Kick a Gnome
This is an old game. The question is, is it a good game? Well, lets pretend that this is a new game, not one that I threw quarters into at an arcade on the board walk when I was a wee lad on a family vacation.
Golden Axe is a 2.5D side-scrolling beat em'up developed by Sega. Players may choose one of three characters at the outset. It is the hourish long quest of these noble adventurers to stop the evil Death Adder (Addler?). The three playable characters have names, but as they are not mentioned in game (at least not to my eyes, and I have beaten the game numerous times), they might as well not have them. There is the totally jacked bodybuilder in a blue Speedo, a buxom wench in a red bikini, and a dwarf with a Viking helmet. The last one is a bit of a letdown, but he does have a golden colored axe. So that's something.
At no point is it ever made clear what the advantages and disadvantages are amongst the three. After playing for a while it seems that the dwarf does the most damage and has the longest reach with his weapon. They all have the same basic move set. Standing still and mashing the attack button will produce a short combo that can knock enemies back if you manage to get it off. Double-tapping the stick left or right will cause the character to dash forward where your warrior can either do a high jump and come down on a dude, sword first Zelda 2 style, or do a low to the ground jump kick that knocks down opponents. The dwarf gives enemies a head butt with his horned helmet. Gutsy. Sometimes combos will lead to the enemy going to one knee and your chosen knocking him in the head with the pommel or his or her weapon before throwing the enemy. The *knock* *knock* noise of the skull/sword combination is very memorable.
The difference that is apparent is each character's ability to use magic. Each revolves around a theme: man, air; lady, fire; dwarf, rocks. There are several levels of spellpower that can be charged up depending on how many magical potions are held. Regardless of character and spell level, each does damage to every enemy on the screen and knocks them down. As dragons are summoned and an avalanche of rocks blankets the screen, it becomes pretty clear that magic is good. The spell effects are colorful and rare enough so that their interruption of the action are not game breaking. Also key to the game is the ability to ride mounts. Chicken-things and dragons can be ridden. One sweeps the legs and the other shoots out fire in either ball or spray form depending on the type.
Co-op play is allowed. It’s pretty much the same game, but there is friendly fire with all things except magic. Which can lead to fun (or frustrating depending on whether or not you are playing with a friend who is in the same room as you or some jerk online) fights over who gets to ride the dragon. Unfortunately, as mounts run away after three people have been knocked off them, this is ultimately unproductive.
Mechanically speaking, there are basically two kinds of enemies to fight, big 'uns and lttle 'uns. Granted there are both animated skeletons and warriors, but they basically look and act the same. After playing this game for a while, you will come to terms with the mechanics of how to win. Having the fireball dragon is pretty much a ticket to win if you are fast in getting the shots out, but assuming you get knocked off, the game is all about the zigzag. Enemies and players alike can only attack is their sprite is lined up with another. If enemies are on the other side of the screen they will move to your plane and do a dashing attack, if they are close they will move and attack. Similarly, if you approach a big'un that has an attack that covers over twice the length of even the dwarf's long axe attack on the same plane, you'll get hit. The trick is to walk up to an enemy from an angle and then give them their whacking. Healthy use of jump kicks is also effective, but the damage is relatively low so this can take forever.
Visually, the game borrows heavily from Conan the Barbarian novel cover art. You are choosing between Conan, Red Sonya, and a dwarf who is really out of place. The main bad guy even gets formed out of snakes when he appears. What I am saying is that the world of Golden Axe is one where armor is over-rated. Levels are varied in their settings, from the pillaged villages and castles to the backs of giant animals, so it always feels like participating in a high adventure. Between levels there are short intermissions where the controlled characters are shown resting only to be robbed by gnomes. As they quickly run around it becomes necessary to teach them a boot filled lesson. The tuition is the magical potions and health restoring meat they drop.
While epic in scope, the game is short. It can be completed by one player in less than an hour. As an arcade game, this is all well and good, provided there was a sensible scoring system. There isn't. Nowhere is it explained what will cause a score to go from B to A or from A to AA. Once mastered, the combat is boring and repetitive, so without a sane way to score a player's performance, there is no compelling reason to keep going. Having "SBB" up there on the boardwalk for all the other eight year olds and drunk dads to see, is really not enough of an incentive anymore to keep pumping the quarters. This game has not aged well.