Sunday, 22 November 2015

Box Art Brawls #2 - Golden Axe Series

For my first 'Box Art Brawls' feature, I focused on Sega's superb Streets of Rage series and highlighted the general superiority of the Japanese editions over the dodgy Western box art. Well, I thought I may as well cover Sega's other famous side-scrolling beat 'em up as I have plenty to say! For the purposes of not going over the top, I'll only be covering the main trilogy (even though Golden Axe III will only have a Japanese cover). So without further do, let us take up our swords and axes and make for the land of Yuria...

Golden Axe

Japan (Mega Drive)


PAL (Mega Drive)


US (Genesis)

Home computers (C64, Spectrum, Amiga, ST etc.)


Master System

PC Engine CD

Wonderswan Colour

Playstation 2 (Sega Ages 2500 Collection)

Phew! I won't be surprised if I missed a variant or version for an obscure machine but if I have done so then let me know in the comments section. Anyway, it will likely be easier for me to just say what my favourite is (clue: it isn't the PC Engine CD version!) and which is the weakest of the bunch. This time out, the Japanese version is not the clear winner. The artwork on the Japanese Mega Drive cover is indeed superb and my favourite of all the covers but the PAL cover just edges it for not having the enormous, distracting blue border. The American Genesis version deserves a lot of respect too and for me, it runs the original Japanese artwork very close for the title of number one. Both covers have that lovely Conan-style fantasy artwork theme that really appeals to me.

The Master System cover is easily the worst. Aside from the usual "graph paper background" ugliness, the actual image of Ax Battler just looks awful. What is going on with his face? The modern era showed no signs of necessary improvement either with the PS2 Sega Ages version of Golden Axe receiving an uninspiring cartoon-like cover that could almost be too cutesy for its own good. For the record, I have played this version of the game (a semi remake by D3 Publisher) and it isn't good (great music though). The home computer and Wonderswan covers warrant some praise for having nice art styles and suitably dark and moody colours.

Golden Axe II

Japan (Mega Drive)

PAL (Mega Drive)

US (Genesis)
It's fair to say that I was much happier only having to find three variants for the sequel! This time, the Japanese cover surprises by being the absolute worst of the bunch. Ax and Tyris don't seem to resemble their in-game versions quite that accurately and the whole picture has a strange style to it that I can't put my finger to...it isn't ugly as such but it does reinforce the notion that the Western fantasy artists brought up on Conan and the like were at the top of their game with Golden Axe covers.

The PAL and US covers are identical save for an unnecessary graph paper border on the Genesis edition that leaves me no choice other than to elevate the PAL box art to the top step of the podium. The art itself is incredible from the accurate anatomy to the general feeling that this is a living and breathing cover. Just like the Japanese Bare Knuckle III cover, I would happily hang a large print of this on my wall. It's that good.

Golden Axe III

Japan (Mega Drive)
Technically speaking, there was no real need to include the third part of the trilogy since there was only ever the Japanese release and therefore no other covers to compare it to! Still, you can't have a trilogy without the final part so it's here for the hell of it. Initially, this seems like a good cover but in reality, it's very average. The composition leaves a lot to be desired (it's 'plain' rather than 'bad') and there are a few dodgy details such as the musculature on Sahra not looking right. Overall it just doesn't excite me and I should know; I used to own the Japanese Mega Drive release of this game so I had plenty of time to look at the box! I do enjoy the game itself though - a lot more than the other games in the series which is odd when GAIII gets quite a slating in the gaming press for being the weakest in the series.

In conclusion then, I will say that the PAL version of Golden Axe II bears the best cover art of them all. So that's 1-1 then for the Japanese versus Western box art struggle. Game on...

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