Genre: Adventure Developer: Sega of Japan Publisher: Sega of America Players: 1 Released: 1992
Ax Battler: A Legend of Golden Axe really should have worked well as an adventure-themed Zelda clone, but what happened here? What did Sega allow to happen to one of its most popular franchises of the time? Ax Battler seems to be most influenced by Zelda II, but everything that makes that game or any other game like it work well is simply missing or just broken. I have a very strained relationship with the Game Gear, and I was really looking for good adventure and role-playing games. I decided to spend some time with this game and was immensely let down.
I think that being a spin-off of the legendary Golden Axe series really measured Axe Battler against some very high standards in most gamers’ eyes. I myself had some high hopes the first few short times I played it and wanted to think of it as a good Game Gear release, but when I finally dove into it and did a full play through my appreciation for it became really strained; if I even had appreciation left for it at all when I was done. Never has an adventure release of this type left me angrier or had me screaming at a game more than Ax Battler did, and that’s a shame as this game had a couple of really good ideas that were just executed quite terribly.
I’m going to compare this to Zelda II since that’s the game it feels most similar to, and it seems to have almost too much in common with that game. The story seems to take place in the far future of the original three Golden Axe games where a king hid the Golden Axe away to be forgotten about in order to keep the peace. Eventually, it gets stolen by some evil army, and then the king summons the muscle bound spandex-clad Ax Battler (wonderfully generic name huh), who ironically wields a sword, to go on the lonely journey to get the Golden Axe back.
Ax Battler starts out feeling like your typical Zelda inspired adventure game. You get to run around a pretty overly linear world map where you have to make your way through caves and mountains in order to obtain quest items. Generally, each part of the world map is very small, with usually one cave to explore in order to find an item to help a town that will then advance the plot. Along the way you will get into random battles similar to Zelda II that take place in a small side-scrolling stage. As you progress through the game you will find training rooms in the towns where you have to defeat a certain enemy, and if you do then you will learn new attacks, all of which are quite helpful. You will also learn magic spells that are very similar to the ones in the original Golden Axe games. They are executed by using magic vases which are obtained by defeating enemies on the world map.
This game may seem all fine and dandy so far, but it’s rife with lazy programming. It seems like the programmers just wanted to get the game done and make a buck. To start, things are just too linear. The world map is broken up into tiny sections that consist of perhaps one town and a cave where you have to find an item, and then you go through another cave to get to the next town. The enemies are very cheap and difficult. They have very specific patterns that you have to follow to the letter, and if you deviate you will just get killed. When you run into a random battle on the world map you can only take one hit before you are kicked out of the battle, effectively wasting your time. When you are in the caves and cliff stages you can take more hits, but small enemies pop out of nowhere and hand out cheap hits which make the travel very frustrating.
The vases which you collect are used for magic attacks very similar to how the magic system works in the main GA games, but once you use an attack your vases are used up. If the game ends, you lose your vases as well, and there’s no way to heal aside from a town inn. The whole game can be completed in about an hour, but it is just a painstaking trial and error session where you will die endlessly until you master the harder enemies’ patterns. The other thing that just kills Ax Battler off is that there are no bosses. That’s right, no bosses. The final battle is simply handled through a text-based story on a black screen stating how you defeated the evil forces and reclaimed the Golden Axe.
It’s a shame that the gameplay is so shallow and lazy because Ax Battler does feature some decent visuals for the Game Gear. Ax Battler himself is nicely animated as are the enemies. All the characters are fairly large, and the caves and other places you explore are fairly detailed as well. The game also sports a fairly decent soundtrack that actually feels like it belongs in a Golden Axe title. I didn’t recognize any tunes from the Genesis trilogy, but everything that was here flows pretty nicely and is easy to listen too despite being high pitched 8-bit music.
I wanted to like Ax Battler so much more because there are just not enough role-playing or similarly-themed releases for the Game Gear. Unfortunately, this game is just a test of patience and not one that feels rewarding after it’s completed either. I’m not going to recommend this to anyone, even fans of role-playing games, as it is just too thin on gameplay and doesn’t have enough to offer. This, fellow Golden Axe fans, is simply a spin-off that’s just better off avoided and forgotten.
SCORE: 3 out of 10