Golden Axe 3

Mega Drive

Review by Rob "Dire 51"



Graphics: 7

Sound: 7

Gameplay: 8

Overall: 7

One of the original showpiece games for the Sega Genesis was Golden Axe. It, along with Sega's reprogrammed version of Capcom's Ghouls 'N Ghosts and the game that was packed in with the Genesis at the time, Altered Beast, proved that the Genesis could do what no other home system could to that point - literally bring the arcade home. All three of these home ports were so close to the original arcade games that a lot of players were rubbing their eyes in disbelief. I should know - I was one of them. It was almost impossible to believe that these fantastic arcade games were almost completely intact and could be played in the comfort of your own home. Sega kept continuing to prove what the Genesis could do after that as well... for example, when their reprogrammed version of Capcom's Strider was released in 1990, it was almost mind blowing, so close it was to the original arcade game.

Of course, looking back now it's easy to see that various background details and some of the more intricate artwork (and in some cases, hardware tricks) from the arcade games were cut from the home ports due to memory limitations. Still, the home ports hold up surprisingly well after all these years. In fact, without resorting to emulation, the only way to get near arcade-perfect ports of both Golden Axe and Altered Beast is to get the Genesis versions.

Golden Axe in particular was a huge hit for Sega. The arcade game was extremely well received, and the Genesis version became one of the system's hottest games. It did so well in fact, that Sega introduced a Genesis-only sequel, Golden Axe II, in 1991. It was a good attempt at carrying on the legacy of the original Golden Axe, and was also fairly well received. What surprised a lot of people, though, was what happened in 1993. Golden Axe III was released for the Mega Drive, but when it came time for a U.S. release, Sega of America passed on it. This decision raised quite a few eyebrows among Golden Axe fans... and a few tempers, as well. Then some of the game magazines at the time started reporting that the reason Golden Axe III was canned was because it wasn't any good. That reason was good enough for most people, apparently, as the game was soon forgotten. The Golden Axe series continued though... however, despite an all new arcade game, Golden Axe: The Revenge Of Death Adder and an arcade and Saturn one-on-one fighter, Golden Axe: The Duel, Golden Axe eventually faded into the mists of gaming history.

Recently, I had an opportunity to get a copy of the long-lost Mega Drive Golden Axe III. Having always wanted to at least try it, I picked it up. Contrary to popular belief, it's actually not bad at all. The best way to describe it would be like this - fan-made. It doesn't have the graphic flair that the earlier two GA games had, for one thing. In fact, I've been describing the 16-bit series like this: Golden Axe was the major motion picture, Golden Axe II was the direct-to-video sequel, and Golden Axe III was the made-for-TV movie - albeit a pretty good one.

There's been a few changes since Golden Axe II, as you'd be able to tell after starting the game. Gilius Thunderhead (the dwarf with the huge axe from parts 1 and 2) is no longer a playable character. Instead, he appears at the beginning of the game to send your character on their quest... and speaking of your character, you can now choose from four: two characters who appear to be Ax Battler (the barbarian) and Tyris Flare (the Amazon) from Golden Axe and Golden Axe II, and two all new characters. One is a werepanther; the other is a huge musclebound character that may be a dungeon escapee, considering that he still has chains hanging from his arms and legs. I'm not sure exactly what their names are, as it's not mentioned in the game (as far as I can tell), and I can't read Japanese at all, which renders the instruction manual useless to me. Each character has different magic that they can use; however, unlike the first two games, the level of damage magic will cause enemy characters is the same for all four characters.

That's not all that's been added. New to the Golden Axe series is the addition of multiple branching paths. Each path will take you to a different area, and may be instrumental in getting the good ending to the game. You see, during the course of the game you encounter the three characters that you did not pick. They've been possessed, and you have to literally beat the spirits out of them to free them. You only encounter all three of them if you pick the right set of paths to go down, though.

On a whole, Golden Axe III controls just as good, if not better, than the first two games - with the exception of Bizarrian control. The Bizarrians are strange domesticated creatures that you can wrest from the enemies and use to defeat them. For instance, the original game had dragons and a strange creature called a "chicken-leg" to control. The sequel had more dragons and large kicking lizards. This one has... snails. Yes, snails. Giant snails with legs. There's also a dragon that breathes fire and a dragon that will grab enemies with its mouth and throw them, but the snails are the weirdest. They attack with their tongue... one has a short tongue, and the other has a long tongue. Unfortunately, they don't respond very swiftly to your commands, and more often than not, you'll get knocked off of them by an enemy.

It seems that the number of moves that you can do has been increased from the first two games as well. On top of that, you can also shatter different objects (chests, barrels and such) scattered throughout the game and take whatever you find in the wreckage. You can also free hostages from certain enemies, and if you free enough you'll earn an extra life. This is also a first for the series, as there was no way to get extra men in the first two that I'm aware of.

Now all of this may sound good, but there were a few things that surprised me. For one, the graphics are absolutely plain. The original Golden Axe looked a lot better than this, and it was released four years earlier! It seems that the enemy design was completely uninspired, for the most part, and the backgrounds are very flat at times. The sound wasn't that great either. The music, although passable, doesn't hold a candle to the superb soundtracks of the first two games. The sound effects, while not as good as the ones in the first game, are a bit of an improvement over the second - let's face it, any kind of death scream is going to sound good compared to the pathetic "blah" the enemies would moan when defeated in Golden Axe II. All of this aside, however, Golden Axe III is still quite enjoyable to play - and that's what really counts.

All in all, Golden Axe III is a decent game - if you can get past the quality of the graphics and music, there's a lot to like about it. Why Sega of America passed on the game is still a mystery to me... then again, they passed on Treasure's Alien Soldier too, the idiots. It's worth picking up if you can find it - be warned, though, you will need a Mega Drive converter to play it, as it was apparently one of the first Mega Drive games to have a regional lockout installed. My Magic Key III works just fine with it, as it turns out. Interestingly enough, all of the in-game text is English, so it's very import-friendly. Strange, though... it's like Sega did intend to release it outside of Japan. Also, on another note... I never thought I would say this, but the Japanese can put out some absolutely godawful cover artwork. Unfortunately, Golden Axe III has some of it. Check out the box scan below to see for yourself.


front cover

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Last updated: Friday, December 26, 2003 09:19 PM