Golden Axe II was a Mega Drive sequel to the popular side-scrolling Beat-em-up Golden Axe. The same three characters return; Ax Battler (a male with a sword), Tyris (female with daggers), and Gilius (Dwarf with Axe). You hack and slash through several stages, with some similar faces in addition to new enemies like Lizard-men and Minotaur.
The controls are the same as the first game. There are three buttons: attack, magic and jump. You can chain attacks together on successful hits and can end in a throw if you are close enough. Instead of blocking you just have to move vertically, but this is still quite sluggish.
The magic system has been overhauled. Now you collect magic tomes instead of the vials, and you can choose how many tomes are used by holding the button down for longer. The magic system still uses the levels of magic so characters need different quantities of tomes in order to achieve their stronger attacks.
The gnome thieves from the first game have been replaced by mages. Within the level, they will attack you, although don't pose a strong threat. Within the bonus stages, they just act as slower versions of the gnomes. It's weird that they changed this, since everyone thought it was fun to kick those gnomes up their bum to collect the power-ups.
In each stage, you defeat the on-screen enemies until the "Go" instruction appears. Then you may move a few yards where more enemies will appear. Eventually, you will face off against a stronger enemy or a gang of enemies who act as the boss of that stage.
The enemies exhibit similar behaviour from the first game. So some enemies like to charge at you and others attempt to surround you in order to gang up on you. You don't seem to get in the stalemate situations any more where the enemies kept mirroring your movement as you tried to line up to attack. The animations in the game seem more fluid and your character does react faster, making the combat slightly more fun and less frustrating than it was in the previous game. Some enemies are riding mounts which you can commandeer yourself. The mount's sprites, animations and sounds have changed a fair bit, so they no longer sound like a complete mess.
The health system works in the same way as before. The amount of health bars per life are configurable in the Options; from 3 to 5. You have three lives to a credit, and you have four credits in total. It sounds like a lot and even though the game feels a bit easier than the previous game, it still poses a great challenge.
I never played the game when it originally came out, so there was no nostalgia for me. Golden Axe II makes a few changes here and there without drastically improving the game. It is a more enjoyable game but can be criticised for not doing enough to expand on the ideas and move the franchise forward.