If you haven't yet experienced the hack-and-slash action of the Megadrive/Master System consoles' Golden Axe, then you haven't had the true Sega experience. A little like Streets of Rage in its beat-em-up nature as well as the side-scrolling levels, Golden Axe takes you on an adventure of high fantasy, set in a medieval world full of foes, magic, and the ultimate nemesis who goes by the name of Death Adder.
The game was received positively by critics at the time of its release (1989), and its re-release on the Wii Virtual Console in 2006 signifies a just recognition of this game's prominent standing in gaming history. Here's a short review of the game, made possible in part by the unique capabilities of the handy Gens+ Rewind emulator.
The general gist of Golden Axe is that a mysterious and evil entity known as Death Adder is responsible for kidnapping the king of the fictional land in which this game is set, Yuria, as well as kidnapping the king's daughter. It is then up to you to play as the hero, who in this game is known as Ax Battler. Some experienced gamers will already have recognised that this single-character approach is different to the original Golden Axe for the Genesis/Megadrive in which you are able to select from three characters, but as this is a port the game had to be scaled down for reasons of hardware limitation.
Playing as Ax Battle, you are first asked to pick which kind of magic you wish to use - Earth, Fire, or Thunder magic - after which the adventure begins. This being a side-scrolling hack-and-slash game, each level is played in a series of mini zones that involve a variety of different enemies being thrown at you as they try and wear down your health before you can do the same to them. Once these enemies are defeated you are able to move on to the next zone.
Unlike similar games such as Streets of Rage (see Streets of Rage online for a great SOR resource) or the 1987 title Rastan, Golden Axe involves magical abilities, which are built up as you battle (or when you run into the occasional miniature elf-like creatures that drop magic when you hack/slash at them with your sword). You can either use your magic when you've only built up the magic bar a little or you can save it until it's at its maximum. The former results in a reasonable display of power that can damage enemies on screen and the latter has the ability to slay everyone in sight in one blast. Using your magic is as easy as pressing the 1 and 2 buttons on the controller, or the A and S keys together if you're using an emulator's default keys.
Movement is achieved with the arrow keys if you're playing on an emulator; your primary attack is a slash with your sword (the 1 button). You can also jump (the 2 button). You can also ram enemies by running at them (double tap the direction you wish to run in) and pressing the attack key. The controls are pretty rudimentary, particularly when you consider some of the flash-based warrior-style games found on sites like http://www.warriorgame.net as well.
With Gens+ Rewind Emulator
Since Golden Axe for Master System can be quite a difficult game for beginners - partially due to the slack responsiveness of master system games but also because there are no true save points in the game - Gens+ Rewind is the perfect emulator to play the game with. It allows you to rewind and begin again from a designated point, as well as save/load states so that you can restart just before you managed to get yourself killed.
Now, regardless of the emulator you play it on, Golden Axe for the Master System simply isn't as good as the Sega Genesis/Megadrive version. You can't select from three characters here or play cooperative, and the graphics in this Master System port just aren't as good. It's still a great experience however, and Gens+ Rewind lets you repeat moments and play them back over and over. As if the many emulators weren't enough to play your preferred version of Golden Axe, GA is available on Steam!