Review by xenodolf
Golden Axe III adds significant improvements to the series, but has its own share of flaws to deal with.
Much like the eventually released Final Fight 3 (SNES), Golden Axe III attempted to revitalize its series. While the fighting engine was improved, and the level layout added much more re-play value - certain problems held this game down from becoming the greatest of its console franchise. Onto the review..
Although the character and enemy sprites look slightly better than those seen in the previous games, the background environments took a nosedive. Many of the stages are boring in appearance, overly repetitive, or simply ugly when compared to those in Golden Axe 1 & 2. The only battlegrounds that piqued my interest were the fights on the wagon-bed, the brief stint on a giant crab, and the final boss's lair. The enemy animations are a bit better than last time - but in 1993, Golden Axe no longer dominated the beat 'em up scene. There were far prettier brawlers, both on the Genesis/Megadrive and the SNES/SFC. Golden Axe 3 also deviates from the kind of depressing, gritty atmosphere of the earlier games. Instead, it is more like a fantasy adventure - due mostly to the out-of-place music and lack of desolate settings. You'll still see the evil goons rounding up innocent civilians, but the overall feel is less Conan the Barbarian or more He-Man.
Although the music this time around was pretty good, it sounded like something out of an RPG town. The grim and rousing melodies of the previous games had been replaced by something way too upbeat and whimsical sounding. The battle noise quality was also barely above the underwhelming din present in Golden Axe II. The enemies death cries were pretty generic, and I longed for the "AAAUUUUGH!!!" scream of the original Golden Axe. Lastly, the sound effects for the magical spells were less formidable than those in Golden Axe 1 and 2.
There were a few moments when your character's alignment to an enemy could be compromised. Fighting mounted enemies could sometimes lead to you attacking above their position and Cragger's punches don't have entirely accurate collision detection. There wasn't any lag, though - and the button layout scheme was perfect.
Gone are all the classic heroes from the previous Golden Axes, with Gilius the dwarf returning only as a mentor to the new cast. There are four playable characters: a typical warrior and amazon like the older games featured, an agile panther-man, and a slow but powerful giant guy named Cragger. The magic system from the first game has basically returned, although you are sometimes allowed to keep one enchanted pot after using your spells. The evil wizard enemies from the second game have been discarded for the traditional pot-carrying imps. There still aren't very many enemies designs (5 in total, including a former mini-boss which re-appears as typical cannon fodder). The enemies are smarter this time around, and probably the most aggressive out of the Genesis/Megadrive trilogy. Your own moves have been upgraded, giving some characters complex aerial attacks or even projectile weapons (Sarah the amazon). Golden Axe 3 also features the best mountable creature of the series - a dragon who's fiery breath acts as both a close and long range attack at once. The main draw to Golden Axe 3 are the branching levels, allowing you to take half a dozen alternate routes and battle in several unique levels. These levels have separate types of enemies and item placement, and sometimes they will even grant you battles against different bosses. It will take you at least three game runs to access every section of every level, piling on some serious re-play value. There is also a minor level-up system I never really figured out, which increases as you rescue innocents from Hellbringer's cruel henchmen. Overall, Golden Axe 3 offers the best combat of all three Genesis/Megadrive titles.
Replay value 9/10
There are four different characters, a weaving layout of stage progression, and an additional duel mode included in Golden Axe 3. While I have never managed to defeat the final boss, there is a chance that the level up system is connected to multiple endings as in Golden Axe 2. I was very happy with how this area of the game turned out.
Even though it lacks the cast and atmosphere of the earlier titles, Golden Axe 3 brings about positive advances to the series for the most part. Better graphics, a more appropriate soundtrack, and some additional enemy designs could have gotten this game a 10/10 rating. If you want a physical copy, it will be difficult to come by as this was originally only released in Japan. You'll have to shell out for an expensive copy on Ebay (roughly $35 these days) and modify your Genesis/Megadrive. Your other options are emulation, playing the buggy version on the Sega Genesis Collection, or hoping the Wii Virtual Console picks this up. Golden Axe 3 would prove to be the last beat 'em up in the series, unless you count the Sega Ages remake on the ps2. I hope the rumored XBOX 360 game lives up to the legacy of these 16-bit classics.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
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