About the Game:
Golden Axe II sees you taking control of one of three mighty heroes on a quest to… something… about a resurrected bad guy or… I wasn’t really paying attention…
I’ve always heard the Golden Axe series get a lot of love as one of the classic beat ’em up games of the late 80’s and early 90’s. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of either the series, nor the genre itself. I was definitely an arcade kid in the 90’s, but when I wasn’t hammering away at the latest Capcom or Midway fighting game, I was sinking quarters into games like The Simpsons, The Avengers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. For me, that was the golden era of beat ’em up games, and everything I play within the genre now is compared them.
When it comes to gameplay, Golden Axe II emphasizes simplicity above all else. So simplistic is this game, it actually won’t work at all with a 6-button controller! The C button jumps, the B button attacks, and if you press both together you’ll perform a power attack with a long animation that will leave wide open to counterattacks if used unwisely. The A button can be pressed or held to use a screen-wide magic attack. You can collect up to five spellbooks at a time, and the longer you hold A, the more books you’ll use and the more powerful the attack will be.
The combat itself is, for lack of a better word, boring. You swing you weapon, trying not to get flanked and hoping your combo initiates before your enemies. Trying to get clever with jump or bash attacks will usually get you punished, but if you don’t deliberately mix things up the game can be nearly unbearable.
Characters and enemies move slowly, and your hero has a weighty feel to them. Sprinting and jumping feels much quicker, but it’s negated by the fact that you can’t speed up your vertical movement, and also that the screen only just crawls forward when you progress through a level. Every level ends with a boss, who is really just a larger enemy with a bigger hit box and longer range…
There are mounts you can ride through certain levels, but actually getting onto them is tricky, and keeping them around is trickier still.
Presentation, Music and Sound:
The game looks only just okay. Sprites are large and muddy and stage backgrounds, while varied, are generally boring. Every level simply has you fighting pallet swapped versions of enemies you’ve faced before, and even bosses are recycled. The graphics are certainly indicative of their era, but there were still much better looking Genesis games at the time.
Sound and Music are only just noticeable, and everything has a somewhat muted tone. Everything, that is, except for the borderline hilarious death sounds of your enemies, which basically equate to Canadian Shakespeare.
One person got that joke… I just know it…
Fun & Relevance:
When 8 and 16-bit consoles hit the scene, many saw it as a way to finally have a proper arcade experience in the home, and games like Golden Axe II were a godsend for those people. For those of us who didn’t grow up in turn of the decade arcades, or are unaffected by nostalgia for that era of games, a higher standard of quality has to be met. For me, Golden Axe II just really missed the mark. Why would I ever play this game when I could play Hyperstone Heist or Streets of Rage 2 on the same console? Even within its own release window there was Battletoads, River City Ransom and Double Dragon.
Obviously, I didn’t really enjoy my time with this one. It didn’t do anything terribly wrong, but it didn’t do much terribly right either. Really, it didn’t do much at all…