Retro Requisition would like to draw your attention to a classic video game of old that we shall be formally requisitioning to be reborn, revisited, rebooted, or remastered. We will explain what makes each game such a timeless classic still worthy of attention, pitch what it would be all about and get all realistic by discussing the possibilities of it actually ever happening.
“We, the most awesome and fabulous team at That Not Current, have decreed in all our wisdom and obsession with the wonders of retro gaming, that the following game should be brought back to life and hereby submit this formal request to make it so:”
Golden Axe (1989)
THE PLAYERS: Sega
PLATFORM(S): Sega Master System / Arcades / MegaDrive (Genesis)
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT?
At its most essential level, Golden Axe is an arcade-style 2D side-scrolling beat-em-up. First released in arcades in 1989, the game sees you and a friend (if you want) travelling across the high-fantasy style land of Yuria. Stabbing and kicking monsters and other villainous baddies in your mission save the Royal family and the land’s titular Golden Axe from the clutches of the evil Death Adder. In the original game you and your friend have the choice of one of three characters: Ax Battler – who, ironically, uses a sword; Tyris Flare – a woman; or Gilius Thunderhead – a dwarf who actually does use an axe and obviously won the draw for the best name. Each have different magic abilities – earth, fire and electricity respectively – and slightly different attacks but for the most part the gameplay is the same regardless of who you play as.
That gameplay is one of one of the chunkier examples of the genre, but every hit comes with a satisfying thud and there’s enough of a variety of attacks to also make it one of the most enjoyable. The game includes a number of neat features that somehow never actually made it into other similar games. The ability to kick little elves scampering around at your feet to make them drop provisions or being able to steal and ride the beasts that enemies ride in on yourself being classic features that would end up uniquely defining Golden Axe.
The original game was a hit in the arcades, leading to a very popular home console release on the Mega Drive/Genesis and two direct sequels. Sadly, although Golden Axe II’s worst element is that it’s primarily more of the same, Golden Axe III was so poor that it wasn’t even widely released outside of Japan until being bundled into retro collections for the sheer sake of padding them out later on.
There was also a fantastic rip-off of the original Legend of Zelda released for the Sega Master System called Golden Axe Warrior. It’s not being unkind to the game to call it an unashamed clone of Zelda – they barely even made an effort to make the enemies look different – but it does at least manage to put that ‘inspiration’ to good use by improving on the original Zelda in absolutely every way. Sadly, Sega seemed to take this idea of ripping off Nintendo’s Zelda series far too seriously, as they then decided to remake Zelda II on the GameGear in the form of Ax Battler: A Legend of Golden Axe. The results were as you’d expect, really, given the source material.
The bad ideas didn’t stop there, either. After a 15 year break, Sega tried to bring the Golden Axe name back to life with Golden Axe: Beast Rider. An abysmally average 3D action title born in the era of brown ‘realistic’ games during the early years of the Xbox 360/PS3. While the game is functionally playable (rating it a solid amount higher than Sega’s other big classic title reboot around the same time: Sonic 2006), it lacked any unique character or style and ultimately served as the final nail in the series’ coffin.
WHY DOES IT NEED TO BE REBORN?
Aside from the fact that I could go on at length (and over the course of several of these articles, I ultimately may well do so) about how Sega is wasting its wide library of unique IP by permanently benching almost all of it in favour of exclusively insisting on ruining Sonic on a semi-annual basis, there’s a lot of value in Golden Axe specifically making a come back.
The best part about Golden Axe is that – fundamentally – it’s a blank slate. The fantasy stylings and the overall plot can be directly transferred into plenty of different gameplay styles. None of which Sega cater for at all right now – and indeed, stand to be more richly mined in general. There’s very little that is precious to the Golden Axe canon, so almost every element could be entirely rebooted and remodeled into a new, better and more modern form.
WHAT WOULD WE WANT TO SEE IN ANY REBIRTH?
Beast Rider was a mistake because it wanted to find a modern equivalent of the original’s classic side-scrolling arcade brawling. In doing so, Sega just made a bad God of War. As we’ve recently seen though, there are significantly better ways to be making a God of War game. The visceral combat in 2018’s Dad of War, combined with an engaging – well told, well directed – story is what rightly earned it many Game of the Year awards. It also demonstrated that having a past filled firmly with schlocky button-mashing action games doesn’t mean it can’t evolve and grow into something a lot better and more well rounded. Sega’s penchant for wholesale ripping off games and slapping the Golden Axe name on them could see them doing a lot worse than copying 2018’s God of War.
What I’d actually want to see, though, is an entirely different avenue. Although I’m a fan – of course – of the arcade original Golden Axe, my true love of the series comes specifically from Golden Axe Warrior. That unashamed Zelda clone on the Master System. It’s a great example of how malleable the franchise could be as well as a worthy idea worth revisiting.
Seeing the fantastical world of Yuira from the original Golden Axe game reworked as an open world in the style of Breath of the Wild has an immediate appeal. Many of the Zelda series’ other game mechanics can also make the journey into Golden Axe’s world fairly effortlessly. Especially as Golden Axe Warrior already included most of them to begin with. It’s perhaps tempting to just say “make every game into an open world epic like Breath of the Wild”, but for Golden Axe, it’d absolutely the best path forward as far as I’m concerned.
IS IT LIKELY?
Sega have notoriously been rubbish at effectively utilising their considerable range of classic games. Though they’re keen to chuck ROMs of the same couple-dozen Mega Drive games onto every gaming platform going, any new instalments for these games have been in incredibly short supply.
Recently, though, we’ve seen a couple of positive developments from Sega concerning their classic library. While the recent Mega Drive collection released on consoles (fundamentally the same collection that’s been available on Steam for years – but inexplicably with less games) is more of the same, the Sega AGES line released on the Switch has been a considerable step up.
These Switch releases have more been like updated ports than simply chucking a ROM into an emulator and wanging it onto the eShop. Although the games are presented in their pixel-perfect original form, they do also contain additional (optional) flourishes, such as a map interface added to the original Phantasy Star that actually makes it playable or content cut from Alex Kidd in Miracle World being reworked into the game. These releases show a reverence for the original content that’s often lacking in Sega’s treatment of most of their historic releases (that aren’t called Sonic, anyway).
Meanwhile, 25 years after the last entry in the series, a fourth Streets of Rage game is now finally in development for release later this year. A similar style of game to the main Golden Axe series, Streets of Rage 4 is a faithful follow-up in the exact same genre, rather than anything brand new. Hewing that closely to the original games is a safe bet for Streets of Rage – and is probably what makes a new entry an easier (and cheaper) sell.
Golden Axe would ideally want to push the envelope much farther and aim for a AAA-level release, so there’s unfortunately still a pretty major uphill battle if we want to see Gilius, Tyris and, er, Ax, making the comeback they definitely deserve. Ultimately, it’s going to be up to Sega to feel brave enough and to finally put the time, effort and money into reviving their wide range of classic franchises.