365//365: Day 209 – Golden Axe Warrior (SMS) [Comparison Series]



For this Comparison Series, we’re going to take a trip back to a time where legendary games were forged, and lesser known imitations were placed in similar molds of ambition. The Legend of Zelda was a genre defining, as well as a system defining title that captivated millions of gamers with its intricate dungeon layouts, maze-like overworld and a journey to save Princess Zelda and the nine fragmented pieces of the Triforce from the clutches of the evil Ganon. While the Zelda franchise has become synonymous with the the words “video games”, there was another title released years later on Nintendo’s competitor in the gaming market, the Sega Master System. Golden Axe Warrior flew under gamers radars, just as the Sega Master System its self did. While many who have played both titles claim that Sega “borrowed” a good number of elements from Nintendo’s famed franchise, there are still those who have never even heard of such a title. The similarities between the two titles is the subject of our latest Comparison Series: The Legend of Zelda on the NES, versus Golden Axe Warrior on the Sega Master System. As always, during the last day of the Comparison Series, a winner will be select for Audio, Visuals, Gameplay and Replay Value, with each games score following each ranking.

Today’s game will be Golden Axe Warrior.
The Comparison Series has taken on several various comparisons. From the Super Star Wars Trilogy on the Super Nintendo, to even some of the more infamous instances of near blatant rip offs, such as Street Fighter 2 vs Fighter’s History. The Legend of Zelda vs Golden Axe Warrior comparison will raise quite a number of eyebrows, more-so than the comparison of Street Fighter 2 and Fighter’s History. However, one cannot deny Golden Axe its due — although quite a number of aspects mirror those of Nintendo’s adventure game, Sega’s title provides the player a surprisingly solid amount of entertainment throughout their adventure, with some unfortunate hang ups here and there.

Starting off slow, the audio doesn’t hold many similarities to The Legend of Zelda. Through is whimsical, and a but more varied tunes, you’ll feel more attachment towards your adventure through Warrior. It’s nothing memorable or nothing spectacular in any sense, but it’s composed well enough, and has more variation than Zelda. The effects are not handled with as much care, but do not detract much from the overall experience. There could have been a bit more polish put into the overall audio package, however it’s by no means a downfall to Warrior, nor its weakest link.

From here on in, you will witness just how much Golden Axe Warrior seems like The Legend of Zelda. Lets take a look at two separate pictures of these two titles. The first will feature the overworld of Zelda and Warrior —

Top: The Legend of Zelda .. Bottom: Golden Axe Warrior

Granted the HUD is in the opposite side, the heart meter is very reminiscent of each other, although in Zelda, you pick up hearts to replenish your health, whereas loads of bread and hunks of meat will refill your health in Warrior. The overworld layout has some striking resemblances with each other. There’s a lot of usage of trees, rock formations and bodies of water in each game, though Zelda is convincingly cleaner than Warrior. Texture use seems more predominant in Warrior, although it really doesn’t blow me away. The enemies, much like a good percentage of Zelda’s enemies, are devoid of color variation, leading to a myriad of fights with foes of the same exact color, no matter if they’re a Garoya rip-off, Stalfos impostor or random blob on screen.

Lets take a quick look at the dungeons in both Golden Axe Warrior and The Legend of Zelda —

Top: The Legend of Zelda .. Bottom: Golden Axe Warrior

For the most part, interiors are quite similar, though the doorways are much wider in Warrior. You have your typical dungeon treasures, though it seems as if there’s no compass to obtain in Warrior. Furthermore, defeating the dungeon in Warrior does not teleport you to the entrance of the dungeon, but rather reward you with one of the nine pieces of crystal you’ll need (kind of like a piece of the Triforce) and force you to hoof it to the entrance.

The core gameplay shares a lot more than the cosmetic aspects. You have a main weapon you can upgrade, although in Warrior’s case, the axe you upgrade to after the first dungeon serves as a clunky, slow to attack upgrade, with the only true perk being the ability to hit characters in a 180 degree swing. You can find merchant, both in obvious placements as well as hidden (there seems to be more hidden places in Warrior by a landslide, though some of these hidden areas offer advice for upcoming situations upcoming). Each area is broken up into screen size segments, which shift over when you move to the next location. You have to get all nine crystals in order to access the final area. It’s a long list of similarities between the two titles.

There are only two significant differences between The Legend of Zelda and Golden Axe Warrior — difficulty and gratification. Warrior is a vastly more difficult game to complete. It has less to do with the unfamiliarity of the game world and more with the damage output by your enemies. Your temporary invulnerability seems to be limited, often leading to quick deaths due to a high enemy infestation in your immediate area. While you can remedy this buy purchasing upgrades, such as a Knight’s Shield (which also reflects projectiles your previous shield was unable to), Warrior virgins will find themselves wandering the game world, into regions with monsters that are vastly more powerful than you. Losing 2-3 hearts per hit isn’t unheard of, but that’s also a charm to the experience — venturing out into the unknown, total uncertainty taking over your travels.

The other major difference between the two games is the amount of gratification you receive as the game progresses. Without a doubt, Golden Axe Warrior manages to grip you almost as tightly as The Legend of Zelda, regardless of how alike the two titles are. As you move later into the game, you start to lose the amount of satisfaction and, to a small extent, enjoyment. Again, this is not to say Warrior slides down a slippery slop of mediocrity. You’ll feel some deja vu for the majority of your play-through, but will notice that any sort of attachments wanes slowly.

While Golden Axe Warrior does manage to carve out its own identity from a mold that Nintendo helped set as the benchmark to the genre in the 8 bit generation, it loses its recompense in slow, subtle ways. It’s definitely and underrated and under-appreciated gem on the Sega Master System, and can be considered as one of the top thirty titles in the 8 bit generation. On its own, it’s a very complacent game, although it does lose its grip slowly, but not in such a way that you’ll drop the game cold turkey. It can be classified as a “must play” for fans of the Zelda series, whether you hunt down an original copy of it, or unlock it through the Sega Genesis Collection on the 360 or PS3.

Who Won The Battle Of….

Visual - TIE
Where The Legend of Zelda has an edge over Golden Axe Warrior on one aspect (color palette use, main character detail), Golden Axe Warrior owns an advantage with its textural usages and minute details added in here and there. In the overall spectrum, neither is stronger than the other.

Audio - The Legend of Zelda
The iconic soundtrack, as limited as it may be, combined with the perfectly suited sound effects were too much to compete with. While Golden Axe Warrior has some well composed tunes of its own (definitely some of the best on the Sega Master System), neither the music nor the underdeveloped effects match the overall quality of Nintendo’s behemoth.

Gameplay - The Legend of Zelda
Golden Axe Warrior suffers from some limited melee range on your primary weapon. Combined with a somewhat funky invulnerability period for your enemies and other small nagging issues tips the tide towards The Legend of Zelda. Even with as many emulations of the Zelda formula, Golden Axe Warrior does manage to entertain, the journey is not as memorable.

Replay Value - The Legend of Zelda
There are few games that are built in such a way that you’ll want to come back time after time, and yet still feel like each visit is a brand new trek through the familiar unknown. The Legend of Zelda is timeless, providing an adventure that will never be forgotten. Golden Axe Warrior does manage to provide the player with its own unique experience, though you’ll feel a lot less attached and start to lose your full attention before the game concludes.

Golden Axe Warrior Rating: 8.2

….and your winner for this Comparison Series is….

The Legend of Zelda Rating: 9.3

Final Notes

Golden Axe Warrior is the Sega Master System’s Legend of Zelda, for better or for worse. Although there’s an identity crisis at times with Warrior, it’s a gaming experience worth going through at least once. It’s unfortunate that Sega didn’t manage to copy some of the more important aspects of Zelda, mainly the attack range. Side by side, the resemblance is striking, but from beginning to end, The Legend of Zelda manages to captivate the player in ways that very few titles outside the series can manage to do. After having a chance with Golden Axe Warrior, it made me realize that although the ratio of failures to classics on the Sega Master System was close to 25:1, Golden Axe Warrior is definitely a title that should be celebrated as one of the systems best. It has its hang ups, but it manages to impress and enthrall enough to be recognized as one of the better 8 bit video games, Nintendo or not.

Jason V.

I am the Co-Editor-in-Chief here at Chocolate Lemon. Over the last 15 years, I have been writing gaming articles here and there, including my time with GameSages, a then IGN affiliated video game code database that's now owned by IGN, as well as my near four year stay on this very site. I'm quite the gaming enthusiast, have a somewhat "old school" soul, and enjoy a wide variety of geeky shows, movies and so on. Follow me on Twitter @Jas0nVelez