Golden Axe: The Duel

80 years after Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder, the people had forgotten the tragic events of the past and had rebuilt their lives. However, now the terror begins once again. The legendary Golden Axe was rediscovered, and its power appears to have grown over the years. Now, numerous fighters from across the land are attempting to obtain this artifact, which is said to be able to grant its owner anything his heart desires. After dueling the other characters, the player must face a physical representation of the Golden Axe's powers: a giant, golden-armored warrior. It is believed to be the spirit of a sacred god dwelling inside the artifact.

REVIEWThe iconic beat-em-up / hack & slash arcade game, Golden Axe, made its original debut in 1989. It was followed by Golden Axe II (1991), Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder (1992), and Golden Axe 3 (1993). The fighting game spin-off, Golden Axe: The Duel was first released in Japan in 1994 and later ported to Sega Saturn in 1995 and 1996. The Duel features heroes and villains who are (or appear to be) "descendants" of original characters from the Golden Axe series. They are joined by a variety of all-new, colorful bad guys, making for a vibrant and fresh-looking character roster while not straying too far from the source material.


Golden Axe: The Duel features descendants of the original game's characters.

Like many other mid-90's fighting games, you can tell right off the bat that Golden Axe: The Duel takes obvious cues from genre-defining titles such as Super Street Fighter II Turbo. Actually, The Duel takes even heavier inspiration from SNK's early Samurai Shodown series (1 & 2), as seen in the animation style, special moves, visual effects, sound effects, and overall appeal of the game. The Duel also borrows SNK's trademark "zoom-in / zoom-out" camera effect during battles (although I'd say its a bit overused and slightly "jerky" compared to SNK's more refined technique). 

Thankfully, Golden Axe: The Duel does manage to stand out among other 2D fighters of the era, and in a few different ways. For starters, the game features "big" super moves that fill the screen with effects that try their darndest to look epic. Some do hit the mark and are quite visually satisfying, while others are a bit underwhelming and jarring / awkward. While some of the mechanics seem aged for its time... in general, the art style and animation quality of Golden Axe: The Duel is definitely "above par" for a 2D fighting game of the era. The character sprites are beefy, bright, and have some very impressive animations.

Gettin' those Lord of the Rings vibes.

It was a respectably risky yet questionable decision for Golden Axe: The Duel to star "descendants" of the franchise's iconic characters, rather than the original main characters themselves. Thankfully, Golden Axe: The Duel still features a healthy dose of fan service for gamers who played any previous Golden Axe titles. One of the most prominent throwbacks are the "imps" that run into the battlefield, only to get hit and drop their little blue potions. ...pure nostalgia.
Some of the environments and characters / monsters appearing in the background also pay homage to those from the beat-em-up titles. Lastly, the sound effects and stage music of the game is well done, and have that "epic 90's" vibe that only a handful of 2D fighting games really pulled off.

Big bad boss baddie Death Adder versus Gillius.

While Golden Axe: The Duel has most of its fundamentals intact, there are some areas that hold it back. Visually, the background environments are a tad too loud, don't always mesh with the character sprites, and don't have enough perspective and sense of space to really "draw you in". Some of the color combinations are a bit straining on the eyes, and many stages seem to give off a claustrophobic feeling. If anything, the backgrounds are packed with too much detail and colors, taking the focus off of the great character sprites... which stand quite well on their own. Calmer backgrounds (and more variety) would've helped the overall visuals a bit better. Another element that just feels "missing" in Golden Axe: The Duel.... Finishing Moves! I understand Sega wanted to keep the Golden Axe series "PG", but after the epic (yet classy) deaths of Samurai Shodown 2 or Fatalities in Mortal Kombat, a 2D sword fighting game of this nature seems to warrant at least some kind of finishers. The classic Street Fighter K.O. just doesn't quite "cut it" in 1995-1996 (no pun intended).

Gameplay-wise, The Duel is a straight-forward, traditional weapon-based 2D fighter. The pace of the game is very comparable to the likes of Samurai Shodown or Samurai Shodown 2. It almost feels like Sega sort of used SNK's template of Samurai Shodown II as a base for their game. While there's no combo counter, the game features an intuitive combo system that stays in line with classic 2D fighters. Most combos are on the short side, with some that can lead into nasty throws and setups. There are even some lengthier combos that can be performed by specific characters, along with some pretty cheap tactics than can kill an unsuspecting opponent in seconds. All in all, Golden Axe: The Duel very easy to get into and, at the very least, playable!


Page Updated: January 20th, 2023
Developer(s): Sega AM1
Publisher(s): Sega
Platform(s): Arcade, Sega Saturn
Release Date(s): 1994                                     Arcade
Sept. 29th, 1995
June 27th, 1996
Characters Kain Blade, Milan Flare, Gillius Rockhead, Zoma, Doc, Keel, Jamm, Panchos, Green, Death Adder, Golden Axe

Featured Video:

Related Games: Red Earth, Galaxy Fight, Mace: The Dark Age, Samurai Shodown, Samurai Shodown 4, Savage Reign, Kizuna Encounter, Ninja Master's, Double Dragon, Fighters History, World Heroes, World Heroes Perfect, Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo, KOF '94KOF '95KOF '96, Mortal Kombat Trilogy, Primal Rage, X-Men: Children of the Atom, Marvel Super Heroes, X-Men Vs. Street Fighter, Virtua Fighter 3, Tekken 2, Soul Blade, Bushido Blade, Killer Instinct Gold, Night Warriors: Darkstalkers' Revenge, Kaiser Knuckle, WeaponLord, Asura Blade, Groove On Fight

Gameplay Engine

 7.5 / 10

Story / Theme

 7.5 / 10

Overall Graphics

 7.5 / 10


 8.5 / 10

Music / Sound Effects

 7.5 / 10


 6.5 / 10

Art Direction

 8.5 / 10


 7.0 / 10

Options / Extras

 5.0 / 10

Intro / Presentation

 8.0 / 10

Replayability / Fun

 7.0 / 10

"Ouch" Factor

 8.0 / 10


 7.0 / 10


 7.8 / 10

  Review based on Sega Saturn version       


Final Words:

As kid who grew up in 80's arcades, Golden Axe was one of my all- time favorite arcade beat-em-ups. I fell in love with the music, characters, environments, and dark "mood" of the series. It made an impression on me. (And hell, you could ride freakin' dragons in that game!) I was beyond thrilled to finally get the Amiga (home) version when it came out, and I played it literally for years. I loved barbarians & medieval worlds when I was a kid, so Golden Axe was up my alley.

Golden Axe: The Duel is a noticeably "more colorful" version of that universe... which makes pretty good sense for a 2D fighting game of the era. Due to a limited release in North America (only being ported to Sega Saturn during a competitive time in the genre), Golden Axe: The Duel fell below the radar for many fighting game fans... including myself.

The game released in North America in 1996 (nearly 2 years late mind you), and came during a time when fighting games were evolving to new heights. 1996 brought blockbuster titles like Soul Blade, Tekken 2 and X-Men VS Street Fighter (just to name just a few)... making a traditional 2D fighter like Golden Axe: The Duel seem slightly dated at launch. In fairness, Saturn owners who didn't sleep on this game were treated to a pretty clean and vibrant 2D fighter with mechanics heavily inspired by SNK's Samurai Shodown series.

Many things about Golden Axe: The Duel remind me of Samurai Shodown... the sound effect used when swords clang together, the extremely long-range or normal attacks, the slowdown after heavy attacks connect, visual scrolling effects of the background, etc. Indeed, this game feels like a re-painted SamSho in some ways. It's not quite as crisp or well-executed as SNK's masterpieces, but Golden Axe: The Duel has spunk, charismatic characters, and some pretty solid art direction

Golden Axe: The Duel actually had a lot going for it... and was a more wholesome and more vibrant fighting game package than some other "me too" 2D fighters of the legendary 90's. This hidden gem on Sega Saturn was also one of the first (and few) "fantasy-style" fighters set in Medieval times, easily distinguishing it from other fighting games.

While it has gameplay quirks and shortcomings, Golden Axe: The Duel is probably one of the more underrated and lesser-known 2D fighters of the time period. Though ambitious, the final product wasn't quite as epic as it could've been... but Golden Axe: The Duel was a "more than solid" 2D fighting game effort from Sega. Like the classic Golden Axe games, the character sprites & backgrounds of this game have aged pretty nicely.

~TFG Webmaster | @Fighters_Gen  

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