Saturday 17 October 2020

Golden Axe (Sega Master System review)

Developer: Sega R&D 2
Publisher: Sega
Released: 1989

Golden Axe is a side-scrolling hack 'n' slash that was originally released in the Arcade in 1989.

Playing as the seasoned warrior Tarik, your mission is to reclaim the Golden Axe by defeating the titan Death-Adder and his bandits. Attacks include swinging your sword, kicks, throws and shoulder barges, and powerful magic can be used if you collect enough blue bags. While only one of the original's three playable characters are available in this port, I do like that you can choose from any of their magic abilities at the start of each game; this provides some replayability, but the absence of different character attacks (and in turn, the 2-player co-op mode) likely diminishes the incentive to return for multiple play-throughs. The biggest problem though is the fluctuating frame-rate; this is no more apparent than in Stage 3 where the game engine has a complete meltdown and frequently slows to a crawl when too many enemies are on screen, resulting in severe delays in your button presses being recognised. Later in the stage, it randomly and dramatically speeds up to the point where you don't feel like you have precision control over your character, particularly when trying to sprint for an attack. These issues lead to some rather underwhelming gameplay where cheap hits / deaths are the order of the day. Compounding this is the spotty hit detection, as on many occasions you'll notice either yourself or an enemy being sword slashed despite the weapon clearly not making contact. It's not all doom-and-gloom though, as the sprite work is terrific and some of the bosses and rideable creatures are impressively large. Likewise, the artwork during the introduction and end credits is impressively detailed.

Golden Axe is a brave attempt to bring the Arcade classic to Sega's ancient 8-bit hardware, but it punches far above its weight and the whole experience is rather frustrating. Compared to the 16-bit Sega Mega Drive version (1989), it's hard to recommend this port due to its inconsistent frame-rate and multiple cut-backs.

Random trivia: An exclusive adventure / RPG game called Golden Axe Warrior was released on the Sega Master System in 1991.

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