Please can I have a dragon? (No. Ed) Just a little one - I could keep it under my desk. It wouldn't be any trouble, honest. (Sorry, Linda, you can't have one.) But I could take it to the park in my lunch hour and train it to drink coffee from the machine. And it'd keep the office warm in winter. (Look, Linda, it just wouldn't fit.) But I only want a little one.
Oh, okay. I guess I'll make do with this game for the time being. It's got loads of dragons in it, and a dwarf and lovely little blue elves too. Yep, riding dragons and killing people - that's the life for me.
For the handful of you who don't know, GoldenAxe is Virgin's big Christmas coin-op conversion, a highly colourful two player D&D style beat-'em-up. The arcade original was as playable as, erm, a very playable thing, and the Speccy version is remarkably similar - it has all five horizontally-scrolling levels of the arcader (packed with oodles of baddies), between-level maps outlining your route, and (most impressively) bags of smoothly animated colour. Most of it is set in front of a plain black background which saves on attribute clash - the only time things get hard to see is when you're surrounded by badies, when it's a bit of a jumble.
But before we get into the game there's a bit of a complicated plot to explain, I'm afraid. You see, Death Adder and his men have pillaged their way through the kingdom of Yuria (as bad guys do), taking the King and Princess captive. What's more, DA has also got his slimy reptilian mitts on the legendary Golden Axe. It is up to you to... ah, but I'm sure you can guess the rest.
Before we can get stuck into the fighting though you've got to ch your character. You too can be a barbaric warrior, a flame-haired amazon or a bouncing dwarf, each with a suitably revenge-filled reason for wanting DA dead. All three can manage a handful of fighting moves - slashes, kicks, jabs, and a jump-in-the-air-and-stab-the-rotter-in-the-head-on-the-way-down one, the computer picking the attack it uses each time you press Fire. Beyond that, all the characters have their own individual moves - a shoulder barge for the barbarian, a flying kick for the girlie - and limited magical powers for those tricky moments. These work as sort of smart bombs, wiping out the less powerful baddies on-screen, and knocking wodges of energy off the others. How powerful they are depends on how many bottles of potion you've collected from these rather sweet little blue goblins who run around every now and then, most noticeably in the little bonus bits between levels. Clout one round the head and he'll drop a couple of bottles. Collect them and whammo! Your magic's no longer a weedy series of bangs popping across the screen, but a massive, baddy-crippling explosion of nuclear proportions.
But let's get on with the game, shall we? The screen won't scroll 'til you've killed off the first lot of baddies, which actually takes some getting to grips with, before developing into a sort of forest affair. What you really want to do is snatch the first opportunity to get yourself a dragon - knock a baddie off one, clamber onto the hot seat and you effectively double (if not triple) your slashing power. Dragons come in various sorts - some flame breathing, some odd chicken-like ones which hit things with their tails - but they're all super-useful to have, especially when taking on the big end-of-level baddies. Watch out though the baddies will want their mount back!
At the end of each level big baddies come in two sorts - big white men with swords, and big green and yellow men with hammers - and various combinations. Kill them (it is possible) and you'll get to the next level, which in this case is the Turtle Village (so called because it's built onto the back of a giant turtle, though that's not apparent in the Speccy version). Here you'll take on some really mean chicks with lethal lightning-shaped swords before crossing a bridge to Level Three and Eagle Island (perched on a giant eagle's back) which is populated with Jason And The Argonauts-style skeletons. Eventually you'll get to a castle and your final showdown with slimey old Death Adder himself. Kill him and wa-hey! You're a complete and utter hero.
You can now sit back, breathe freely and think - wow, what a good game. I know I did. I have no massive niggles with this one at all - it's a painful multiloa, the colour clash can be a bit ugly and, despite being bags of fun, the two-player option would be better if the heroes could fight each other (as in the arcade) - but considering the limitations of the Speccy it's great. Plus there are loads of dragons and elves in it. What more could a girl possibly ask for?
One of the most celebrated arcade games ever, Golden Axe is a fascinating and deeply involving strategy epic where careful thought and forward planning are the order of the day. Ha! April Fool! (But Stuart, this is May. You've missed the April issue - Ed) Ah. Okay, so it's a beat-'em-up. You play one of three intelligent and considerate characters by the names of Ax-Battler The Barbarian, Gillius Thunderhead The Dwarf, and Tyris Flare The Amazon. All three have a grudge of some sort to bear against an unpleasant and unhygienic fellow with a huge body and a tiny head calling himself Death Adder. (He stole Ax-Battlers rattle as a child, ran over Tyris' favourite pet flea and called Gillius a smelly midget in front of his granny, or something like that.)
Righteously incensed, the three of them (well, one or two of them, depending on whether you're playing the game yourself or with a friend) set out to right these wrongs by, er, killing everyone in sight. In game terms this means you walk along the screen for a bit until a couple of bad guys appear, walk up to them and hit the fire button repeatedly for a couple of hours until they die, then walk along a little bit further and do it all over again. Sounds tedious? Well, it isn't! Actually that's a lie. It's all hopelessly dull, and not helped by the fact that hitting the baddies seems to be completely a matter of luck. You can be standing there hammering away on the fire button quite happily, when for no apparent reason your character suddenly leaps backwards and lies on the ground for a while flashing on and off in a slightly disconcerting manner. Eventually, you realise you've been hit, but it doesn't help much as there doesn't seem to be anything you can do to stop it happening again. You just have to keep charging in there and flailing away and hoping for the best. If you're lucky, you'll keep killing the baddies and you'll get to travel a little further through the levels, admiring the, er, interesting scenery as you go. Well, it's interesting it you like black, anyway.
If I sound a bit grumpy about all this, there's a very good reason for it. I am. Golden Axe is the sort of thing which passes for arcade entertainment these days - all pretty graphics and no gameplay substance whatsoever. While this is absolutely fine for dedicated coin-ops with thousands of pounds worth of flashy graphics hardware, it simply doesn't cut it on the Speccy. Our beloved machine is on a hiding to nothing when it comes to the pretty pictures, which shows the shallowness of the gameplay up for what it is - repetitive and boring. Speccy owners also have to put up with an unhelpful multi-load system (even on 128), which puts the final nail in the coffin as far as addictiveness is concerned. Really, forget about the name, this is twice as cheap 'n' nasty as the dullest original budget game - give it the widest berth you can muster.
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