Among the early Sega Genesis launch lineup Golden Axe has probably held up the best. Altered Beast was the flagship title but outside of its presentation the game was average. I like Thunder Force 2 but half of that game is extremely frustrating. Golden Axe by comparison is a simple fantasy brawler with the home port being an excellent conversion. For an encore Sega would….basically create the same game all over again. Golden Axe II is a retread of the original and while decent could have been better.
Part of the disappointment with Golden Axe II stems from the existence of a legitimate arcade sequel. Revenge of Death Adder is a fantastic game and everything Golden Axe II should have been. I looked forward to the school field trip to United Skates of America just to play it and Turtles in Time more than the opportunity to hold hands and skate with girls. That’s how great the game is. There is no question that a Genesis port would have been compromised in some way but it would still have been better than what we got. That Revenge of Death Adder has never left the arcade is an absolute crime. Especially considering the subpar job Sega did with both home console exclusives.
For the most part gameplay remains unchanged from the original. All three characters return with basically the same moves. The few changes made are more mechanical and seem like common sense additions. The most important (and I can’t believe this is a thing) is being able to throw enemies in any direction. This becomes crucial in the late game as they begin to appear in larger groups. The timing of your three hit combo has been improved, making it easier to perform certain moves. It also doesn’t leave you open to attack as often. Taking hits while riding a Bizarrian does not inflict damage, meaning you should abuse this fact.
Magic has seen the biggest overhaul. You have two options in terms of magic. Normal is the same as the original arcade game, where you use all available potions to cast a spell. Special allows you to manually select how many levels of magic you’ll use. You are vulnerable while cycling through but it places the power in your hands. Magic is a greater part of the game as the little wizards who drop magic books appear more frequently. It’s to the point where it is wasteful to hold on to a full stock as more will drop within minutes. Especially since you’ll need it.
Golden Axe was tougher than your average brawler due to your limited options and the same still applies here. There is some nuance in terms of the damage certain abilities can inflict. The downward stab is the strongest move in the game but landing it consistently is hard. Enemies now appear in groups of four or five frequently which can quickly turn into a bloody mess. It is certainly rough but I feel with the quality of life improvements introduced the game is more manageable than its predecessor. Whether you’ll stay interested all the way to the end is another story entirely.
It can’t be stressed enough just how closely Golden Axe II mirrors the first game. There are very few new enemies and the returning minions behave the same way. The adventure is presented in the same fashion, with the heroes essentially narrating the journey. The locations you’ll visit bear a strong resemblance to the original. For god sake you even travel on the back of another giant animal! Even Dark Guld looks like Death Adder in a different set of armor. This problem isn’t exclusive to this game; Final Fight II was released in similar circumstances and also might as well have been a mission pack for its predecessor. It’s expected that a sequel will be similar to its predecessor. But in cases like this it comes across as incredibly lazy and the game suffers as a result.
The Duel mode makes for a much better coop mode than the generic versus mode in Golden Axe. Here you must defeat an increasing number of enemy waves with limited resources and time. It’s like the old school version of Horde mode and adds a little life to the title. It would have been even better if the game had greater enemy variety. Sad.
Golden Axe II is far from a bad game. But it was released the same year as Sega’s own Streets of Rage and looks worse in the process. Fantasy beat em ups were not plentiful but you would still be better served going with something else.