Golden Axe II
  • Genre:
    • Beat 'Em Up
  • Platform:
    • Genesis
  • Developer:
    • Sega
  • Publisher:
    • Sega
  • Released:
    • US 12/26/1991
    • JP 12/27/1991
    • UK 1991
Score: 75%

This review was published on 01/03/2018.

Golden Axe II is a side-scrolling beat 'em up video game developed and published by Sega for the Sega Genesis and Sega Mega Drive. It was originally released in North America on December 26, 1991, Japan on December 27, 1991, and Europe in 1991. As its title implies, it's the sequel to the original Golden Axe, which initially released for arcade hardware in 1989 before being ported to countless home platforms, the most notable of which was the Genesis. The Genesis port of the first Golden Axe was by far the most popular version, and it was one of the console's biggest games early on. That's probably why Sega opted to make Golden Axe II exclusive to the Genesis. Taking inspiration from Conan the Barbarian, the first Golden Axe is known as one of the first games to combine a medieval fantasy setting with the mechanics of a brawler. It's also pretty decent. Golden Axe II is basically more of the same, for better or worse.

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In the previous game, an evil entity known as Death Adder lived up to his namesake by adding countless deaths to the world. On top of his signature death adding, Death Adder kidnapped the king and princess of the land and stole the titular Golden Axe, which was the symbol of peace and prosperity. Fortunately, three heroes rose up to the occasion and added Death Adder's death to their resume. After successfully dealing with Death Adder, the heroes heroically rescued the king and his daughter, and reclaimed the Golden Axe. All was well in the land until the events of Golden Axe II, where another insidious individual threatens the peace. His name is Dark Guld, and despite having been defeated in ancient times, he's back for revenge. Accompanied by his clan of evil followers, Dark Guld steals the powerful Golden Axe and uses it to cause chaos. The three heroes must once again take up their arms to battle against this reawakened evil.

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Not much has changed in regards to the controls, especially when compared to the Genesis version of the first game. The d-pad is used to walk in eight directions on the ground, the A button is for magic, the B button is for attacking, and the C button is for jumping. Mashing the attack button does a variety of combos; what combo you do depends on your proximity to the enemy. If you're close enough, your combo will end with you throwing your foe. Naturally, it's still possible to attack while jumping. Double tapping left or right on the d-pad causes you to dash in those directions, and pressing the attack button during a dash initiates a dash attack. The downwards stab move is still done by attacking after a running jump. Previously, pressing the jump and attack buttons simultaneously would trigger a backwards attack, but here it uses a special move unique to each character, which hits enemies from both sides. Aside from that, the only real difference is that the controls are more responsive this time around, making for a snappier experience.

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The three playable characters from the previous game are back, and they consist of a handsome barbarian known as Ax Battler, a sexy Amazon called Tyris Flare, and a stout dwarf named Gilius Thunderhead. Going against his name and the title of the series, Ax Battler uses a sword as his weapon, and so does Tyris. Gilius is the only playable character actually armed with an axe. Like before, the main functional difference between the characters is their magic levels. In addition to being a little faster than the other two characters, Tyris has the biggest bar of magic and is therefore capable of casting the most destructive spells, whereas Ax Battler has the second largest meter, and Gilius has the smallest. To make up for his puny magic meter, Gilius has incredible reach with his axe. Ax Battler's main strength is that he's the most balanced of the three. The other main difference between characters is their aforementioned special moves, which didn't exist in the previous game. Ax Battler does a backwards pounce attack, Tyris does a flip kick, and Gilius uses his axe as a pole to do a spin kick. They're small additions, but these special moves make the characters feel more distinct.

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As their last names suggest, Tyris Flare uses fire magic and Gilius Thunderhead casts thunder spells. Ax Battler used earth spells in the first game, but he's switched to wind magic in Golden Axe II. In any case, magic always damages all enemies on the screen, but the amount dealt depends on how many segments of the character's magic meter are filled in. Instead of beating up gnomes to get magic potions like in the first game, you beat up wizards to get magic tomes; they both fill in your magic meter. If you take a look at the "Options" screen, you'll see that magic can be set to "Special" or "Normal." In "Normal," magic functions exactly like it did in the first game, where you always use your whole meter to cast the most powerful spell at your character's disposal. However, "Special" allows you to hold the designated magic button to charge up to the desired spell level, enabling you to use weaker spells so as to not deplete the entire meter in one go. This gives you more control over magic, making it superior to the "Normal" setting. It seems even the designers knew how good this new option was, because it's on by default.

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Bizarrians are back, and they are as bizarre as ever. If you don't know what they are, they're powerful creatures that you ride around on to gain the upper hand in battle. You'll usually spot foes riding these things, and you can steal them via brute force. Enemies are fully capable of stealing your Bizarrian, too, however. Just like in the first game, there are three types of Bizarrians in Golden Axe II: a strange bird-like creature that attacks foes with its tail, and two kinds of dragons. Both types of dragons breathed fire in the first game, but only the red dragon breathes fire in Golden Axe II. The other dragon variant now merely attacks with its hind legs, which is a little disappointing. Of course, you'll still want to ride this thing whenever it's available, because it's strong. Anyway, Bizarrians were cool in the first game, and they're still cool here.

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Stages are handled much like they were in the first title. In other words, you traverse totally linear environments as you beat every living thing that foolishly wanders into your path. Many of the enemies are similar to ones from the first game, but there are some new additions, such as lizardmen and guys armed with Wolverine-like claws. There are occasional instances of platforming, but they're very occasional. The environmental themes are all typical medieval stuff, like ravaged villages, ancient ruins, fiery caves, colossal castles, and dingy dungeons. While it's thematically a bit more generic, the graphics are a little better this time, even when compared to the arcade version of the first game. The music is also catchier. The bonus stages that occur in between regular stages are back, and they're the same as before. In the bonus stages, your characters' respite near a campfire is rudely interrupted by wizards stealing your magical tomes, and pummeling them rewards you with even more than what you had. All of this is neat enough, but enemy variety is still rather low.

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Like most versions of the first game, two players can play through Golden Axe II cooperatively, friendly fire and all. However, unlike the arcade version of the first Golden Axe, but like the Genesis port, Golden Axe II doesn't allow a second player to join at any time during the journey; you must pick the two player option from the title screen. "The Duel" mode from the Genesis version of the previous game also makes a return in Golden Axe II, and it's mostly unchanged. Basically, it's a mode where you either fight against computerized opponents of varying difficulties or engage in a one-on-one match against another human player. It's not terribly exciting, so it's best to stick to co-op if you have a pal to play with.

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Overall, Golden Axe II is definitely more polished, but it doesn't add anything new to the table. Besides the more responsive controls, marginally better graphics, and improved magic system, everything else is essentially unchanged. That's not a bad thing if you enjoyed the original Golden Axe and were left thirsting for more. However, if you weren't a fan of the first Golden Axe, then it's unlikely that Golden Axe II will win you over. It can't be denied that it's a solid title, though.

Word Count: 1,479

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