Golden Axe Warrior ReviewJoe Shaffer
I had dreaded playing through Golden Axe Warrior. Mostly, this is thanks to my memories of 8-bit adventures such as Legend of Zelda and Casltevania II: Simon's Quest, where you spend a goodish portion of the campaign wandering aimlessly and stumbling upon the correct path. If you're like me, you eventually reach a breaking point with such titles, and must search for an adequate walkthrough in order to advance. This stems from the way in which these games veil their rails, usually burying them beneath a handful of vague clues and obtuse puzzles. Thankfully, Golden Axe Warrior doesn't resort to such dastardly tactics much...
If there's one thing that Golden Axe Warrior handles better than Zelda, it's in the NPC department. Scattered throughout the game's overworld are villages populated by humanoid sprites. Engaging one in a conversation often results in an unimportant gab session regarding Death Adders atrocities, but there are some townsfolk in nearly every burg with important tidbits to impart. "The second dungeon? Why, that's just a bit to the west!" an excited old woman might tell you. "You're looking for top grade armor? Legend says there's a sealed cave in the mountains with such a piece," says a random child.
Although the game features NPCs to guide you, discovering particular locations is still a matter of exploration, examination, and experimentation. For instance, someone might inform you that a certain character who can teach you a spell dwells somewhere in the south. What that NPC doesn't mention is that you have to chop down a few trees, walk across a river, and eventually slice through a certain pine in order to access the aforementioned character. In other words, Golden Axe Warrior doesn't hold your hand, but it certainly doesn't leave you in the dark.
After the first dungeon, I found myself rarely utilizing an overworld map or a FAQ to travel. This is thanks to the game's successful usage of not only Zelda elements, but those of the classic NES title Metroid. As you advance, you obtain items that allow you to overcome various obstacles. For instance, the first dungeon rewards you with an axe, which is capable of removing certain trees. That, in turn, allows you to advance northward by cutting down a tree that happens to block the path. You might notice that the developers carefully crafted the overworld such that you only gain access to so much of it at a time, similar to Metroid. As with Samus's quest, newly discovered impasses and acquired equipment serve as clues, suggesting where your journey may lead you next.
If you're a fan of Zelda-style games, then you know what Golden Axe Warrior's main attraction is: dungeons. Golden Axe Warrior's dungeons are not as complex as Legend of Zelda's. For instance, you won't find many stages where you must demolish random walls in order to advance. You also won't pound your way through convoluted networks of chambers, only to discover dead ends. At the same time, the game's stages aren't straightforward. There are plenty of forks in the road and multiple pathways to explore, not to mention tons of devious creatures--a great portion of which were pretty much swiped from Zelda--to keep you busy.
Dealing with monsters is a simple matter. Like the original Zelda, there are no combo attacks. You simply press the attack button and hack away at your opponents, while also watching them closely to discover their movement patterns. The main difference, combat-wise, in Golden Axe Warrior is that you can choose from one of two different weapons: a sword or an axe. The sword can stab foes from a distance, but can only nail beasts that are directly in front of you. The axe, on the other hand, swipes across three spaces before you, but lacks the reach of the sword. While this doesn't add up to a complicated combat system, it's still refreshing to find that the developers devised a system other than mere, repetitive poking.
Unfortunately, combat is not always glorious or exciting. For starters, Golden Axe Warrior's control response is somewhat touchy. When moving your hero, it's pretty common to overshoot your intended destination and accidentally walk into an adversary, especially bosses. I was actually stuck on the second boss for a long time because I kept walking into him and croaking. It only worsens after that battle, too, as you end up going toe-to-toe with massive miscreants who move quickly in confined spaces. As you can imagine, precision is imperative in most boss encounters, which is difficult to muster when your controls aren't adequately tight.
I wish I could stop at this point and award the game the 9/10 that it should have received, but a single hangup prevents that. You see, someone in the development team thought it would be cute to introduce a status ailment called "rust." Occasionally, you'll run afoul of abominable, slow-crawling crabs in dungeons. Touch one of these guys and your armor will rust, which reduces your defensive capabilities to their weakest state. Rust doesn't wear off on its own, either. The only way to remove it is to have a special cleaner, of which you can only carry one at a time. Worse, this item is expensive and golden horns (the game's currency) are not always the easiest object to come across. I recall one occasion in which I touched a rust monster and didn't have a cleaner on me. I had to abandon my progress, travel across the world, annihilate a bunch of weak monsters for an hour in order to procure an acceptable amount of gold, then purchase the item. Just to be safe, I decided to kill some more and buy another cleaner, which set me back yet another hour.
All of this stemmed from touching a single, pokey monster in a dungeon. I'm not going to write this off as an effect of challenge. There's nothing difficult about ceasing game progress and spending two hours attempting to rectify a minor mistake. Rather, the rust concept comes off as the developers deliberately being pricks.
Despite those two hiccups, Golden Axe Warrior is a worthy answer to Legend of Zelda. The developers crafted the game's impressive overworld with care and consideration, structuring it in such a way that doesn't leave players constantly guessing. It's just a shame that the Golden Axe series never revisited this genre. I think a Genesis/Mega Drive sequel would have been wonderful, especially if the developers decided to nix the stupid rust system.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.