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Golden Axe III

Talk about a day late and a dollar short.  Golden Axe III was released in Japan in 1993 however it was released in the US on the Sega channel in 1995.  I wonder how many of you even know or remember what the Sega channel is?  Anyhow, while it was a decent game at the time of its original release by the time it reached our shores it rubbed elbows with the console’s finest, further showing how outdated it was.

Damus Hellbringer, the self styled Prince of Darkness has stolen the Golden axe and cursed all of the available warriors able to defeat him.  One lucky bastard is saved and is now tasked with freeing his companions and saving the world.  A vast improvement over its direct predecessor Golden Axe III is the sequel the second game should have been.  With many enhancements in gameplay overall it is a decent action romp that is brought down by the fact that Sega took too long to bring it over the Pacific.

First things first, 4 new characters answer the call to arms.  Standing in for Ax Battler and Tyris Flare are Kain Grinder and Sahra Burn, depending on which translation you prefer.  New to the series are giant man Proud Cragger and panther man Rait.  Old standby Gilius Thunderhead has moved on to the role of mentor of sorts.  In previous games the only distinguishing trait between characters were their magic; now however Sega has seen fit to individualize each one.

The new moves added to the basic repertoire are available to everyone: a sweep maneuver, blocking, new throws, and defensive and offensive moves.  The standard character tropes apply, with Sahra being the fastest, Cragger the heavy hitter, and Kain average overall.  Rait is a bit of a wildcard in that he is strong and fast and actually overpowered.  The special moves each character has further separate them.  Sahra and Rait can double jump, not that it’s very useful.  What is useful is Cragger’s air slam, which can nearly one shot most enemies.  Coop has also been given a face lift with new team attacks available.  Most of these changes bring the gameplay up to the same standards as the more popular beat em ups of the time.

Aside from the combat changes you can jump right in if you are at all familiar with the series.  At select points you are able to choose your path, which leads to different levels and bosses.  Scattered throughout the levels are villagers held hostage; freeing enough of them will award an extra life.  The Bizarrans return in different forms this time however they are better left alone since they are lackluster, a sentiment that carries over to the rest of the game.

For everything they fixed there are still a number of glaring issues.  Enemy selection is paltry with only 5 or 6 different enemies overall.  You’ll get tired of seeing the same female warriors, spearmen, and fat bandits, trust me.  The life bar has been changed to a more typical health bar that is generously long.   In spite of this the bosses still take off unfair chunks of life.

And I haven’t gotten to the graphics yet.   These are some of the most dull and lifeless environments yet.  Suffering from a severe lack of detail and imagination there’s barely any parallax scrolling to boot.  I criticized GA II for being a rehash of the first game graphically but that would almost be a godsend compared to the bland levels of this installment.  This might have been decent in 1993 but in 1995 the Genesis was graced with games like Alien Soldier, Earthworm Jim 2, Vectorman, and Ristar, the kinds of games that had the system tapping out.  God only knows why they sat on this for so long.

I previously mentioned this is the game Golden Axe 2 should have been but that is faint praise.  Considering there aren’t any US cartridges for this game you’ll end up paying far more than it deserves to play this, and bearing in mind its mediocre at best there’s no need to bother.  At least we had Return of Death Adder in the arcade.   I would have killed for a port of that even if it isn’t perfect.