Golden Axe: The Duel
  • Genre:
    • Fighting
  • Developer:
    • Sega
  • Publisher:
    • Sega
  • Released:
    ARC
    • JP 1994

    SAT
    • JP 09/29/1995
    • UK 1995
    • US 06/27/1996
Score: 70%

This review was published on 01/23/2018.

Golden Axe: The Duel is a fighting video game developed and published by Sega. It was originally released as a coin operated arcade game in Japan in 1994, but was later ported to the Sega Saturn. The Saturn version came out in Japan on September 29, 1995, Europe in 1995, and North America on June 27, 1996. As the title of this title suggests, this game is part of the Golden Axe series. By this point in time, there were quite a few Golden Axe titles available. Most of the main series is made up of side-scrolling beat 'em ups, but there were a couple of spinoffs that veered into other genres. This is one of them. Some of the previous Golden Axe games had modes within them that allowed for characters to fight each other one-on-one, but Golden Axe: The Duel is the first and last Golden Axe game to be dedicated to that concept. Is it any good? Read the rest of the review to find out.

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This game was originally created for the Sega ST-V arcade hardware, which is alternatively known as the Sega Titan Video game system. It's essentially identical to the Sega Saturn hardware, except it reads games off of cartridges instead of discs. As a result of that, the Saturn port of Golden Axe: The Duel is nearly identical to the arcade original, though it does take a bit longer to load stuff. Thanks to that hardware, this game is graphically gorgeous. Aside from a couple of special effects, the visuals are strictly 2-D, but these are some of the best 2-D visuals you'll ever see. The character sprites are gargantuan, extraordinarily detailed, and extremely well animated. While the characters are definitely the main attraction, the foregrounds and backgrounds are also amazing. The screen also zooms in and out depending on how far away the characters are from each other, which is a nice touch.

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At first glance, The Duel will seem similar to Samurai Shodown, as nearly every fighter is armed with a sharp melee weapon, and there's some blood. However, this game is more comparable to Street Fighter Alpha and its various variants. Basically, each character has a life bar and the goal is to reduce the opponent's health to zero by hitting them a whole bunch. There are six attack buttons; typically, three are for weapon based attacks and the other three are dedicated to kicks. Performing certain motions on the joystick before hitting a specific button will result in special moves unique to each character. Every character is capable of blocking attacks if you hold the joystick in the opposite direction that they're facing, and pushing the joystick upwards causes you to jump. All characters can also grab and throw opponents if you press a specific button while holding left or right on the joystick near the enemy; this can't be blocked. If you've played a traditional fighting game before, then this should all be second nature.

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Strangely, almost none of the characters from previous Golden Axe titles make an appearance in this game. The sole exception is Death Adder, who's considered to be the main villain of the series. Some of this game's characters are related to ones from previous games, though. For example, Kain Blade is the main hero of The Duel, and he's a barbarian equipped with a long blade who's a descendent of Stern Blade from Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder. Similarly, Milan Flare is a princess armed with a short sword who's a descendent of Tyris Flare, the Amazon from previous Golden Axe titles. Descending from Gilius Thunderhead, the heroic dwarf who appeared in some of the previous Golden Axe games, Gilius Rockhead is one of the only playable characters to actually wield an axe, though it's far from golden. None of the other characters are related to previous ones, however.

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Other playable characters include a staff wielding wizard named Zoma, an elven thief armed with sharp dagger-like weapons named Keel, a young girl who attacks with claws named Jamm, a green plant man named Green, a fat dude with a mace named Panchos, and a blonde guy named Doc. There's also a boss character you can't play as, but will fight against at the end of the game. Besides all the characters having different moves, they've also got different attributes governing their abilities. In other words, some are strong but slow, some are fast but weak, and everyone has different range. Things aren't perfectly balanced, though, because Death Adder is kind of overpowered. The playable cast is decently varied, but rather anemic when compared to other fighting games of the time. Also, having almost no characters from the Golden Axe series kind of defeats the purpose of tying this game to the Golden Axe name in the first place.

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So what's the one unique thing about this game? Well, that would be the gnomes. In previous Golden Axe games, there were gnomes that you'd beat on to get magic potions, which were used to cast magical spells. The gnomes return in this title, but they serve a slightly different purpose. They periodically appear during matches, and hitting them still nets you magic potions, just like the older Golden Axe titles. However, instead of granting you access to spells, the magic potions fill up your super meter. When the meter is full, you'll be able to activate a special "powered up" mode by pressing three buttons simultaneously. While in this mode, your attacks do more damage and you'll be able to use your character's super move, which is generally quite powerful. This mode only lasts for a brief period of time, however, so you have to act quickly. It's basically the same thing as the super meter in other conventional fighting games, except with the twist of the gnomes.

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It's not bad, but this certainly isn't the Golden Axe game fans wanted. This game plays nothing like a real Golden Axe title, and with the exception of Death Adder, it includes none of the characters from earlier games in the series. The only thing that's remotely Golden Axe about this game is the fact that you can beat up gnomes for magic potions, but that's about it. As a fighting game, Golden Axe: The Duel is also rather unremarkable, not really bringing anything unique to the table outside of the gnome thing. That said, it looks great and is still quite playable.

Word Count: 1,087

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