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Golden Axe Warrior Review

Developer: Sega Publisher: Sega
Release Date: 1991 Also On: None

Here’s a game that deserves a huge amount of attention but of course, as I’ve seen with many of the best Master System titles, has yet to find its place. This is probably because the first, easiest, and most honest observation of the game is that it’s a duplicate of The Legend of Zelda for the Nintendo Entertainment System in terms of basic design and appearance. I’ll admit, they definitely lifted a good portion of the format to make this title, but once you get into it and play it in its entirety, you’ll find you may just end up liking Golden Axe Warrior better.

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Graphically, this is a great little game. I say little because, like its NES counterpart, everything has this cutesy, tiny appearance to it. All of the people are like little, puffy mites, as well as the enemies, minus the bosses. However, unlike the 8-Bit Zelda titles, this game really looks splendid throughout. A great range of colors were utilized and way more detail is present beyond what the NES could have ever done. Some of the enemies and the bosses look a bit bland, but overall they did a lot more here with the environments. You don’t have just a usage of repeated in varied positions, there’s a ton of features here including ships, oceans, deserts, lava ranges, swamps, neoclassical ruins and so forth. All of the animations are splendid and there isn’t a pinch of graphical slowdown or flicker anywhere. The opening segment is pretty interesting too and the title screen really shows off the Master System’s power. The programmers did a perfect job utilizing the system’s capabilities; it couldn’t have looked any better aside from a few minor issues with the enemies. I would have liked to see some extra detail, since this was released in the early 90s when they had way more experience behind them. I really don’t like too much palette swapping either, and you find some of that here too, but it still looks great.

Hmmm, I’m not sure I dig the sound too much. I will say that a number of the themes are very catchy and fitting, but some of them are completely out of place. Overall, though, they did a good job programming a fresh soundtrack while applying some themes from the arcade title Golden Axe. The sound effects work well for the most part though there doesn’t seem to be many of them. I guess since most of the action is similar throughout this title you couldn’t expect much; the same thing happens in The Legend of Zelda so I really don’t see a problem with it. At least what’s here has been programmed well. I wish they threw in some sort of sound effect so you know when you’re low on health, because there were several times I wasn’t paying attention and simply died. In general, the sound has been presented well but could have used some work, it’s nothing like Zelda’s epic soundtrack.

Here’s the big category for Golden Axe Warrior. For those of you that have heard of it, most likely you’ve heard it called a clone of The Legend of Zelda. In many respects, it is, but the designers were able to almost overcome this by throwing in a number of features that separate it from its NES counterpart. Of course, it can’t be denied that they’ve essentially ripped off the basic idea of the other, but when I explain a bit about what they did differently you’ll see why I still scored high here (this is another issue with the creativity, however). First off, this game continues from the arcade port for the SMS of Golden Axe, which featured an altered storyline and only one of the three characters. Presumably, Tarik became king and lived in peace with his people until Death Adder destroys the kingdom of Firewood when a royal minister betrays Tarik and gives away the nine, magical crystals that protect the land. So, as you can assume, just like The Legend of Zelda you have to move around the landscape, find labyrinths, beat the bosses and collect the crystals in order to complete the game. Same concept as the other, but with several differences.

First off, whereas The Legend of Zelda plays more like an adventure-type game, Golden Axe Warrior is closer to a traditional RPG. Instead of simply moving about some nondescript terrain with the occasional, weird old people hiding in caves, here you have a series of villages, villagers and various people around the kingdom including hidden thieves that take your money and a land of snow-dwellers. You can interact with the villagers, learn secrets about where to go, purchase items, solve puzzles and also save your game. In Zelda, you can only save when you die or if you use the second controller to save. However, not only is the second possibility a secret not mentioned in the manual anywhere, but it does essentially the same thing as dying because you’ll restart in the same place every time or inside of a labyrinth if that’s where you are when you do it. Golden Axe Warrior enables you to plan out your next move and stay within certain areas to gain magic power, health and money. In addition, you start wherever you saved last, be it a hidden cavern or town. The other feature that makes this more like an RPG is the inclusion of magical abilities. In Zelda, you get a wand that can throw fire and such, but it doesn’t really do anything too necessary. In this game you get four types of magic to break rock, freeze enemies and so forth. Three of them can be upgraded to more powerful forms, and thus open up even more possibilities.

Second, the world in this game is huge. The Legend of Zelda is fairly limited; there are only about 120 screens to inspect and Golden Axe Warrior easily has over double that and I’m serious because I counted them. In addition, you enter different worlds with different themes instead of the same, general areas with different arrangements using the same terrain. In this game you go through an ice world, a world of lava and even travel on the open seas! Plus, you have a ton of secrets to discover, roughly one on every screen. With the inclusion of towns this game gets even closer to being an RPG and really makes the environment more detailed and involved.

Third, aside from the magic, which I already mentioned, this game throws a ton of interesting items that you’ll actually be using throughout the game and not just here and there. In Zelda, for example, you get the raft and use it to get to the third labyrinth or the seventh (I believe this is the number) in the second quest, but that’s really it other than this one hidden island. In Golden Axe Warrior, when you get an item you’re going to be using it to not only progress, but also find objects and uncover secrets in areas you’ve already inspected. Generally, they make sure you use most of the items over and over again as you progress. So when you pick up the ship, you don’t just use it to access a single labyrinth. You use it to access new islands, access hidden areas and even the final island, which is protected by dangerous reefs. But that’s not all, you even have a canoe, different types of armor to wear (which, by the way, need to be oiled now and then or they lose their defense power), different weapons that are actually used differently (like the axe, which you can use to cut down trees and uncover secrets), and even a hot-air balloon you can use to see the entire map! Some of the items are clear copies of a few found in The Legend of Zelda, but aside from this they still managed to do something different and what is unique makes the duplicate concepts null and void.

Overall this is a great game to play and has some of the most addictive and entertaining gameplay I’ve ever come across. It’s generally very difficult but there are two major flaws I discovered. First off, it would have been great if they programmed a second quest into this game twice as hard as the first. This is one of the things I always liked about The Legend of Zelda in that the second quest is so ridiculous that till this day I have yet to complete it. Still, Golden Axe Warrior is probably three times as long so that almost makes up for it. The second thing, and one of the biggest video game flaws I’ve ever come across, involves the bosses. So, in Zelda you come to the boss chamber, but hiding in the door won’t do you any good because the boss won’t appear until you enter and the door may close behind you.

In this game, though, when you come into the boss chamber, for almost all the bosses including Death Adder, if you just stay in the doorway and slash away you’ll kill them without taking a single hit. I’m serious. It seems the game was programmed to only let the bosses move up to the door but not inside of it, so aside from the one or two that can hit you in there you have no worries, and that really makes this game a bit of a breeze. Of course, you could always run in the room like you’re supposed to, but heck, we all like to exploit programming to make gaming easier for us. Regardless, I play it as it is, and this mistake is present so I have to take down for it. One other thing I recall is that the controls seem a little too smooth at first and it took me some time to get used to them, especially when fighting enemies. It seemed hard to maneuver at for some reason. Otherwise, this game would have been a near perfect score for the gameplay.

Creativity, here’s the big category for Golden Axe Warrior that takes it down a notch. Though it has plenty of features to separate it from The Legend of Zelda and is a great game, there’s no doubt in my mind that Sega was trying their hardest to compete with Nintendo since at this time the SMS was nearly off the market. So, they did the only thing they could think of and totally lifted the entire foundation of Zelda and used it to make their own game. There’s really no difference at all in the basic concept, it’s the same thing and they even went as far as to include some of the more obvious similarities like the whole “go into labyrinth and collect thing to beat game.” For Zelda it was the triforce, for Golden Axe Warrior it’s crystals? Come on guys. Still, the score here is not totally to the floor because they did add a lot and it is unique in its own ways, but the basic idea is pitifully stolen, there’s no way to deny it.

As for replay value, Golden Axe Warrior has plenty, which is somewhat uncommon for a game like this. I’ve played it several times over the past two years and even just started working on another quest. When I first played it I was so interested that I literally played this game for around four or five hours each day until I beat it and it took me around five days in all, so that should give you an idea about the next point. This game is quite long, just right for what you’d expect out of this kind of title. It’s longer than The Legend of Zelda and unless you have plenty of time and are a total freak (or loser) like I was, you can look to be playing this for a couple months or at least several weeks. It’s definitely a high score in this category.

In conclusion, I have to say this is one of the most disappointing games ever released. Why? Simply because nobody knows about it and if it had any advertising at all no one remembers it. Sadly released right at the end of the Master System’s life on the NTSC market, hardly anyone realized it was around and thus it’s one of the rarest titles to find in the United States. I’ve seen this game catch upwards of one hundred dollars in the past, so expect this to go up in the future if gamers become more aware of its existence. If you watch, though, it was also released in Europe and is not nearly as hard to find so if you’re just in it for the gaming, go that route. Regardless, it will be money well spent in my opinion because this game deserves plenty more attention than it’s received so far. As I stated, Zelda fans usually scoff at it because it’s such an obvious copy, but unfortunately they make quick judgments without actually playing it, which is what it takes to see what this title has to offer. Golden Axe Warrior is one of the greatest adventure-type games ever created, and hopefully it will receive due attention in the future.

Graphics: 8.5
Sound: 6.5
Gameplay: 8
Creativity: 4.5
Replay Value/Game Length: 9
Final: 7.3
Written by Stan Review Guide