How to Hate Golden Axe

A few days ago, I decided to investigate something that I had been wondering about for a long time — Golden Axe’s bizarre scoring system.

It’s the most mysterious part of what is otherwise a very straightforward beat-’em-up. There is no high score table, and your score is never displayed at any point during gameplay. When you lose all your lives or finish the last level, though, you see this thing:

The hell?

Doing some searching, I came across this video:

First of all, thanks, Internet, for finally introducing some math to my Golden Axe experience. Basically, if you want to play for score in Golden Axe, you need to finish off every enemy with a kick or a throw. To do a kick or a throw, you first need to complete a long combo string, which leaves you open to attack from surrounding enemies.

Your final score is divided by your number of deaths, so there’s some skill involved in mixing scoring opportunities with survival. High risk = big reward. Basic stuff.

At some point, though, some jackass discovered that you could exploit the game’s magic system to “kill” a single enemy multiple times before he or she hits the ground after a fatal blow. Using this method, scoring is less about skillful combat and more about strategically kicking those little elf turds so that their magic potions pop out in a cluster, allowing you to cast magic several times in a row after killing a boss.

I can’t imagine that this mechanic was an intentional decision on the part of the game’s designers, but it works. Follow the strategies in the video above and you’ll achieve scores that will impress anyone who a) is aware of the intricacies of Golden Axe’s scoring system and b) happens to be watching during the ten seconds in which your score is displayed before it disappears forever.

Given the obscurity of this knowledge, I wondered if I could use it to easily take over the Golden Axe leaderboards on Xbox Live. Better still, I found out that savestate abuse did not invalidate leaderboard scores. Hmmm.

I soon discovered that it’s extremely goddamned annoying to play Golden Axe for score. The enemy AI’s biggest priority is to surround the player at all times. Enemies don’t have clever attack patterns. They have no self-preservation instinct. They’re programmed to surround, approach, and strike.

So while you’re doing the same “wicka-wacka-thunk-thunk-klonk” combo over and over again to extract maximum score from each enemy, everyone else on the screen is waiting for their turn to kick you in the back. And God help you if there’s a bottomless chasm around; in their zeal to attack you from behind, enemies will constantly back themselves into pits. This would normally be a good thing, but it scores the player no points.

I often found myself reloading from my last save after watching an enemy kill itself. It was weird. It felt wrong.

And don’t even get me started on that magic abuse thing. High scores demand that you use magic multiple times on bigger enemies before they hit the ground after a killing blow, but the tall characters don’t get nearly as much hang time as normal enemies after you kill them. You need to gather potions extremely fast after using magic, and even in the best cases, you’re still only going to get credit for two or three extra kills, tops.

Still, I played the game perfectly up until the last stage, savestating like a mad bastard the whole way. Halfway through the final stage, I got tired of doing the five-hit combo thing, hopped on a dragon, and killed the final few enemies with its flame breath. Finishing the game on foot would’ve taken approximately forever, and I was already feeling pretty pathetic for having intentionally spent an hour playing the game in the most unenjoyable way possible.

By the end, I was pretty satisfied with my score. I could’ve done better if I hadn’t rushed through the last stage, but it’s higher than any score I’ve ever gotten on Golden Axe before. And in any case, it’s got to be better than any other score on Xbox Live, right?

Well, I guess at least 14 other people watched the same video as I did, and they were much more dedicated to the cause of sucking all the fun out of Golden Axe. Good for them. Really. I’m sure their moms are very proud of them.

[photo credit: StrategyWiki]

8 Responses to “How to Hate Golden Axe”

  1. BBH Says:

    I had to play Golden Axe for score for a tournament at the MAME Action Replay Page a couple years ago. Needless to say it completely raped any enjoyment I thought I had for the game.

    And boy was I amazed when I found out that savestates didn’t invalidate scores on those 360 arcade/Genesis games. Almost as amazing as the mere existence of a leaderboard for Phantasy Star II.

  2. ArnoldRimmer83 Says:

    This reminds me of why I usually don’t play for score in video games.

  3. sardoose Says:

    BBH: Oh man, seriously? Phantasy Star II leaderboards? I can’t imagine what they’d even track. Experience points? Time played?

    I know that Telltale was forced to put leaderboards in the Sam & Max games, so they just ranked people by how many lines of dialog they’ve heard. I bet there’s at least a few people who spent hours hitting the talk button so they could max out their score.

  4. Roscoe Says:

    Playing for score is the only reason to play video games. It used to feel really great during the arcade era of the late 80’s and early 90’s in towns or cities where arcades were also gathering spots for groups of friends… and for selling pot.

  5. Spinner 8 Says:

    if sam & max is anything like wallace & gromit, it only tracks unique lines heard. I tried playing for score to get on the leaderboards, until I realized I wasn’t actually having any fun.

  6. Spinner 8 Says:

    and apparently the phantasy star 2 leaderboard tracks your experience points, so it maxes at 9999999

  7. Windy Kudej Says:

    You have a fantastic site you have! Great job!

  8. PSGCast Episode One – Ancient Weapons of Dubious Value | Pre-Sonic Genesis Says:

    […] The Golden Axe score system and one man’s battle to exploit it for dubious gain is explained here. […]

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