[Herr M.] Blood and thunder rule the country: The vicious Death Adder inflicts war on the kingdom and kills people by the dozen. Amongst the numerous victims are the relatives of three great heroes, who finally, when even their best friend gets slain right in front of their eyes, swear revenge.
[Mr Creosote] So much for the usual excuse to have player controlled muscleheads beat up some baddies. But all of this is not communicated overly well in the actual game, is it?
[Herr M.] Well, not really. The couple of speech balloons that turn up in the game are rather simplistic and the story does not get much more complex than what is written above. No surprise twists, no deep philosophical thougts… you summed it up quite nicely: It is simply a pretext.
Choose your champion!
[Mr Creosote] Although at best only two out of those three heroes set off. As usual this screams in unlogic, but of course it is connected to the limited game mechanics: They just are not prepared for more than two players.
[Mr Creosote] And it would have gotten pretty crowded for more than two people in front of the arcade cabinet. So, you have to make the difficult choice between the 'Barbarian', the 'Dwarf' and the 'Amazon'. I wonder if anyone has actually ever played the last one, considering, that 100% of the players are male?
[Herr M.] Funny, you should put it that way, because I played this game almost to death with my sister, and as you might guess she played the amazon quite often. But I think there are good reasons for men to play this character too, since she has the strongest spells and – depending on the version you play – the second best attack.
[Mr Creosote] Oh, there are actually noticeable differences between the characters besides the sprites? To be honest, I never noticed any of them.
[Herr M.] Well, like I hinted above, the three characters have different fighting and magic capabilities. From dwarf to amazon the fighting power declines, while the spellpower increases. I have to admit though that the differences are somewhat subtle. Except for the dwarf‘s sweeping blows, which are quite handy, and the lady‘s magic attacks, which give even bosses a hard time (that is if you manage to get a full mana bar).
[Mr Creosote] OK, I did know about the different kinds of magic spells, but honestly, most of the physical attack variations are just purely of a graphical (animation) nature, aren‘t they? If you keep pushing the fire button like crazy, as you usually do in the heat of the battle, your character performs a variety of attack maneuvers now and then. Yet while they are cool to look at, especially in a freeze frame, they have no actual effect in the game.
[Herr M.] The single fire button does make it kind of hard to tell, especially because you have to hold down and hit 'fire' to perform a jump. Things get even trickier for a jump-attack: Hold down+fire, quickly put the joystick back in a neutral position and then hit the fire button again. It could not be any more complicated. This is a specialty of the Amiga port however, which comes at the cost of playability.
[Herr M.] In the arcades you had one button each for attacks, jumping and casting a spell. I explicitly mentioned jump attacks, because you can throw your enemies to the ground with them. And normally this is the best way to keep more than one of them at bay. Additionally you have the normal attack, which only hits enemies directly in front of you and ram attacks, which are hard to pull off at short distances.
[Mr Creosote] OK, but this does prove my assumption about the regular attacks: They do look different at times, but they have no distinguishable effects, whether you ram your sword in your enemy‘s head or his side. Picking them up and throwing them away naturally is another matter, but even here it is beyond your control when your character makes this move. So, for the most part the fighting styles are just graphical eye candy.
[Herr M.] For the most part yes, but it is just a lot easier to hit with the dwarf‘s axe than with the swords of the others, simply because it is such a large sprite. And there are slight differences in the hit sequences. Basically the three characters play very similar to each other though, which might come from the lack of individual special attacks.
Magic spells and riding crops
[Mr Creosote] Which leaves us with the differences in their magical powers: The stronger the magic attack, the more mana you need for it – so you cannot make out a clear winner there, either.
[Herr M.] The usefulness and effectiveness of the magic depends actually on the current level. Those little blue guys, you have to hit, so they give you some mana points, come in different numbers. Sometimes there is more of them, sometimes less. I guess the barbarian might have the edge here, for he neither tends to be overfilled too soon, nor does he have to endlessly save up until he can cast the maximum spell.
On the other hand the mounts can be a lot more important for the outcome of the game.
[Herr M.] That‘s right! Whether you ride one of those strange chicken beasts or on one of the dragons, you gain a considerable advantage through their stronger and most of the times longer ranged attacks. As a matter of fact, you might even call them essential. Besides, you should really do your best to put down any enemy that comes along on top of one of them as fast as you can.
[Mr Creosote] Do not forget about that quasi extra hit point you gain while riding on one of the creatures, because your opponents have to push you off of them again. Up to this point everything was rather ordinary, but this feature really is something special: It leads to a far stronger interaction with your enemies than if they would just drop some kind of bonus when dying (which is the usual convention).
But it is a pity that you cannot pick up any other exchangeable extra weapons except for this animals.
[Herr M.] At times it even comes to some fine jousting for those critters, and you might even notice slight hints of actual tactics. And the lack of other extra weapons seems reasonable to me, considering the shortness of the game. After all there are three mounts already.
Content and Wrapping
[Mr Creosote] Speaking of shortness: The five levels turned out to be not only short, but also comperatively easy, didn‘t they? Especially for an arcade game – you could play quite a lot for just one credit!
[Herr M.] In return you can immediately start another game. And Death Adder himself accompanied by his two nearly unkillable skeletons is quite a credit dump. There are also a couple of nasty chasms, where you can lose a life in no time at all. Which is not all that unrealistic considering the akward jumping mechanics chosen for the Amiga.
[Mr Creosote] Ah, yes, in our gaming sessions I lost my first life precisely by running into such a chasm. That was kind of annoying. But at least reaching the end boss is quite feasible. It is obvious why the game was so popular compared to the numerous totally unfair products from its competitors!
[Mr Creosote] In my opinion, the graphics of the Amiga version have even retained much of the original charm: They retain the character‘s strong shadings, however, the rather muted colours of the original are somewhat more garish here.
[Herr M.] The character design itself varies between serious and funny (just think of the chicken mount), which suits the rather straight forward style of the game. I also like the contrast to the more difficult bosses, which have a far more martial appearance.
[Mr Creosote] The music has much to offer too. It fits perfectly to the genre, whether you are a fan of it or not.
[Herr M.] Yes, the tunes fire up the mood good and proper. My compliments to the composer: Even on the poor PC-Speaker they sounded utterly brilliant. Naturally they work even better on the soundwise far superior Amiga.
[Mr Creosote] However, in comparison it is a bit of a pity that this Amiga version is a direct port of the original arcade game, as far as game modes and content is concerned. The extra level of the Mega Drive is missing as well as the duel mode.
[Herr M.] On the other hand you have the humorous original ending, which at least makes up for the extra level, which ends in just plain text and is not all that exciting to boot. The most important things are definitely there.
Beyond the nostalgia
[Mr Creosote] It certainly feels like the original. But, how much do you like it nowadays?
[Herr M.] At the risk of repeating myself: I simply miss a separate jump button. As interesting as this particular variation seems to be, it costs the game so much. As for Golden Axe itself: After all those years I still like to play it (in all of its ports and variations), just like back in the days, when I fought my way through it for the first time. It is a good looking game, with excellent sound and has a simple, yet dynamic game flow, which in my opinion still holds up today.
[Mr Creosote] I do not fully concur with you on that. There is nothing to criticize about graphics, sound or even the controls. Once I used to like playing it, but, to be honest, even back then it was not among my personal favorites. Today… phew, I think it is quite limited. The creatures are a nice idea, and I also like that you actually have to be a bit careful not to hit each other. But overall the gameplay is rather uninspired.
[Herr M.] Maybe it is not one of the most sophisticated games (although come to that most 2D beat 'em ups are not that complex), but I still enjoy it frequently for short periods of time. Above all because all that lowbrow fighting is a nice way to unwind a bit.
[Mr Creosote] Granted, most of my objections are against the genre itself and not against this particular game. But the small scope confirms my general reservations yet again: Ultimately the levels are all the same, the enemies too. They do not follow different tactics, and you can not use your surroundings. What differences there seem to be, are only superficial, i.e. they are of a purely cosmetic nature. And I actually find this somewhat inconsistent – a skeletton should not behave like a dragon lady for crying out loud!
[Herr M.] Well, exactly those two show slightly different behaviours: Because while the dragon ladies never jump, the skeletons do almost all of the time. But I guess I know what you are trying to get at: In the end they always run straight at you and execute their same old attacks. If you do not dislike the genre per se, I would recommend one of the sequels, because all of them are longer, have more varied opponents (which actually behave differently) and at times you can even chose between different routes.
[Mr Creosote] Well, in conclusion I would put it this way: I can understand why this game has a fan base. It is without a doubt well-made. You can easily spend half an hour (it won‘t take much longer anyways) with a friend on it. I have to admit, though, that I would not wish to play it on my own again.
[Herr M.] It certainly gains a lot by a second player, who brings along a bit of unpredictability and at times even more depth to the gameplay. Apart from that it is just what it says (more or less) on the box: A totally classic beat 'em up game.