Golden Axe III
  • Genre:
    • Beat 'Em Up
  • Platform:
    • Genesis
  • Developer:
    • Sega
  • Publisher:
    • Sega
  • Released:
    • JP 06/25/1993
Score: 70%

This review was published on 01/18/2018.

Golden Axe III is a side-scrolling beat 'em up video game developed and published by Sega for the Sega Mega Drive. It originally came out in Japan on June 25, 1993. A North American version was briefly available for the Sega Genesis in 1995 via the Sega Channel, an early game downloading service by Sega that required a modem. However, Golden Axe III never got a physical release outside of Japan. As its name clearly states, this is the sequel to Golden Axe II. However, what this name doesn't state is that the series spans more than three games. Not counting the two 8-bit spinoffs on the Sega Master System and Game Gear that came out in 1991, there were already three Golden Axe games that preceded Golden Axe III: the original in 1989, Golden Axe II in 1991, and Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder in 1992. All three of these games are good, but The Revenge of Death Adder is definitely the peak of the series. Golden Axe III, on the other hand, is the lowest point of the series.

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In the first game, a villainous villain known only as Death Adder stole the Golden Axe and began terrorizing the land, but three heroic warriors took him down. The story of Golden Axe II was more or less the same thing, except with a different villain. As its name implies, The Revenge of Death Adder saw the return of Death Adder, but he was defeated once again by a different set of warriors. In Golden Axe III, a new villain by the name of Damned Hellstrike shows up and imperils the world yet again. Known in some circles as the Prince of Darkness, Hellstrike stole the powerful Golden Axe and put a curse on all the warriors that could potentially stop him. However, a few warriors manage to break out of the curse, and together they venture forth to fight the big baddie. Some of this exposition is conveyed to you via Gilius Thunderhead, the only character to return from the previous games. Sadly, he isn't playable in this title.

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The thing you'll notice right away about this game is that it looks awfully bland. The character sprites aren't too bad, but the backgrounds and foregrounds are exceedingly dull. They're very lacking in color and detail, making everything feel lifeless. Despite the presence of parallax scrolling, environments look flat due to how overly simple they are. The Genesis is capable of much better than this, as demonstrated by most other titles released for the console at the time. Considering The Revenge of Death Adder was made for beefy arcade hardware, there was never any hope that Golden Axe III would surpass it visually. However, you'd think Golden Axe III would at least look better than the first two games, both of which appeared on Genesis hardware, but it doesn't. The spell effects are also quite tame in comparison to the previous games. On a more positive note, this game does have a stellar soundtrack.

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Four playable characters exist in this game, and they are a barbarian named Kain Grinder, a female dancer called Sarah Burn, a giant referred to as Proud Cragger, and an anthropomorphic panther known as Chronos "Evil" Rait. Kain is basically another clone of Ax Battler, the barbarian hero from the first two games. Armed with a massive two-handed sword and water magic, Kain is this game's balanced pick. Similar to Kain, Sarah is essentially a clone of Tyris Flare, the Amazon from the first two games. She uses a scimitar and fire magic, and is fast, but a bit weak in terms of attack power. Equipped with earth magic, Proud proudly fights using his hands and feet. He's the strongest character in the game despite not having a weapon, but also the slowest. Chronos mainly fights with his claws and uses mist magic, plus he's pretty speedy. Some characters, such as Sarah and Chronos, can double jump, wall jump, and wall attack. There's nothing particularly wrong with the playable cast, and Chronos is especially cool.

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You maneuver your character with the d-pad and attack with the B button, jump with the C button, and cast magical spells with the A button. Consistent with the previous games, tapping the attack button multiple times will result in a combo, the likes of which varies depending on your distance from the enemy. Grabs work a bit more like how they do in Streets of Rage, wherein you can either hit the enemy a few times while they're grabbed, or throw them. Every character now also has several special moves, some of which require you to do circular motions on the d-pad before pressing a combination of buttons. You can also do a ducking attack by pressing the attack button while holding down on the d-pad. The biggest new feature, though, is the ability to block enemy attacks. To block, you press the attack button while also holding back on the d-pad. Overall, this game does have greater depth than its predecessors. Even though it's a step down from the previous games in the presentation department, Golden Axe III does improve the core mechanics of combat.

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The magic system in Golden Axe III works similarly to how it did in the first game. To put it another way, you fill up your magic meter by gathering potions, and you cast more powerful spells when more of the meter is filled in. The main difference from the first Golden Axe is that every character now has the same sized meter and the same quantity of spells; three, to be exact. Unfortunately, the feature from Golden Axe II that allowed you to expend less of your magic meter by deliberately casting weaker spells has been removed. Like the first Golden Axe, using magic always forces you into using the most costly spell at your disposal, whether you like it or not. This is a definite regression from Golden Axe II, because it means you have less control over how to utilize your magic. Less control is less good.

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One good thing this game retains from The Revenge of Death Adder is the presence of branching paths. Throughout the game, you'll have choices between two paths that lead to two different stages. There are quite a few more of these branching paths than there were in The Revenge of Death Adder, resulting in a far greater number of stages to see on replays. The only downside here is that the enemy variety is quite low, which is a typical problem for the genre. To help alleviate that repetitiveness, there are occasionally prisoners to rescue, and saving enough of them rewards you with an extra life. The mountable creatures from previous games are also back, but unfortunately, they aren't as helpful this time around. This game introduces a mountable snail-like creature that attacks with its tongue, but it sucks so bad that you're honestly better off without it.

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Like most games in the series, this game can be played cooperatively with one other human player. Akin to The Revenge of Death Adder, this game has team attacks, but they work differently. For all the physical team attacks, both players must face each other and one of them has to press the attack button, and these generally result in one player throwing the other into enemies. The magical team attacks are done in a similar manner, but one player has to press the magic button instead of the attack button, and both must have nearly full magic meters. Another multiplayer related feature that returns from previous games is the one-on-one versus mode. Within this mode, you can either fight against another human player, or the computer AI. Also, you have access to an additional playable character in this mode: a birdman. No, he's not Harvey Birdman. The one-on-one mode is boring, but cooperate play is always fun.

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According to legend, Sega never properly published Golden Axe III outside of Japan out of fear that it would cheapen the brand due to its inferior quality. What is certain is that this game is a definite disappointment, especially coming off the greatness that is The Revenge of Death Adder. However, outside of the terrible visuals and regressive magic system, Golden Axe III actually isn't all that bad. It does add a couple of new features that enhance the core of the game, and the music is surprisingly good. As dull as it is, it's still one of the better beat 'em ups on the Genesis. If you go into Golden Axe III with no expectations, you might have an okay time.

Word Count: 1,454

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