Steady your blade and be ready to kick any pot carrying gnomes as we take a look back at the best Golden Axe games of all time.
The iconic Golden Axe series from Sega was a mainstay of arcades and bedrooms in the early 1990s. The side-scrolling hack and slash adventures channeled the fantasy settings of movies like 1982’s Schwarzenegger-starring-epic Conan the Barbarian, where mighty swordsmen with rippling muscles vanquished bandits and monsters by the wagon-load.
The otherworldly locations were paired with brawling action that mimicked the success of titles such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Double Dragon.
Warriors, Dwarves and Amazonians fought together to take revenge on those that had wronged them and become recognisable heroes to a generation of gamers. Hugely popular in the 90s, the series later slipped into obscurity with the occasionally flawed reboot appearing to remind players of those former glories.
There is, however, hope on the horizon for Golden Axe. Sega unveiled their plans to revive the series at The Game Awards in December alongside some of its most beloved franchises.
Perhaps we’ll have a new entry to our list of the best Golden Axe games of all time in the near future, but until that time comes, check out our favourites that you can play right now.
Table of Contents
1. Golden Axe: The Revenge Of Death Adder (1992)
The results are in, and the award for the best Golden Axe game of all time goes to Golden Axe: The Revenge Of Death Adder.
The Revenge of Death Adder released in arcades in 1992 and holds the privilege of being the first 32-bit game in the series.
Despite never making it to home consoles around the time of release, Golden Axe: The Revenge Of Death Adder won a legion of fans thanks to its chunky characters and smooth gameplay.
Golden Axe: The Revenge Of Death Adder is certainly one of the harder games in the series, but slicing through brutes and monsters is still great fun in co-op thanks to its first rate animations.
Golden Axe has always had a bit of goofiness thrown in with the swords and sorcery schtick, and The Revenge Of Death Adder is no different.
Of the four new playable characters, my favourite is easily Goah the Giant. Not only is he a massive brute that can summon giant smoke spewing skulls, but he’s carrying Gilius Thunderhead on his back like Luke Skywalker trotting around Dagobah with Yoda in his backpack!
2. Golden Axe (1989)
The original Golden Axe takes the silver medal in our list of the best Golden Axe games of all time. Golden Axe is the first game in the series I ever played and it was included on the Mega Games 2 cartridge for the Mega Drive alongside other 2D greats Streets of Rage and Revenge of Shinobi.
If you can looking past the preposterous cover art (it was the style at the time), you will discover a side-scrolling beat ’em up worthy of inclusion among the best of the genre.
The story is suitably dark fantasy with our trio of heroes seeking revenge against the evil Death Adder for killing their loved ones.
Players can wield an axe as future Yoda impersonator Gilius, swing swords as Princess Tyris Flare and don blue budgie smugglers as the wonderfully named Ax Battler.
After triumphing in arcades, Sega ported Golden Axe to the Mega Drive with minimal sacrifices and even bundled in an extra level called ‘Dungeon’ and a new final boss in the form of ‘Death Bringer’.
3. Golden Axe II (1991)
Sega quickly capitalised on the success of the original Golden Axe with this sequel. Golden Axe II takes place three years after the events of its predecessor and the heroic trio from the original game return.
The Emperor of Darkness, Dark Guld (what other occupation could he have with a name like that), has taken control of the Golden Axe and plans to destroy the world with his legions of demons.
Sega played it safe with Golden Axe II by essentially reskinning the first game and making only minor changes to the gameplay. Critics lamented the lack of meaningful changes from the original although praised the visual improvements over Golden Axe.
Regardless, Golden Axe II still ranks highly on our list despite its auspicious reasons for existence. The hack and slash gameplay is still great fun and more monster slaying is always welcome in our book!
4. Golden Axe III (1993)
Golden Axe III is actually the fourth game in the Golden Axe series, arriving exclusively in Japan, Korea, and Australia in 1993, shortly after the arcade launch of Golden Axe: The Revenge Of Death Adder.
Sega clearly heard the feedback about Golden Axe II being too similar to the original game and produced a title that plays quite different to its older stablemates.
Golden Axe feels faster and features four new characters to choose from including sword wielding barbarians Kain Grinder and Sara Burn, the giant Proud Cragger, and the anthropomorphic cat man Chronos.
The new characters and abilities, Golden Axe III looks ropey in its presentation. The sprites are highly detailed, but the levels and backgrounds universally feel bland and lifeless.
Western fans of the Golden Axe series would eventually play Golden Axe III in 1995 via the magic of Sega Channel, the pioneering subscription service that allowed gamers to stream video games. What a crazy concept! It’ll never catch on…
5. Golden Axe: The Duel (1995)
Golden Axe: The Duel is the first spin off from the series to feature in our list of the best Golden Axe games of all time.
Set nearly one hundred years after the events of Golden Axe: The Revenge Of Death Adder, the titular weapon of power has been found and several warriors compete to claim it as their prize.
A basic 2D fighting game, Golden Axe: The Duel’s unique selling point is the ability to collect magical pots from gnomes that scamper around during battle. Players can then use the magical pots to unleash special moves using a combination of the D-pad and the attack buttons.
Golden Axe: The Duel was met with a lukewarm reception when it made its way to players homes on the Sega Saturn and unfortunately didn’t stand much of a chance of appearing on our list of the best 2D fighting games of all time.
The Duel is still an essential game for fans of the series as upon reaching the end of the story, players can go toe-to-toe with the physical manifestation of the Golden Axe’s power, a giant warrior clad in resplendent golden armour.
6. Golden Axe Warrior (1991)
Golden Axe Warrior is a top-down RPG that bares a closer resemblance to The Legend of Zelda than to the original Golden Axe.
The evil tyrant Death Adder has slain the population of local settlements Firewood, Nendoria and Altorulia and vies for world domination. Players take control of a young hero who aims to stop Death Adder and avenge his fallen village.
Replace Death Adder for Ganon and we’ve basically got another adventure in Hyrule. Golden Axe Warrior even features an array of dungeons and labyrinths for our hero to explore and conquer, unlocking new elemental powers as they go.
Despite its obvious and, some might say shameless, rip-off of The Legend of Zelda, Golden Axe Warrior is a solid role playing game.
The game world is suitable huge with many different enemy types to encounter and hidden secrets to discover along with new abilities the can be unlocked, allowing gamers access to previous unreachable locations.
7. Ax Battler: A Legend Of Golden Axe (1992)
I’ve previously commented on how Golden Axe II’s antagonist was suitably named for their professional and well, here we go again, with Ax Battler, the barbarian warrior from the original game who goes into battle for an axe…
Ax Battler: A Legend Of Golden Axe launched on the Sega Game Gear in 1992 and featured three distinct gameplay elements. Exploration across the overworld was presented like top-down RPGs such as The Legend of Zelda, or indeed, Golden Axe Warrior.
Players could enter towns and settlements to interact with NPCs, again in a top-down view, allowing Ax to interact the locals.
The final piece to the Ax Battler: A Legend Of Golden Axe’s gameplay puzzle is of course the combat. When Ax finds himself entering a scuffle, the perspective switches to the traditional side-scrolling beat ’em the series is best known for.
There are even two different types of action zones, ones where Ax must duel a single opponent and can earn currency to spend in the shops throughout the world, and Special Landmark areas that see Ax Battler engaging with multiple enemies on various platforming stages.
8. Golden Axe: Beast Rider (2008)
As we descend our list of the best Golden Axe games of all time, we also jump forward to the 2000s. The decade that promised us pocket computers, flying cars and alternative rock music by up and comers Nickelback.
Perhaps the writing was on the wall for Golden Axe: Beast Rider then. Sega’s attempt to deliver a modern take on its classic side-scroller was developed by Secret Level and released seven years after the international smash hit ‘How you Remind Me’ destroyed Canada’s rock scene credibility.
Golden Axe transitioning into the third dimension should have heralded a new era for the swords and sorcery series, however Beast Rider’s numerous gameplay failings meant the planned sequel was canned before any meaningful development took place.
Even the return of original Golden Axe protagonist Tyris Flare couldn’t hide that Golden Axe: Beast Rider wasn’t a suitable heir to the throne, with wonky swordplay hindered by a lack of even a basic enemy lock-on mechanic and any sign of multiplayer strangely absent in this bland adventure.
9. Sega Ages 2500 Vol. 5: Golden Axe (2003)
Before Sega attempted to revitalise the Golden Axe series with Beast Rider, the publisher and developer recreated the original game in 3D for the PS2 as part of the Sega Ages 2500 range.
These Japanese exclusive titles saw classic Sega games get modern facelift in an attempt to appeal to a new generation of gamers.
Unfortunately the end result is a low-budget affair that whiffs of cash-in rather than reverence for the once great side-scrolling series.
Sega Ages 2500 Vol. 5: Golden Axe features some of the muddiest looking artwork seen on the PlayStation 2 with generic and ugly character models failing to illicit any of the charm of the 1989 original on which it was based.
A reworked soundtrack and new 3D rendered cutscenes didn’t do enough to convince us to award Sega Ages 2500 Vol. 5: Golden Axe a higher spot on our list of the best Golden Axe Games of all time.
10. Golden Axe (Master System) (1990)
From one frightening reimagining to another now….
The original Golden Axe found a legion of fans in the arcade and at home on the Mega Drive, but this Master System port fell flat.
Golden Axe’s trademark multiplayer scrapping is absent from the Master System version and everyone’s favourite blue Speedos wearing Arnie facsimile is the only playable character.
‘Graphically impaired’ is the possibly the nicest way to describe Golden Axe on the Master System, with its flat and lifeless environments, basic sprites and juddery animation.
There’s some replay value on offer with the Master System version of Golden Axe. Players will be able to select one of three different magic types so checking out the available spells for each could warrant a repeat visit.
However, Golden Axe on Master System is strictly for die hard fans of the series and players looking to witness the alternative finale to the game that differs from the arcade and Mega Drive versions.
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Theo first fell in love with gaming when he sped through Green Hill Zone in Sonic the Hedgehog back in 1991. Theo has previously provided reviews, news coverage and articles for The Games Cabin and enjoyed producing comedic Let’s Plays on his own personal YouTube channels.
A huge Kingdom Hearts and Metal Gear fan, Theo enjoys deep gameplay mechanics and complex storylines. A completionist by nature, Theo has earned over 140 platinum trophies including top digital trinkets for Stardew Valley, The Witness, Bloodborne and a plethora of GTA games.
Outside of gaming, Theo can often be found riding his motorbike, headbanging at gigs or out in the countryside exploring nature and marvelling at the ‘realistic graphics’.