Golden Axe Warrior
  • Genre:
    • Action Adventure
  • Platform:
    • Master System
  • Developer:
    • Sega
  • Publishers:
    • US UK Sega
    • Brazil Tec Toy
  • Released:
    • US UK Brazil 1991
Score: 80%

This review was published on 02/06/2018.

Golden Axe Warrior is an action adventure video game developed and published by Sega for the Sega Master System. It was originally released in North America and Europe in 1991. As can be gleaned from the title, this game is connected to the Golden Axe series. Nearly all of the mainline Golden Axe titles are side-scrolling beat 'em ups, but the franchise dabbled into other genres with a few spinoffs. One of these spinoffs was Ax Battler: A Legend of Golden Axe, which came out on the Sega Game Gear in the same year as Golden Axe Warrior. While A Legend of Golden Axe was essentially a Zelda II clone gone wrong, Golden Axe Warrior is a clone of the first Zelda game. That doesn't mean it's bad, though. It's quite the opposite, actually: this is one of the best games on the Master System. Who knew a mere spinoff would be so good?

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As the game's intro clearly states, a race of ruthless giants rebelled against the power of the elders in ancient times. Usurped, the elders were forced to fight a brutal war, and many of them were killed during battle. Amid this turmoil, a brave warrior swore to put an end to the rebellion. He fought heroically, ultimately succeeding only because he possessed the titular Golden Axe, which was a gift from Thor. Many years passed, and the bitter incident was nearly forgotten, though an evil giant named Death Adder still remembered. Everyone lived peacefully in the country of Firewood, a land ruled by a family that had mastered the magic of the nine crystals, which were relics that warded off evil. Unable to attack Firewood directly due to its magical crystals, Death Adder conquered Nendoria and Altorulia. However, he longed for the day when he would finally defeat Firewood. Finally, a greedy high ranking minister of Firewood betrayed his king by selling the crystals to Death Adder. Firewood was then burned down like literal firewood. With Firewood out of the picture, Death Adder was poised to take over the world. That is, until a single warrior decided to stand in his way.

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Like Zelda, everything in the game is presented in an overhead view. The control pad is used to walk in the four cardinal directions, though much like the original Zelda, diagonal movement isn't possible. As for the buttons, the 1 button brings up the menu, and the 2 button uses the currently equipped item. Naturally, the main item you'll be using for a good chunk of the game is the sword, which is thrust forwards exactly like in the first Zelda. Unlike the first Zelda, however, you don't shoot beams out of your sword when you're at full health. Another way this game differs from the first Zelda is the fact that you can't have a weapon and item equipped at the same time, so you'll have to bring up the menu far more often. The Master System controller is to blame for this insignificant inconvenience, because it doesn't have a start or select button. You also move a bit too fast, which makes it too easy to accidentally run into enemies. This problem gets exacerbated later on when you get an item that further increases your speed.

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Whenever you bring up the menu screen, the overworld map will be shown alongside it. The map is basically a giant grid and each square represents exactly one screen. As with Zelda, the screen doesn't scroll around smoothly, so everything freezes whenever you transition from one screen to the next. If you've played the original Zelda, then you'll notice right away that Golden Axe Warrior has a much bigger world. In fact, this game has over 200 unique screens! The whole world isn't accessible right from the get go, though. Much like Zelda, the acquisition of certain items will unlock more of the world for you to explore. Also like the first Zelda, the world is filled with countless secrets to find, most of which are hidden beneath inconspicuous trees and rocks. Sometimes you need to kill all the enemies on a particular screen to uncover its secret. On top of permanent upgrades to your life and magic meters, many of the secrets award you with horns, the game's currency. Horns are also attained from felled foes and by winning at card mini-games located in certain parts of the world. There's a lot to do in this game.

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Unlike the first Zelda game, Golden Axe Warrior actually has towns! Besides being able to gather information from townsfolk, towns typically also have inns you can sleep at to fully replenish your life energy, sages that save your game progress, and shops with helpful items to buy. These items may include consumables like food that restores a bit of your life, magic pots that replenish some of your magic, keys for unlocking doors, magic feathers that teleport you to the last place you saved at, and magic oil that repairs rusted armor. Oh yeah, did I mention that your armor can get rusted by certain enemies, which severely reduces your defense until you use some magic oil to fix it? Well, now I have. Anyway, the towns in Golden Axe Warrior are a far cry better than the haphazardly hidden hermits and shopkeepers from the first Zelda. This game still certainly has those, though.

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You'll obtain many nifty items throughout your journey. Some of these items are near carbon copies of ones from the original Zelda, such as the torch that illuminates dark rooms. However, Golden Axe Warrior has better versions of a few Zelda items. For example, the stepladder in Zelda only allowed you to cross one square of river at a time, but this game has a canoe that lets you freely traverse shallow waters of any size. Likewise, the autopilot raft from Zelda gets trumped in the form of a fully controllable ship. You can even fire its cannons to attack enemies! This game does bring some entirely new stuff to the table, though, like an axe that can be used to cut down trees, a rope that's used to climb specific cliffs, and shoes that increase your movement speed. You'll also have the opportunity to upgrade some of your equipment by finding better gear, like stronger swords, sturdier armor, and improved shields that block more types of projectiles. By the end of your journey, you'll be loaded with all sorts of cool stuff.

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Similar to previous Golden Axe titles, this game has magic. You begin the game with no spells, but will acquire a couple of magic scrolls throughout your journey. Magic scrolls are equipped and used much like regular items, but they drain your magic meter. There are only four magic scrolls in the game; you've got a thunder spell that shoots out a tiny electrical projectile, an earth spell that temporarily freezes enemies and breaks rocks, a devastating fire spell that attacks all enemies on the screen, and a water spell that heals you. Three of the four spell scrolls can also be upgraded at certain points in the game to improve their effects. Additionally, the maximum length of your magic meter permanently increases whenever you receive a new spell scroll. A nice touch is how the earth, fire, and thunder scrolls are given to you by the three heroes from the original Golden Axe: Ax Battler, Gilius Thunderhead, and Tyris Flare. At any rate, magic is one of the few features Golden Axe Warrior has that the first Zelda lacked. It's also pretty useful.

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Your primary directive is to collect all nine of the magical crystals and then defeat Death Adder. Each crystal is hidden deep within a dangerous dungeon, though this game refers to them as "labyrinths." Dungeons function nearly identically to Zelda, in that they're monster filled mazes with locked doors and hidden keys that open them. Zelda-like puzzles are also represented here, though instead of pushing blocks, you press against specific wall torches to unlock doors. There are also traps, like spikes that rapidly raise and lower from the ground, and spears that shoot from walls. Thankfully, you have access to a map of the dungeon that gradually fills up as you explore it. Fully exploring dungeons is a good idea, because there's one treasure chest in each dungeon that usually yields an item that's essential to your progress. Upon besting the boss at the end of a dungeon, you'll be rewarded with a permanent life upgrade, a la Zelda. The action packed dungeons in Golden Axe Warrior provide a nice contrast to the leisure exploration of the overworld, though the bosses within them do get recycled too many times.

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This game is a clone of the original Zelda through and through, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, because it's awesome. In some ways, it's even better than the first Zelda. For one, it's got better graphics in the form of an expanded color palette and more detailed artwork. The music is also quite catchy, though it's not as iconic as anything from Zelda. It's also quite a bit longer than Zelda, featuring a much bigger world with towns and the like. If you like the original Zelda, then you'll definitely enjoy Golden Axe Warrior.

Word Count: 1,561

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