ALEX, WHAT HAS HAPPENED ? ....
But before Alex could respond to Ax Battler, a cruel Heninger ran up and felled him with a cruel blow from his mace. With that hanging question, Sega established a six-game franchise:
- Golden Axe, released in 1989, attaining almost-universal recognition as the ultimate medieval inheritor to the side-scroller genre established by Double Dragon - ubiquitous at arcades of its heyday and eventually finding itself ported for the following platforms: the Amiga (acknowledged among Golden Axe afficianoados as the best home version available), Commodore 64, Sinclair Spectrum and IBM-compatible PC home computers; Sega's in-house machines the Sega Master System, the Sega Genesis, Japan's Sega Megadrive, the Sega Saturn and even the Sega Dreamcast in a 2001 "classics" bundle re-issue; it was also licensed to the Turbografix-16 and, curiously, appeared as a Tiger handheld LCD game prior to the release of any other Golden Axe game on any other platform.
- Golden Axe Warrior, a Zelda-like "RPG" romp for the Sega Master System that appeared at roughly the same time as Golden Axe.
- Golden Axe II, released for the Sega Genesis featuring Golden Axe-ly action with only a swap from Big Bad Guy Death Adder to the similarly-strangely-named lookalike Death Guld.
- Golden Axe III, more of the above.
- Golden Axe: The Revenge Of Death Adder, a 1992 breakout arcade hit featuring new demihuman characters, four-player action and bizarre team wrestling-type moves.
- Golden Axe: The Duel, an unsuccessful "fighting game" effort cobbled together in 1994 to compete with the Street Fighter mania sweeping the arcades of the world.
Without a doubt the original Golden Axe had the most impact upon members of the gaming community, instantly burning itself into our memories as we selected our avatar from the bony hands of the skeleton of Death himself, a wide rictus approving of our choice from the following trio:
- Tyris Flare, the barbarian swordswoman in the stylin' red bikini, featured the use of fire-magic, boasted a backwards sword-sweep as her special (A+B) move and hearkened back to the plot hook of having lost her parents to the vile predations of Death Adder. (... as if Alex's execution wasn't incentive enough to sally forth against the forces of evil!)
- The misnamed Ax Battler, perhaps better known as the broadsword-hefting muscled dude in the blue loincloth. His magical influence was over the realm of earth, provoking earthquakes when he employed his potions. Mashing the buttons would make him sweep his sword in a 360-degree twirl overhead, a move he had practiced every morning since the foul Death Adder murdered his mother in cold blood. He bore an uncanny ressemblance to Sternblade in the subsequent Golden Axe: The Revenge Of Death Adder - maybe he passed on his loincloth to one more (ahem) deserving or perhaps he pursued a name change after realising that he never was going to get to battle with axes.
- and of course we have Gilius Thunderhead, the lightning-summoning, somersaulting, axe-wielding dwarf in the green tunic. Gilius' brother was ostensibly also killed by Death Adder, but he was really part of the adventuring party not for revenge but just because he was such a badass and wanted an opportunity to crack some skulls - never turn your back on a short man with an axe. Gilius also logged a more-legitimate appearance in The Revenge of Death Adder, but having grown lazy and feeble in his old age his participation was limited to being carted around in a backpack by the giant Goah, occasionally raising morale by whispering dirty jokes into the colossal ear in front of him.
Sending anywhere from one to all three of your heroes rampant, depending on the platform you were playing on, the party would wander the wilds of Yuria
- its map filling out between levels to indicate your progress - rescuing the inhabitants of Turtle Village (atop the back of a very large tortoise whose shell you would invariably spend two or three dollars falling off of)
, fending off shades and skeletons from amidst the terrible dandruff paving the Fiend's Path
along Eagle Island (a giant you-know-what)
, and just for fun kicking green and blue sack-bearing elves for food and magic potions between levels all the way from Alex's ashen corpse (speaking of which, it should be noted that this game was significant in that the bodies of slain opponents endured, rather than fading or melting away as in most prior games of the genre, leaving a grim reminder to the kiddies on the other side of the glass that Violence Has Consequences. And Winners Don't Use Drugs!)
to the castle of Death Adder
, where you trek to right past wrongs and rescue the Royal Family of Yuria. (What? We didn't mention the Royal Family? I guess they thought the players might be demanding further incentive at that point in the game. "Yeah, well I already massacred two hundred of those goblin dudes and a dozen of the fat hammer-guys - that's about as much as my brother was worth to me. No need to go after the Adder-man himself unless he says something nasty about my sister.")
Throughout these shifting landscapes of brick, mortar and giant animals' backs you would face what for the time would be considered a goodly variety of mooks (in addition to those already mentioned):
- Longmoan and Heninger, pawns in Death Adder's army of irritants. The former is a hobgobliny-looking fellow holding a club menacingly while the latter looks like nothing so much as a half-undressed football player (padding included) brandishing a big spiky ball on the end of a handle. Rumours abound relating Longmoan's name to his nocturnal activities, but thus far they are all unsubstantiated.
- The Bad Brothers are large, bald, fat men - usually found in pairs - who like to sling hammers and laugh heartily with their arms crossed while their minions torture the residents of the Turtle Village. Video games have been hell on the reputations of bald, fat men, and regrettably Golden Axe did nothing but perpetuate the cruel stereotype. We here at this write-up would like to act against this, vouching that we know, personally, several bald, fat men who engage in less-harmful pursuits such as crocheting and volunteering in elderly care facilities who only occasionally find delight and mirth in the abuse of strangely-shrunken villagers.
- Bitter Knights, serving as inspirational role-models for the children who would grow to be the disaffected youth of the '90s, are tall warriors completely bedecked in full plate armour, hiding behind high shields and lashing out with their long, long swords. Various ranks of Bitter Knights would face you at key moments throughout the game, cuminating in a showdown with General Bitter himself in Death Adder's palace. Having slain him on the field of combat, I feel entitled now to assume his title.
- A final category of nonunique baddies appeared under the silly names of either Ms. Demeanors or Lizard Women (depending on what platform you were playing on.) These dangerous ladies apparently shared the personal names Storchinaya, Strobaya and Lemanaya between them and were frequently found atop bizarrians, which I will here describe:
Not everything in this game world was out to crush your bones and grind them into bread - it only felt that way after the first five bucks' worth of quarters. In addition to the thankless villagers and strangely-masochistic nocturnal elves, you would occasionally be presented with some local fauna of non-geographical significance - bizarrians. In keeping with the names of their typical handlers, two of the three representatives of these mountable monsters indeed bore a strong ressemblance to bipedal lizards or wingless dragons. The red ones would spit fireballs ahead while the blue ones would vomit flame down on the ground. The novelty of being able to steal opponents' mounts almost outweighed the irrevocable strangeness of the final type of bizzarrian - queer birdfaced beasts of burden referred affectionately to as Chicken Legs, on loan from Altered Beast, who would breathe, well, nothing, but trip up and knock over good and bad guys alike with their twirly tails. Bizarrians would trust you less and less the longer you rode them, and if they didn't sneak away with the elves in the night they would eventually flee when you were knocked off of them.
- Towards the end of the game, you would be faced with the Big Bad Guy himself: Death Adder, no small badass in his own stead and irritatingly possessed of the power to send lightning bolts channeling through the ground where he struck it. Whether he was in fact the final badnasty or not depended upon which version you were playing - in the arcade, he was the be-all and end-all, but in the PC conversion he appeared first as Death Adder Jr. (wonder what he would have been named if he'd been a girl?) and then in an interior chamber the real Death Adder was found; meanwhile, in the Genesis conversion, Death Adder's death was followed in turn by the emergence of a total non-sequitur lookalike, Death Bringer, who you would also have to defeat in a similar manner.
The ending of the arcade game was quite memorable, presenting a cute little post-modern conceit after Death Adder's spinning blade lodged in his already-dead body and the royal family was lowered from the ropes binding them; in a montage of art imitating life, the screen of the arcade game would show a crowd of geeks and ne'er-do-wells crowded around a Golden Axe (well, uh, "Great Axe") cabinet in a video arcade. Upon completion of the game the cabinet began sparking and knocking about, when all of a sudden the three heroes of the game leapt out of the game and ran out of the arcade and into the city night, passing a curiously-named "Hokari Sweat
" shop, no doubt in search of some suitable winter apparel for the underclad Ax Battler and Tyris.
Though I couldn't work it in above, it's worth mentioning that in addition to the epic quest described above, home versions of the game included a "Duel" mode permitting players to engage on single or two-on-one combat against the various enemy types or each other in case they tired of the exhaustive contours of the main game's plot (effectively boiled down to If it moves, chop it up into little bits). As well, though I can find no mention of this on the web, I vaguely recall that on the Sega Genesis system, the Golden Axe cartridge was essential not merely as a game but as a means by which to attain hidden features in all nature of other Genesis games - this method, apparently known as the "powered on cart pull," involved starting the Genesis with the Golden Axe cart in, removing it while the system was still on! and putting other cartridges in without resetting - treatment rumoured to unlock all sorts of cheats, debugging modes and weird game glitches the likes of which you usually only got when your home unit began overheating. No doubt it also ensured a healthy market for new Golden Axe carts as I imagine this kind of abuse, payoff-producing or no, must have thrashed the electronics up like nobody's business.