Sega Ages: Golden Axe (PlayStation 2) review
"Although this new 3D Tyris isn't drawn quite as sexily as she used to be, the characters all looked attractive... until I saw them up close during their really lame magic spell sequences. As the camera zoomed in, I could see how few polygons were actually used to create the Amazon's pointy face. From then on, the illusion was shattered; even when the camera pulled back out, it was easy to spot the rough edges and graphical flaws because I knew they were there."
Even though they made a lot of changes (some understandable, others... not), Sega didn't ruin Golden Axe by putting the graphics into 3D. And they certainly didn't ruin it by putting all of the music into glorious CD audio. In fact, I'd say Sega didn't ruin the game at all. The problem is that the original Golden Axe was a heavily flawed game, and this remake stays so faithful that it retains most of those flaws while adding a few of its own.
Since it's on PS2 and has to cater to a new audience's expectations, this 3D Ages remake starts with a half-cool, half-laughable story scene. Ancient murals depict the land of Yuria's violent history, culminating in a stirring picture of Jesus bestowing the Golden Axe upon humanity. Apparently the bequeathal of this axe signifies eternal peace. A mean-looking tattooed freak named Death Adder didn't like this whole peace idea, so he stole the Golden Axe and used it to kill a bunch of people, making Jesus really really sad. The intro ends with Death Adder in his ominous orange helmet menacingly shaking the Golden Axe. He's standing in front of an AWESOME tower wrapped in giant snakes... that you never get to see during the actual game.
Normally in a situation like this, the King would just send his army of real Yurian heroes to Cobra Tower to handle the situation. Unfortunately, Death Adder's a clever commander and he already kidnapped both the King and Queen, leaving the country in shambles. Fortunately, three battle-hardened warriors stepped forward to murder Death Adder in the name of everlasting peace: Tyris Flare the Amazon, Gilius Thunderhead the dwarf, and Ax-Battler the barbarian. Ax-Battler. He battles with a sword, by the way.
You control one of these three heroes. A friend can control another.
I love a cheesy Conan ripoff as much as the next chap, so all of this funky story stuff is cool with me. What I don't understand is why, after adding a new introduction and pre-boss battle taunts and giving each character a personal mini-biography, Sega CUT OUT ALL OF THE INTERMISSIONS. Yep, all of the between-level story sequences about riding the sea turtle and flying on the eagle's back have been removed. Because of that, the game's now just a collection of weird places you visit instead of being a sensible adventure. You don't even get to beat up magic-stealing imps between levels any more.
Fortunately, what is included looks really nice. The backgrounds — grassy hills and gloomy dungeons — are now rendered in true 3D. Even though your warrior's path flows purely from left to right, the scenery swivels and rotates to give the illusion of a winding path through the Yurian countryside. I especially like the new lava level, where you jump across platforms while fighting lightning wizards. Proving they can sometimes make what was already cool even cooler, Sega lets the hammer-wielding Bad Brothers show off their spray-on tans in an amusingly goofy pre-battle closeup. Wading through the thigh-deep river is also an attractive moment; wearing little more than a bra and panties, Tyris Flare is perfectly dressed for the occasion. Mmm, yum. Just not quite as yum as her delicious sprite incarnation from the original arcade game.
Although this new 3D Tyris isn't drawn quite as sexily as in the past, the characters all looked attractive... until I saw them up close during their really lame magic spell sequences. In the original Golden Axe, the spell took place in real time on the battlefield — you could watch enemies burn under the dragon's searing breath! Now it's a cutscene of Tyris — just Tyris, because the enemies magically disappear during this cutscene — summoning a dragon. The dragon breathes into the empty air for a few seconds, the cutscene ends, and the enemies all fall down and vanish. As the camera zoomed in, I could see how few polygons were actually used to create the Amazon's pointy face. From then on, the illusion was shattered; even when the camera pulled back out, it was easy to spot the rough edges and graphical flaws because I knew they were there.
But let's be honest; rough edges or not, this generally looks leagues better than the original arcade game. Unfortunately, it doesn't play better. The original Golden Axe featured several questionable mechanics that were corrected in the sequel. For example! During the course of the adventure, you collect magic potions. The more you acquire, the stronger your magical attack. Unfortunately, a press of the button uses ALL of your potions, even if you only needed to summon a weak lightning bolt instead of a full-blown thunderstorm. Golden Axe 2 allowed players to select the amount of power used, but this remake sticks to the original's rigid overkill. Fortunately, it's easier to gain magic now because each enemy slaughtered gives up a little bit of power. Sega might not have used the best magic system, but at least they made a small improvement.
Too bad Sega didn't see fit to improve the busted controls. Sometimes, when fighting an evil soldier in the original game, your character would get "stuck" in an animation loop. After killing an amazon, Ax-Battler might do the "pick up and throw" motion, except that he would be picking up nothing and throwing nothing. This was amusing up until the point that some spearman stabbed him in the back. Again, this flaw was fixed in Golden Axe 2, but it's not fixed here.
Furthermore, enemies of all types retain their annoying tendency to run at you from the far edge of the screen and kick you in the back while you're fighting someone else. Also, enemy combos can't be broken once they start, unless you're playing with a friend who can run over and save your butt. Otherwise, you're just hit and hit and hit until you fall down. Again, these issues were fixed in Golden Axe 2, but they're not fixed here. Sega did add ridiculous explosions of light to every blow. Unfortunately, instead of making the game look cooler, it just makes it even more insulting when you're trapped in one of the enemy's inescapable combination attacks because now you're not just getting beat up, you're getting beat up and explosions are rocking your body.
Let the purists cry "bastardization" all they want; that's not the problem here. The problem is that Golden Axe is faithful to the original — and that's a problem when the original's already been improved upon. The lack of analog control and the super-flimsy (and easily-ripped) instruction manual don't help. Aside from the AWESOME music, Golden Axe 2 on the Genesis is better in every way. Every way.
Staff review by Zigfried (March 15, 2005)
Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.
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