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SummaryA solid medieval beat 'em-up and the best of the series
The GoodJust like the two previous Golden Axe titles for the Genesis, Golden Axe III is a side-scrolling beat 'em-up in a medieval fantasy setting. In many ways it's also the best of the bunch. While its disappointing prequel, Golden Axe II, added only a new magic system to the series, Golden Axe III has several new features that improve the gameplay:
- There are now four heroes to choose from including two new characters. Gilius the dwarf only has a minor role in the intro and is replaced by a fast & acrobatic panther and a slow & bulky barbarian. Both the swordsman Ax Battler and the amazon Tyris Flare return from the previous games. The characters differ enough from each other to warrant extra playthroughs. These heroes and their moves have been nicely designed and when you compare them with the characters of Golden Axe II, it's obvious that more frames of animation have been used.
- Characters now have a lot more moves, making the combat (which is the most important gameplay element) a lot more interesting. The previous games in the series had a rather limited combat-system but Golden Axe III offers a multitude of ways to beat up the opposition. Depending on which character you pick there are two or three different ways to throw an enemy, each hero has three different aerial/jump-attacks, you can launch projectiles, block incoming blows, double jump & jump off walls (Tyris & panther), knock enemies of their feet with a low sweep attack, cover your back with a special attack that works in two directions etc. This just makes the gameplay so much more interesting. Since basically all you do in this game is beat up one group of enemies after another it is nice that you can do that in variety of different ways. Most of the available moves can easily be executed but there are some exceptions (see bad section).
- I liked the fact that you can now pick your own route through the game (there's a junction point in nearly every level), it improves the replay value of the game. One path may have tougher enemies than another but may also contain more rewarding items (like magic potions, health power-ups, hostages which give you an extra life when you rescue five of them). You can choose to free the three other heroes from a curse by defeating "possessed versions" of these heroes but you can also avoid these battles if you pick a different set of levels.
- These levels take place in a nice variety of different settings ranging from deserts and mountains, to cities, jungles, caves and the back of a giant eagle (just like in Golden Axe I). Some of these levels have a Conan-like low fantasy atmosphere about them, which I appreciate. Unfortunately the enemies are not as varied as the landscape. Excluding the possessed versions of the heroes and the endboss, you'll face eight different types of enemies in a variety of color palettes but it's hard to hold that against the game as that was a common practice when Golden Axe III was released.
- Like every other good side-scrolling brawler, Golden Axe 3 has of course a two-player coop mode. What's new to this entry of the series is the ability to perform teammoves, a feature which was already present in Sega's other fighting franchise Streets of Rage. Every combination of heroes has it's own teammove which is nice. Another new feature is the ability to combine the magical attacks of player 1 & 2. If you have ten magic potions combined between the two of you and use your magic simultaneously (after you've given each other a small nod with your head), you will summon a very powerful & cool-looking magical attack. These additions make Golden Axe III a fun game to play cooperatively with two players.
- The music is still "appropriately heroic" and fits the medieval-fantasy setting of the game. It is upbeat when it needs to be upbeat and tense when you face more serious opponents / bosses. Sound effects have been improved compared to its predecessor (they don't sound so weak anymore).
- The AI of the enemies has also been improved a bit. They don't walk straight into pits & chasms anymore and some enemies will use their shield to block some of your attacks. However most of the times the strength of your opponents is still in numbers.
- The magic system introduced in Golden Axe II has strangely been left out of this game. This means you can't dose your magic and can only use all your magic potions at once, just like in the first game. I prefer being able to save some magic for an upcoming enemy. With the old system you often don't use your magic cause a tougher opponent is coming up, but since your magic capacity is limited some potions you could have collected go to waste.
- The graphics are a bit of a mixed bag. As I mentioned above, I like the design & animations of the playable characters, the magical attacks (there's a different animation for every power level and each hero has its own type of magic), the intro and the design of some stages. However some other stages (Tender Hamlet, Bloody Street) look rather poor. Some enemies and beasts look silly (for example the little fat guys, the dragons that attack with their tongue) and don't move about very fluently, they seem to miss a a couple frames of animation. There are also some graphical glitches, the screen may start to flicker when it has several characters on it. The graphics of Sega's own Streets of Rage 2, which was released a year earlier, are better than those of Golden Axe III.
- Some of the beasts you can ride on don't give you much of an advantage. The red fire-breathing dragon and the green saurus with the long tongue can be useful but you're better of without the green dragon or the purple saurus. Since you're not as agile, while riding a beast, as you are on foot, you can easily get knocked off them.
- While the controls are mostly good, some moves are a bit tricky; blocking an attack is risky. You have to press back + the attack-button simultaneously, I often ended up slashing in the opposite direction leaving my back open for an attack. Each hero has two types of throws but it's hard to pick a specific one as the required key-combinations are nearly identical. To perform Ax's (and the Barbarian's) range-attack you'll need to do a full circle backwards & press jump + attack. It may be hard to find the time for this when there are five enemies attacking you. The Megadrive's joypad is part of the problem. Since one button launches your magical attack, there are only two buttons left for all the other moves. For instance if this was a SNES title I bet there would've been a special block button.
- The first time you'll finish this game, the end-boss is probably surprisingly easy to beat and you'll find the ending disappointing. It's only when you manage to beat the regular game using only a single credit that you get to experience the more epic ending.