Golden Axe is a side-scrolling hack-and-slash video game released by Sega for arcades in 1989, running on the Sega System 16B arcade hardware Makoto Uchida was the lead designer of the game, and was also responsible for the creation of the previous year’s Altered Beast. The game casts players as one of three warriors who must free the fantastical land of Yuria from the tyrannical rule of Death Adder, who wields the titular Golden Axe.
The game was well received at the time of release, Golden Axe was later converted for play on many different home systems, including Sega’s own Mega Drive/Genesis and Master System. The game’s success spawned an entire franchise consisting of several sequels and various spin-offs.
The game takes place in the fictional land of Yuria, a Conan the Barbarian-style high fantasy medieval world. An evil entity known as Death Adder has captured the King and his daughter, and holds them captive in their castle. He also finds the Golden Axe, the magical emblem of Yuria, and threatens to destroy both the axe and the royal family unless the people of Yuria accept him as their ruler. Three warriors set out on a quest to rescue Yuria and avenge their losses at the hands of Death Adder. The first is a battle axe-wielding dwarf, Gilius Thunderhead, from the mines of Wolud, whose twin brother was killed by the soldiers of Death Adder. Another is a male barbarian, Ax Battler, wielding a two-handed broadsword, looking for revenge for the murder of his mother. The last is a longsword-wielding Amazon, Tyris Flare, whose parents were both killed by Death Adder.
The warriors rescue the inhabitants of the ransacked Turtle Village, which turns out to be situated on the shell of a giant turtle. The turtle takes the characters across the sea, and they then fly to the castle itself on the back of a giant eagle. Once at the castle they defeat Death Adder, who is wielding the Golden Axe, and save the land. In the Mega Drive/Genesis and PC versions, and also in other ports, the characters also battle Death Adder’s mentor, Death Bringer, as the true final boss. After the final battle, the warriors receive a magical golden axe that imbues the player with immortality.
The arcade release of the game concludes with a fourth wall breaking end sequence with some children playing Golden Axe at an arcade. The arcade game breaks, and the characters from within the game flood into the “real world,” with the children being chased by the enemies, with the warriors in hot pursuit.
Progress is made through the game by fighting through Death Adder’s henchmen, including men armed with clubs and maces, skeleton warriors, and knights. Players are able to attack using their weapon, jump and cast spells that hurt all enemies on the screen. The force of this magic depends on the number of “bars” of magic power currently available. The bars are filled by collecting blue “magic potions” attained by kicking little sprites who then drop the potions. These sprites appear during regular levels and during bonus stages in between levels. The male warrior Ax is able to cast earth spells. The dwarf Gilius casts lightning spells and the female warrior Tyris casts fire magic. Each character has a different maximum number of magic bars and varying ranges of attack.
Various steeds known as bizarrians are found in the game. These can be ridden when the enemy rider is knocked off, or if one is found dormant. The least powerful steed is known as the Cockatrice (which also appeared in Altered Beast), which can be used to knock down enemies with a swipe of its tail. The more powerful dragon, which can either shoot fireballs or breathe fire depending on its color scheme, is found later in the game. If the players take too long to advance, skeleton swordsmen emerge from the ground, like in the film Jason and the Argonauts.
In addition to the main quest, some home versions of the game included “duel mode”, a survival mode type game that pitted players against increasingly powerful foes in consecutive rounds of play. This mode also featured a two-player one-on-one option.