Beat-em-ups were a staple of the arcade scene in the 1980s, and one of the most popular released 30 years ago, in May of 1989 – Sega’s Golden Axe. The medieval setting was a change of pace compared to the street-level brawls that took place elsewhere in the genre, and Golden Axe proved to take the basic gameplay to new heights.
Golden Axe allows players to control one of three different characters: the amazon Tyris Flare, the barbarian Axe Battler, or the dwarf Gilius Thunderhead. Regardless of which warrior is chosen, they are tasked with taking on the evil Death Adder, who has captured the king and the princess. Death Adder has also discovered the titular Golden Axe, the emblem of the kingdom, and threatens to destroy the royal family if the people do not bend to his will. The warriors travel throughout the land, defeating Death Adder’s forces along the way, and eventually put an end to Death Adder himself.
The game’s lead designer was Makoto Uchida, who had previously helped create the popular Altered Beast title for Sega. Uchida had been a fan of many medieval action films, particularly the Conan series, and intended to make a game in a similar world. He also enjoyed the high fantasy world present in the popular Dragon Quest series of role-playing games, and instead sought out to develop a title that played like Double Dragon but with the feel of a fantasy story.
The arcade title was hugely popular, and Golden Axe would eventually be ported to numerous home consoles, such as the Sega Master System, Sega Genesis, Commodore 64, Amiga, ZX Spectrum, and many others. Golden Axe went on to become a successful series for Sega, seeing multiple arcade sequels (including the arcade-exclusive Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder). The most recent game, Golden Axe: Beast Rider, released in 2008.