Monday, March 16, 2009

Golden Axe

Reno / Telenet / Sega

Reviewers on the web love to weave tales of the horrors brought upon them by PCE Golden Axe, but I'd never put much stock in their words. With the similarly maligned PCE Altered Beast, I'd already seen how a good port can come under fire simply due to a level of difficulty that proves too daunting for crybaby game raters. And I'd never thought much of this brawler to begin with (I chucked my Genesis GA cart ages ago), so I wasn't concerned about a "masterpiece" being insulted or desecrated. When my trustworthy brother Alexei confirmed my suspicions that the game isn't quite the disaster that so many net scribes make it out to be, I went ahead and obtained the CD with great haste and confidence.

Now, Alexei had given me fair warning that the scrolling and animation are revoltingly awful and the colors, drab and boring. I cannot contradict the former: choppiness abounds here. I can't dispute the latter, either, but being a fan of darker material in general, I was just fine with the preponderance of dull browns and grays. Don't get me wrong; I'm quite certain that this "style" of presentation came about due to a lack of effort on the part of the designers as opposed to a conscious attempt to craft a darker GA. It just so happens that the end result works well for me.

No such qualifiers are necessary for my enjoyment of the game's musical tracks (which are quite upbeat and exciting) and numerous cinemas (heavy snake usage generally rules, after all).

But even if you find the soundtrack and interludes as appealing as I do, and even if you are as accepting of the game's visuals as I am, the gameplay could still prove to be a deal breaker. PCE Golden Axe is tough and, at times, very cheap. Some situations that should result in routine henchmen slaughter end up with your character receiving an unfairly dealt beating. It's far too easy for groups of villains to surround and batter the hero, a flaw that might've been remedied with an option for two-person play. Unfortunately, no such option is to be found here, which is bad news indeed when you're dealing with the troublesome bosses.

Of course, there are ways to strike back with cheap tactics of your own. Even the nefarious giant armored knights and Death Adder himself can be taken out via simple move repetition.

For some, the tight situations and close calls to be experienced in this version of Golden Axe will add a sense of excitement to what has always been, in truth, a fairly mundane brawler. Others will view the game as an ugly race against the enemies to see who can "out-cheap" whom. I belong to the former group; and honestly, even if the only worthwhile aspects of the project had ended up being the music and cinemas, I wouldn't have minded paying a modest ten or fifteen bucks for them alone. But I come away from this rendition of GA with the realization that by removing or diminishing elements of an adventure that isn't special in the first place, companies run the risk of putting out a product that is truly horrible.

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