Every so often I come across a game that I just can’t wait to write about, something that rubs me in just such a way that my humor genie shoots out of his lamp like Robin Williams, giving me all the comic gold in the universe to use at my disposal. Golden Axe III is not one of those games. It is, however, a rather useful game for its immense blandness, in that tasking myself to write a full review on it has roused my interest in organizing my computer’s desktop, cleaning the house, getting some paperwork notarized, and literally everything else that doesn’t involve mentally replaying a beat-em-up game with controls coded after submerging the programmer in a vat of molasses and corn syrup.
I came across Golden Axe III during my last MAME Roulette. Frustrated with a long string of ROMs that seemed to object to my intention of reducing them to a single paragraph—or so I assume, since they refused to run at all—I decided to shop around for some other quick game I could play to avoid being a productive member of society. Enter Golden Axe, a series for the Sega Genesis that exists on my Retropie for no reason other than the recommendation of someone who obviously must have meant “Golden Sun” or “Goldeneye 007” or “Golden Delicious” because if he did not mean one of those, he obviously must have meant, “Don’t ever take recommendations from me.”
The story begins with Damud Hellstrike, a villain with a fondness for chopping down trees using inefficient tools made from soft metal that weigh as much as a small car. Hellstrike steals the Golden Axe, then puts a curse over our characters, Proud Cragger, Kain Grinder, Ax Battler, Sahra Burn, and also Gilius Thunderhead, a character I can only imagine got lost looking for the set of Harry Potter and found a bunch of cheap, fantasy-themed porn stars. Anyway, while laying the curse, Hellstrike gets bored and leaves one character, let’s say their cat, Chronos, uncursed, and buggers off to let the heroes come after him at their leisure.
Ironically, running from a bunch of lousy, non-working arcade games, I came across a game that felt like a lousy, barely-working arcade port. Arcade cabinets all get hardware tailored to the game, and if the game is any good, it’ll look and play amazing. Meanwhile, ports for the Atari 2600 or the NES look like a magic eye picture viewed in close-up while recovering from LASIK, and move at the frightful speed of U.S. social progress. Sixteen-bit systems more or less resolved these issues, which makes it all the more amazing that Golden Axe III uses about four colors per screen and vague, undefined lines that hint at a background much in the way that the burn marks in a grilled cheese sandwich will hint at being the face of the virgin Mary.
And remember, this isn’t Golden Axe. This is Golden Axe three. Generally, you can accomplish a lot by the third installment. If Golden Axe were a tootsie pop, they’d already be at the center by now. Mega Man 3 won awards. Zelda 3 was considered one of the best in the series. Onimusha 3 started introducing A-list actors from French films (so, like, D-list actors in the U.S…but you’d recognize him if you saw him). Half-Life 3…hasn’t quite gotten to the center of that tootsie pop, but you get the point. Golden Axe III, however, doesn’t really offer much besides the opportunity to spend a half an hour swiping and growling at armored villains with your cat claws, and at that point, a real cat is more exciting.