The past few months have been overwhelming for the Xbox Live Arcade: dozens of new titles and ports of acclaimed classics have arrived each week with great vigor. One of the most anticipated titles, the hit arcade classic Golden Axe, arrived finally after its announcement at E3 2006. Sega’s 1989 classic redefined arcades around the world, and now it arrives almost 20 years later for download on the Xbox Live Marketplace: 400 Microsoft points will allow gamers to receive an important sense of gaming nostalgia- one that proves even the most simple gameplay can immerse gamers of all ages.
Since its first release, Golden Axe has appeared on nearly 20 platforms, with Xbox Live being the most recent. This latest port successfully recreates the original title, neither altering nor adding to its core fundamentals. Therefore, gameplay remains very rudimentary. When starting a new game, the player can choose from three different characters: the dwarf, barbarian, and amazon. Besides their appearance, the only significant difference that distinguishes each avatar is his or her use of magic. Between levels, little thieves will run about, allowing the player to attack them to gain magic potions and health. The dwarf has the weakest magic power-up, yet it can be charged and executed the most frequent. The barbarian’s are slightly stronger, but require more magic potions. The strongest of all is wielded by the amazon, who needs significantly more potions than either the barbarian or dwarf; however, once fully charged, her spell can destroy many of the enemies on screen. As long as the player has at least one potion, the magic attack can be executed- obviously, the resulting damage will be far less than when fully charged, forcing the player to balance use of the spells. Most of the time, regular attacks will be used to take down foes (actually, “attacks” consists of only one true move).
Each character has the same basic attack, which slashes the opponent with his or her weapon. The player cannot perform combos or any type of special moves with the weapon, just the same slash throughout the entire game. However, players can jump and attack while in midair near an enemy, which occasionally decreases the chance of being hit in return. When hit several times, an enemy may fall to the ground and be thrown by the character using the attack button. Later enemies sometimes ride various creatures into battle, such as a cockatrice and dragon. Such foes can be knocked from it when attacked- the creature can then be mounted. Attacks from these creatures do a great deal of damage, but the player can also be knocked off to the ground as well. There isn’t much variation in combat, especially when compared to modern action-adventure titles; at the time, however, Golden Axe was pretty revolutionary and one should keep that in mind while playing.
If you’ve played the original title or any of its ports, you’ll already know that the game is pretty easy and can be beaten within a half of a hour. If the player runs out of lives mid-game, he or she can choose to continue the game without penalty; there are achievements, however, that persuade the player to beat the game and its various levels without dying and using a continue. Once completed, a player can venture to the co-op mode (for online and local play). Once one has finished the co-op, however, there isn’t much to persuade more play-through’s other than to accomplish the achievements.
For those who experienced the bliss of the original arcade title, Golden Axe for Xbox Live Arcade is an essential addition to a collection- regardless of its longevity. Besides the features that have been added for emulation on the Xbox 360, such as smoothing and enhanced audio, Golden Axe is a direct recreation of its former edition. Its easy achievements (for the most part) will likely help to attract those that are unfamiliar to the series, but that doesn’t mean the game is for everyone. As with most modern ports of classic titles, one must purchase the title knowing what to expect, as this certainly isn’t the action title of the next-generation. But for those who lust for an occasional retro experience, Golden Axe will definitely not disappoint.
Final Score: 8 out of 10 - Good (How do we rate games?)