Golden Axe is an epic fantasy series which might be one of the first that introduced the concept of fantasy characters to the gaming world. It is defined as a side-scroller, beat-em-up. These games were hugely popular at that time when ideas like online multiplayer, open-world and advanced graphics weren’t a thing.

With Retro gaming making a comeback with many titles like Sonic the hedgehog and Mario being re-launched for Nintendo Switch, Windows or Android we decided to give the Golden Axe Classics series a go on our android device. This includes Golden Axe I, II and III.

Golden Axe I is the oldest game I have ever played. It was launched in 1989 when the vast majority of gamers today weren’t even born. Golden Axe II came in 1991 and Golden Axe III was introduced in 1993.

In these three games you move from left to right, defeating a number of human and non-human enemies who come in your way. It doesn’t and cannot tell you much about the storyline, characters and the world because every sector of a video game was much simpler at that time. Bear that in mind, or play it only to see what gaming technology was like at the time, and you won’t be disappointed.

In the Golden Axe series you have an axe to grind, literally and metaphorically. In the little story-telling that could be done in that time-period there is a short background that reveals something about the world in each of the three titles. Golden Axe I tells us that Axe Battler’s (one of the three characters you can select and control at the start) mother, has been killed by Death Adder the main villain in the first game.

But they have gone overboard with a similar back-story being assigned to each of the characters. So Tyris Flare’s (the second character) father and mother are also killed by Death adder. The dwarf, Gilius Thunderhead had his brother killed by Death Adder.

Now for a modern game this would be needless repetition but when this game came out it was a lot of narrative for a video game in that age. In that time period developers simply did not have the resources to set up intricate storylines with webs and weaves.

So these are the three characters you can select in Golden Axe I and II. This includes a scantily clad male human, another scantily clad female human and finally a dwarf. We mention this again because the choice of characters is not merely cosmetic.

Each of them have a slightly different reach with their weapon, yes, but what is most unique to them are their spells. Some characters can store more magical orbs (it isn’t explained what the spell collectibles are) at the same time. Some use more orbs at one time when casting a single spell. Others cause more damage to enemies with their spells. There are tornadoes, a fire dragon, volcanoes and what not in terms of the type of magic each playable character unleashes.

In GA III though there are four characters instead of the three in I and II. The dwarf has taken a rest and is unavailable as a playable character, though he does appear as a non-playable one initially when sending you on a mission to slay the Prince of Darkness. Ax Battler and Tyris are there in Golden Axe III but there are two playable non-human characters too, one of which looks like a human-panther mix with dark bluish skin and the other is a beefy, big and well-built humanoid. It isn’t explained who the new characters are. And as was perceptible in the previous titles (Golden Axe I and II) the spell capacity, spell usage, spell effect and spell damage are unique to each of the four playable character.

In terms of difficulty the first Golden Axe is the most difficult. The second is a little less difficult and the final one less difficult than the second. The arcade mode of GA I is torture. But the other GA, II and III aren’t easy either. At any rate you can increase your life gauge and tweak the difficulty level a little in various ways in each of the three GA games.

Golden Axe Classics biggest flaw is that it does not work in the same way in which it works on the Mega Drive 2, the console on which this game was originally launched. This is despite the fact that you can rewind time by fifteen minutes if you need which was not available in the base game but was added to the android release. You can also save the game which was another thing you couldn’t do on the console. Both these features can only be accessed if you have internet while playing, making this game even more grinding if you don’t.

One particular problem I faced was that that the tap-able buttons were too small on android and pretty easy to miss when tapping them. Then combining and using those buttons simultaneously is a hassle. For example there is a neat run-attack combination in the base game which I simply failed to master. This is a very important attack that is very much needed in the game to give you room and maneuvering space.

I also failed to master the jump-attack combination. This is also valuable because it helps you make room for yourself, particularly when sandwiched by two enemies. In short it is hard to use two buttons at once at any one time in Golden Axe Classics, Android version. Even the jump and move is hard to master.

Now the enemies surround you and have the capability to use flanking. The plus side is that the developers managed to make one of the first games where your enemies use proper tactics. The negative side is it makes the game much harder (Hey, if you like this kind of punishment good luck to you!). Some enemies block your attacks and most run and attack which also enhances the difficulty.

The enemies also make use of ride-able creatures (there are dragon’s and a large snail type creature) which knock you down with one attack. As soon as you get back up again they strike again and I was endlessly falling and getting up only to fall again. Apparently to pull yourself out of this situation you have to jump and attack which is hard to master as mentioned before.

You can at times try to use your environment to your advantage, particularly in Golden Axe III. The best way to do this is to knock your enemies down into crevices by positioning yourself properly and attacking them so that when they fall (which they usually do after three consecutive hits) they fall into that hole.

It is also a good idea to know what enemies will come next so that you can use your magical powers on the most vicious of enemies. A good place to use your magical abilities are the boss fights at the end of each mission. In-between each mission there is an opportunity to hunt imps with bulbous backs for spells. This isn’t easy because the imps are constantly moving, so even replenishing your spell amount is a challenge.

There is a glaring problem in Golden Axe I in particular and Golden Axe II and III in general. If you look closely all your three playable characters are white in complexion. But almost every one of your enemies is dark-skinned. We have barely seen only a few enemies who are not black. GA II has mostly fantasy and non-human characters so the problem is not as glaring in that title but there nonetheless. In GA III the problem returns though not at that level.

Though the Golden Axe series can be played offline it encourages you to play online and watch a heap-load of ads, mostly to rewind time so you can improve the way you fought in the last fifteen minutes. It is also very hard on mobile battery for some reason even with its minimalistic graphics.

Golden Axe Classics can be fun and it shouldn’t be reviewed in the context of modern games. Golden Axe classics brings a new rise in Retro gaming where minimalistic graphics and game length weren’t a problem. They may be the first games which introduce a fantasy setting to the world of video gaming. But the vast majority would see Golden Axe Classics as obsolete for the current generation. Despite this the games file size is small and can be downloaded just to see how far we have come in every department of gaming since that time.

Review Platform: Android

Rating: 7

Pros

  • One of the first epic fantasy games out there.
  • Playable characters have slightly different reach with weapons and spell capacity, usage and damage.
  • The android version lets you rewind time and save the game. Features not available in the Mega Drive Golden Axe series.
  • Small file size.
  • Smart enemies that use flanking as well as mounts to make them ferocious on the battlefield.
  • Good for hardcore gamers.

Cons

  • Can be construed as racist. All your heroes are white and your enemies dark-skinned. Particularly in Golden Axe I.
  • Encourages players to play online.
  • Has lots of ads.
  • Tap buttons are too small and easy to miss.
  • Eats lots of battery.

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