You can perform a couple of different moves, like jumping, slashing, throwing enemies or charging at them. There’s also a magic system here: At the beginning of the game you choose between Earth, Fire and Thunder. On your way through the levels you collect small potions (you have to hit little gnomes who run now and then over the screen, to make them drop those potions). The more the collect before you use your magic power, the stronger is its effect.
One more thing is that you come along some dinosaur-like beings (and sometimes small dragons, too). You may want to mount those beasts because they have powerful attacks, but be careful when your enemies try to knock you of them, just to take control of them by themselves!
The foes you have to beat up to advance in the game are amazons, skeletons, giant hammer-swinging guys, warriors who are wielding different weapons, etc. There are also some bosses that you’ll encounter.
Unfortunately, the controls in this version aren’t as smooth as for the Sega Genesis, for example. The overall gameplay is just too slow on the SMS and you really feel that something is just wrong with this version.
The graphics, although weak compared to the original, are overall very good. The characters are big and the magic effects are amazing for the SMS.
On the other hand, the animations suffer from the slow gameplay. However, they are still nice for an 8-bit system. The backgrounds could have been more colourful and probably a little bit more detailed.
Music here is ok but nothing that you will remember this game for. All the sounds are very standard too.
As almost every SMS game, Golden Axe lags a bit in replay value. Of course, it’s fun to play through it three times (each time with a different kind of magic), but the game is short and it won’t take long to beat it.
There’s one more drawback from the original version: You normally have the choice between three characters that you can play with. Each of them can perform one of the different types of magic (instead of choosing between one of them for only one character). It gave Golden Axe more variety.
One note about the difficulty: You really have to get used to the unresponsive controls to effectivly beat play Golden Axe for the SMS. Although the enemies and the bosses aren't that hard, you might have to try it a couple of times. I'll take "just right" in the difficulty rating because that's the overall impression.
Aside from some of the mentioned flaws, Golden Axe is a good game. But there are definitely better versions out there…