Our resident writer/comic artist genius Chris McAuley wasn’t put off by his first AA experience, thankfully! So here’s a game that’s never talked about but reminds him and many others of a simpler time. The Golden Axe spin-off is dissected here…
This was a title I had fond memories of, it was the mid-90s and I was putting my beloved Amstrad 464+ into storage. No more games were coming out for it and I had to make room in my heart for newer game systems. One of these was the Sega Game Gear and one of the first titles I played was this RPG style spin-off from the Golden Axe series. It was bold, colourful and featured real-time beat em up action mixed with traditional Zelda style RPG mechanics. This should have been a classic, unfortunately looking back on this title now without the rose-tinted glasses I can see it’s fatal flaws.
The game starts off by feeling like a typical Zelda inspired adventure game. You travel through a fairly linear map where you make your way through caves and mountains in order to obtain quest items. Each part of the world map is fairly small, with only one cave to explore in order to find an item to assist the nearby town which advances the plot. Along the way, you experience random battles, similar to Zelda II which takes place in a small side-scrolling stage.
As you progress through the game you will find various training rooms that advance your move set. These moves are learned through defeating a certain enemy, once this has been accomplished you gain an extra move. You will also learn magic spells that are similar to the ones in the original Golden Axe game. These are executed by using magic vases which are obtained by defeating enemies on the world map.
Back when I played this title originally, I loved these game mechanics. They were unique to me at the time and I fell in love with the fantasy plot and the action laden random encounters. However, on a recent playthrough, it’s obvious that the game is rife with lazy programming. The enemies utilise fairly cheap attacks and have very specific attack patterns that must be learned in order to defeat them. If you take one hit you are thrown out of the battle which effectively wastes your time.
The vases which you collect are used for magic attacks very similar to how the magic system works in the main Golden Axe games, but once you use an attack your vases are used up. If the game ends, you lose your vases as well, and there’s no way to heal aside from a town inn. The whole game can be completed in about an hour, but it is just a painstaking trial and error session where you will die endlessly until you master the harder enemies’ patterns. The other thing that just kills Ax Battler off is that there are no bosses. That’s right, no bosses. The final battle is simply handled through a text-based story on a black screen stating how you defeated the evil forces and reclaimed the Golden Axe.
It’s a shame that the gameplay is so shallow and lazy because Ax Battler does feature some decent visuals for the Game Gear. Ax Battler himself is nicely animated as are the enemies. All the characters are fairly large, and the caves and other places you explore are fairly detailed as well. The game also sports a fairly decent soundtrack that actually feels like it belongs in a Golden Axe title. I didn’t recognize any tunes from the Genesis trilogy, but everything that was here flows pretty nicely and is easy to listen too despite being high pitched 8-bit music.