Blast to the Past! Golden Axe 3 (Sega Megadrive)
How I miss the glory days of the past. The archaic "Golden Age of Gaming" is long gone (no pun intended). But that doesn't mean we must limit ourselves to the current generation of video games. Dusting off the ancient Sega Megadrive, I booted a dented mess of a cartridge from my precious childhood. That game is Golden Axe 3. This is arguably the best split screen cooperative game of all time if you compared it to the abomination of mankind that is Alien: Colonial Marines on the PC.
Thankfully, the awesomeness that is Golden Axe 3 washed the bad taste out of my mouth (from playing Aliens: Colonial Marines). As the title screen flashes violently, a edged silhouette flickers on the screen as the soundtrack echoes across the room with classic 16-bit Sega-synth goodness. It was a one way trip back to nostalgia town.
Golden Axe 3 had a pretty detailed mythos to the story where Death Adder, an evil knight acquired the legendary Golden Axe to rule the world. Choosing between 4 protagonists, you venture on a quest to stop Death Adder, fighting vicious and maniacal foes along the way, including allies possessed by Death Adder. Definitely not groundbreaking in any way, it still managed to provide an entertaining narrative.
The game's visuals were strikingly beautiful, with jaw-dropping animations and a glorious 16-bit soundtrack that complemented the vast worlds shown in the game, from a floating castle in the sky to a graveyard filled with skeleton warriors. I know I'm nit picking, but the scripted "dialogue" (text in dialogue boxes) was rather basic, adding nothing to the characters' backstories. The character models were so unique, but the simplistic backstory detracted from the experience. Having said that, the game has insane replayability for completionists, with many choices of different pathways to varied stages in the game as the plot progresses. To experience the whole package, expect repeated playthroughs.
Golden Axe 3 is a hack and slash side scroller that has single-player, cooperative play and versus with a couch buddy. The game was revolutionary at the time for the seamless integration of co-operative game in a 2D plane, showing us an illusion of "3D". Gameplay is streamlined, with B for attack, A for magic and C for jump. Sounds borderline simple, but the number of combos achievable with the attack button and the directional pad stuns me. There is a wave of combos that can be accessed with differing combinations of button presses where strategic implementation of these attacks are required to deal with toughened enemies as the game progresses. Saving the best for last, a simple tap on the "magic" button summons an over the top, nonsensical animation of mythical proportions to be thrown on screen as the screen freezes, damaging every enemy on screen.
For cooperative play, 2 players on screen will have a shared number of lives to add challenge to the game, ensuring fairness in game difficulty. Friendly fire is frustrating, even having us game veterans hurl verbal abuse at each other at some point. Missing our attacks is an inevitable consequence as the fake 3D plane adds a whole new layer of annoyances.
There is a versus mode for friends to duke it out with a selection of the exact same protagonists. It's an "ok" mode of play to me, adding nothing to the "Golden Axe 3" game experience.
Looking back on the days of old, the game had its ups and downs, but the pros allowed the video game to shine. Even by today's standards, Golden Axe 3 exceeds far more than most split screen cooperative titles, if decent ones still exist in the current console generation (take notes, Randy Pitchford). How I yearn to go back in time and relive the pastimes of my video game childhood (as a child, of course). I give this game a 8/10.