enemy".
You are dead right @Damo



Betagam7 said:

Sean, first of all thank you for accepting the evidence and acknowledging the problem. As I've pointed out though, although its annoying that SEGA insists on giving us the original PAL releases as opposed to tidying them up as it does for the Xbox releases, the real problem is the Hanabi (import) games. On all other formats, i.e SNES, NES etc, Hanabi games are presented in 60hz and exactly as the NTSC games originally were (quite rightly given the 100 point extra cost) as they were never released in PAL territories. yet for some reason when PAL owners download a SEGA Hanabi title like MUSHA they are given a game with borders and slower running speed. It's as if Sega doesn't want to alert people to the fact that its other games have been butchered so is deliberately butchering its import titles so as not to draw attention to it.
There is no reason whatsoever for these games to have borders or slowdown when SEGA could legitimately release the NTSC version as Nintendo et al do and to be honest no reason for Nintendo Life not to highlight this in its reviews of SEGA Hanabi games.
I don't understand how anyone can not feel ripped off by paying an extra 100 points for an import title that has been deliberately downgraded!



StarBoy91 said:

You know: I find it funny how this game is called Golden Axe in the arcade and Mega Drive, when in the Mega Drive version Gilius Thunderhead wields a silver axe, and not gold like the arcade version. So does that mean the Mega Drive port is supposed to be named "Silver Axe"? [Sorry, nitpicking again!]



StarBoy91 said:

Good game, though. I've yet to beat the Mega Drive iteration, but the arcade version I pretty much completed (on MAME32, of course). Of course, that meant using countless continues using the 5 button. And it was worth it just to see that laughout loud ending.



odd69 said:

I used to play this alot as a kid. I downloaded the other version day one.It hasn't aged well over time though.



SmaMan said:

I should get one of these. The only version of Golden Axe I have is a Genesis "port" (notice the quotes) on GBA on Sega Smashpack. But it's an absolutely horrible conversion! If you think the PAL conversion is bad, how would you like Golden Axe with just two songs, (which sound like they were recorded on a tape cassette recorder held up to the TV screen) terrible hit detection, and numerous graphical glitches?

I was going to try to sell it to GameSpot to get money to use on points to get the three games on that horrid cartridge, (Golden Axe, Ecco the Dolphin, Sonic Spinball) but they'll only give me a buck or two for it. Understandably so...

@StarBoy 91
I think the Golden Axe is another one towards the end or so. That is an interesting point though. The Arcade Version has unlimited continues while the Gen/MD one has 5 or so.



JamieO said:

@SeanAaron Just like Damo says, double tap run, jump really high in to the air and come diving down with your axe or sword pointing downward. It is the most devastating move in the game (alongside holding jump + attack simultaneously to spin around backwards and clober enemies who are behind you).
I would advise that you position your character at the very bottom of the screen when you do the dive attack, it helps with both timing and positioning (there is a little bit more to 'Golden Axe' than hack and slash, lol).
Have fun ridding the world of Heningers, Longmoans and Bad Brothers etc, Sean. Cheers



container1024 said:

I spent so many hours of my life playing this in the Arcade when I was 12.
When the MD port came out, I have to admit I was a little disappointed. The thing with the MD is that its gameplay wasn't 100% like the arcade, when you know the arcade version sooooooo well the MD port just doesn't quite feel right, it felt a little slow. That might be down the the fact the MD ran at 50hz.

I might well get this, but can it be confirmed if this is running at full speed or not? I'd love to do my 1 credit power runs again (which I struggled to do on the MD). If it is at full speed, I'm all over this!



Ren said:

nice! those screen shots just sold me on the Arcade version, not to mention the memories of the days of yore in the arcade. The home version is good for it's day but still feels a little cheaper looking, somehow. Hard to shake that even with the best ports, especially at a time when you could still go out and play the real ones. Now it seems silly to bother with inferior ports (unless theres lots of extra content as mentioned here).



Betagam7 said:


Although I havn't downloaded it I'd be 99% sure that The VCA release is definately full speed. I've been tracking VC releases for the PAL conversion guide I posted on VC-forums So far, from feedback I've recieved it seems even Sega hasn't been stupid enough to willfully cripple their arcade releases yet. Its the ordinary VC games and the Hanabi titles you need to give a wide birth to if you care about the impacts of borders and slower gameplay.



Ristar42 said:

@SeanAaron Regarding PAL folks awareness of 50Hz, it was the Dreamcast that first made me realise what 60Hz was - at which point why the Game Gear always sped up my Master System games made sense! Its crazy that you need an import retro console or to find some other means of playing at 60Hz when that is how the games were designed, the VC had the potential to supply these games as intended, and failed in that respect (where Sega are concerned particularly, due to a lack of PAL optimsation).

I can confirm all Sega arcades are all 60Hz and run very well, I was a big fan of their games back in the day - if they had give their consoles this option on VC, I would have downloaded many more of their games.

Golden Axe is great, I used to play the arcade after school...



Betagam7 said:

Yes its particularly ironic that after doing so much to make the Dreamcast the standard bearer for 60hz gaming, ten years on Sega are the worst offenders. All the more reason for a site like this to ask their PR people some hard questions. A public relations persons job is to build relations with the public. We are that public and from what I'm reading on here, there are quite a few readers of NL who both care and are annoyed about SEGA's universally shoddy Megadrive, Master System and most shockingly of all, Hanabi PAL conversions.



brooks83 said:

@Betagam7 You are absolutely correct. If NL claims to supposedly know people at SEGA to send lists of games people want to see on the VC, why can't they just ask them what the deal is with the 50hz games on the PAL VC. Just a simple question like, "Why do you downgrade Hanabi titles to 50hz when they are originally 60hz? Is this to "cover" for your other games being 50hz, or is this Nintendo's policy?" That's all they would have to ask.

Also, to the mods here, believe it or not this site is quite popular. If not many people know about the 50 hz issue, why don't you make a talking point article about it? It would surely get lots of attention. And then show this supposed SEGA rep the article too. The people running this site don't know how much power of influence they really have. If they wanted to they could make a difference, or at the very least find out from SEGA what the deal is.

Speaking of hz issues, I'm a little bummed that NA C64 games run at a higher hz (don't remember specifics) than they are supposed to. It makes the game seem sped up. But that's another issue for another day



ICEknight said:

I agree 100% with Betamangam7's views on the 50Hz PAL issue. In fact, that's precisely the reason why I ended up not buying the highly-anticipated Hanabi Festival releases of Pulseman and Puyo Puyo 2... So yes, they're even losing money due to somebody's 50Hz fetish, everybody would win if they added optional 60Hz support.

It's not that hard to convert the European games to run at 60Hz, and most of them don't even need any changes, as I've documented at some other forums. At most, they'd just need to edit a few values in the header and, for a few games, patch some additional startup routine.

And in fact that's just what they did for the American release of Alien Soldier! From what I saw by dissecting that release, they just applied a small patch to the European version so it would boot and run at 60Hz with the correct music speed. That was already one of the most complicated cases (including startup and music speed patches), so they're obviously capable of doing it with the other games. Why not? Probably because, as Damo said, most people just don't know about this.

The strangest thing is how they deliberately dumb down their Hanabi releases. They changed parts of the code in them so they would boot in the slower 50Hz mode, instead of doing it the other way around! So instead of improving the games, they put their efforts on making them play and sound worse. How odd (and stupid) does that seem?

So please, let's make people aware of this issue instead of pretending it doesn't exist. I also missed in this review any mentions of the MD version of Golden Axe running slower than it should, which is one reason why PAL users should pick the Arcade version instead.

If there's a site that should make a noise about it, I think it's this one. I feel it even deserves its own small mention in each PAL review (something I've always missed, so I know what I'm buying), and at least an article on the issue, which I'd be more than pleased to help with, if needed.

*@brooks83 * Does the speed in those C64 games change to 50Hz when you change the Wii's configuration? If so, at least they let you choose between one speed and the other (there were NTSC C64 systems as well, after all).



Betagam7 said:

Damo, Please don't take this the wrong way. I'm not saying this to be sarcastic or critical but given the thoughts expressed in this thread it looks to be pretty unanimous what your PAL readers are asking from NL. Clearly they don't consider the debate to be "done". Equally, it can't reasonably be claimed that they "don't care".
Your PAL readers are asking for Nintendo Life to go about educating those who don't know any better and try to seek out answers from Sega. Both seem like perfectly reasonable requests.
Given the comments in this thread, I would urge you to listen to your readers and give them what they want rather than ignoring them based on some percieved opinion that they "don't care" or that it won't work.
As I've said I'm more than happy to assist you with this in any way with this matter, if its too much work for one of your staff to write a discussion piece on it then I'm more than happy to supply one to you as I've written about the issue before for my own website. One way or another it would surely be beneficial for the issue to be discussed properly among a larger part of your readership. I simply care about getting the issue resolved and about waking people up to a problem that has respawned due to consumer apathy and lack of awareness since it was almost eradicated in the early part of the decade.
I believe sites like yours can make a real difference in alerting people to the problem and asking reasonable questions to the relevent people, so I urge you to listen to your readership and have a go.



StarDust4Ever said:

Please, if you're going to release Arcade games that are already available on VC, then please, please, please, release Donkey Kong on Virtual Console Arcade. With one whole level completely missing, and most of the fancy visuals removed (the cement level, and DK climbing up the rungs of the ladders carrying Pauline), the NES port is simply not justified. Also, Pacman and Galaga could use some Arcade treatment as well, since they were retrofitted to play on the horizontal NES screen.



StarBoy91 said:

I realized just now that Golden Axe looks a whole lot better in the Arcade original than in the MegaDrive port. More attention to detail, me like.



brooks83 said:

To Damo or any other mods: Let Betagam write a guest talking points article about the 50hz issue. He seems to be very knowledgable on the topic, and it would save you guys the time of writing an article



container1024 said:

Well I plunged in and got it - and very happy I was too!
Full speed arcade glory! Glad I didn't get the MD VC release now!



ICEknight said:

So, I got it and turns out the music sounds worse than the original arcade.
Why isn't this mentioned in the review? I thought you guys were reviewing the Virtual Console releases. >=(

EDIT: Looks like Altered Beast also suffers from the same sound issues that nobody mentioned here.



ICEknight said:

It's usually the Genesis version, but you know, not all compilations are the same.



davegorack said:

I think ill get this.
I dont mind missing the Duel mode( Never Liked it anyway)
an im not boutherd missing out 1 level.
this dos look and sound better then the Mega Drive verson.

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