Anybody remember a cool Sega Genesis/ Megadrive game called "Golden Axe"? I know I do. My older brothers used to play that game and Streets of Rage all the time, and Golden Axe was definitely one of Sega's classic games. Golden Axe told the tale of heroes who fought for family, honor, revenge, and other reasons to obtain a mystical axe capable of granting wishes or bringing about prosperity. Then a little while later, Sega made a sequel, Golden Axe 2. The formula didn't change much, but the game was still awesome and it had a nice soundtrack. Soon afterwards, Sega releases Golden Axe 3. Apparently, it was "so bad" compared to the previous two games that Sega didn't release it in North America or PAL territories fearing that it wouldn't sell well. Then...time passed...and then Golden Axe emerged again, though not exactly in the same way as many fans of the original beat-em-up would imagine.
Sega released a few variations of the standard Golden Axe game such as roleplaying type games like Golden Axe Warrior (for Sega Master System) and Ax Battler (for Game Gear). Unsurprisingly, there are many ports and recreations of the Original Golden Axe as well...BUT how about a Golden Axe fighting game in the vein of the all-too-popular Street Fighter series? Sure...why not...and with this notion, Golden Axe: The Duel was born. Debuting in 1994 in arcades and taking place eighty years after Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder, the game featured large characters and spectacular special effects that could rival any Street Fighter game on the market at that time...but then it was time for a home conversion, because we all can't go to the arcades (not to mention that the days of lugging around my weight in quarters is gone). Sega hesitated...after all, they shafted the U.S. and PAL regions on Golden Axe 3, so releasing GA:TD was debatable...and more time passed. Finally, in 1996, Sega decided to publish GA:TD in the U.S. for the Sega Saturn, but could it still hold the same charm it had two years ago in the arcades?
Well, one thing is certain; Golden Axe: The Duel is still an impressive looking 2D fighting game. The characters are still large, the characters still have cool moves, and the game still moves fluidly, though there are small instances of slowdown when executing certain flashy moves. One of the cool graphical details in the game is when you move around the stages. Creating distance between your opponent or rushing towards them causes the camera view to zoom in and out, and truly brings about the games' arcade style by having a sort of "panoramic" view of the fights. An example of this effect is used in the popular Guilty Gear X where the camera moves according to the position of characters to make fights seem more exciting regardless of where you are on the screen. The audio is also suprisingly nice with great clarity and composition. Certain characters' tracks such as Kain Blade and Milan Flare (The "new age" equivalent of Ax Battler and Tyris Flare) are quite nice. The sound effects aren't anything special, but that is probably to be expected.
Still, the most important aspect of a fighting game is its fighting engine...so how is it? Well, there isn't anything remarkably wrong with GA:TD's fighting engine, but it does show that it sat around for two years. While it has nice super moves and special moves (some of which are rather awkward and difficult to perform), the game lacks the depth of fighters that started emerging circa '95 and '96. Most characters have basic attack moves and small connectable attacks, but the game doesn't even have a combo counter! GA:TD doesn't have a whole lot of depth, a fairly unimpressive character roster consisting of only ten characters, no unlockables, very typical endings and numerous other faults.
For example, something as simple as how super moves are done can be a pain. Because one of the iconic characters of the Golden Axe series was a goodie-carrying midget, one would think they make an appearance in this game, right? Well, they do...they pop up randomly during fights. You can hit them and they'll toss magic potions or food into the air (half of which the opposing character usually grabs since they fly to the left and right). If you grab five magic potions, you can activate a character's power-up mode. During this time, you have a limited opportunity to catch your foe with a super move. If it sounds like more trouble than it's worth, that's probably because it is. Otherwise, GA:TD plays like your average 2D fighter.
I like the Golden Axe series, and all things considered, I also like this game, but I have to admit that it's not very impressive compared to most 2D Saturn fighters and it partially has its late publishing date to blame for poor sales. It would have created more of a splash if it was a launch 2D Saturn fighter but with games like Darkstalkers and Street Fighter Alpha already on the market, this game didn't have much of a chance to make an impression. If you are a fan of the Golden Axe series however, you shouldn't be too disappointed by this game. Fighting game fans should pick this up, everyone else should take heed.
- Written by Bel Cain The Eternal -