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.
In 1988, Sotheby's of London actually auctioned off a real golden axe dating from Neolithic times, found during an archaeological dig in a wood near Croydon. If fetched £866,000.
"But Mama," complained Shirley. "All I wanted was a pony." Fortunately, they shot her.