Golden Axe series

Golden Axe series

Retro Coin Op Synopsis

Back in 1987, Double Dragon launched a wave of side-scrolling fighting games, each trying to outdo the last in terms of graphics, sounds and violence. But as different as these games were, most still followed Double Dragon’s gang war motif, setting the action in an urban jungle. Sega’s Golden Axe took the concept back a few hundred years, letting you get Medieval on whole hordes of skeletons, barbarians and the like. And the graphics, sounds and violence were cool, too.

Despite the fantasy setting, the storyline of Golden Axe remained pretty much the same as its side-scrolling fighting contemporaries: A big bad guy (in this case, the hulking Death Adder) got himself an army of minions, raised a little ruckus in a nearby village, and captured a beautiful princess (and also her father, the king, if anyone cared). And as if our heroes needed any more incentive, Adder had somehow gotten hold of the Golden Axe, a weapon so powerful it would mean the end of the world if no one stepped up to stop him.

That duty fell on three sets of broad shoulders—Gilius Thunderhead, a beefy dwarf with a mean battleaxe; Ax Battler (his momma named him well), a sword-wielding warrior; and Tyris Flare, a powerful female fighter who also packed a sword. Together (and all three could indeed play simultaneously), the trio set out to rid the land of Adder’s evil underlings.

Controls followed the Double Dragon standard—a joystick, a jump button and an attack button—but a third button controlled one of the game’s special features: magic. By collecting potions, the three heroes built up their magic powers, which could be unleashed in an impressive animated display. Tyris held the power of Fire Magic, Ax used Earth Magic, and Gilius wielded Lightning Magic, but they built up their powers at different rates. Like Gauntlet, the three heroes weren’t just cosmetically different—they were each suited to different tasks, and they functioned best as a team.

Another new feature was a particular favorite among players. Certain enemies rode into battle atop fierce animals, including dragons. If you managed to knock the villains off their mounts, you could claim them as your own, allowing you to do even more damage (and travel in style).

Game twists aside, the most immediate draw of Golden Axe was its impressive look. The character design and special animations were top-notch, and the detailed backgrounds gave the game a realistic feel (as realistic as fantasy gets). Waterfalls sparkled, fires crackled, and a particularly memorable stage put our three heroes on the back of a gigantic eagle, which actually took flight.

Inventive gameplay and the element of fantasy were enough to set Golden Axe apart from the pack of Double Dragon wannabes, and Sega found itself with yet another hit on its hands. The game was also a popular draw for the company’s new Genesis home system (released the same year), which delivered a surprisingly faithful adaptation.

In 1992, Sega released Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder, a sequel with even more impressive sounds and graphics. This time, up to four players could join in, taking the parts of warrior Sternblade, centaur Dora, giant Goah (who carried Gilius on his back) or elf Little Trix. The game itself remained essentially the same, throwing in new enemies and powers to spice things up a bit.

The sequel was cheered by fantasy gamers, but the arcades were beginning to be dominated by the phenomenon of Street Fighter II. The one-on-one fighting game became the only thing that mattered to most players, and Sega obligingly offered Golden Axe: The Duel to keep the title fresh. Unfortunately, the new version couldn’t keep pace with Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter II, and the once-mighty warriors faded into memory.

Arcade Machine Release History

1989 - Golden Axe
1992 - Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder
1994 - Golden Axe: The Duel

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