This year (February 21, 1986 to be exact) marks the 25th anniversary of my favorite video game of all time, The Legend of Zelda. This is the first game I ever finished and pretty much the reason that I’m the huge nerd I am today. What really made me fall in love with LoZ was the feeling of true exploration it gave you. There were no flashing points on your map or glowing arrows to point you in the right direction; you simply had to walk around and fight, bomb, and burn until you found the next dungeon. The game captivated me completely and it probably took me months (and maybe a call to a Nintendo game counselor) to complete, only to find there was a more difficult second quest lying in wait.
The Legend of Zelda was obviously a huge success, so Sega attempted to provide that same experience to Master System owners. This resulted in two interesting and quality games, Golvellius: Vally of Doom and Golden Axe Warrior.
The Legend of Zelda influences are not immediately apparent when you begin Golvellius, as you actually start the game running, jumping, and attacking in a side-scrolling dungeon. After you complete this stage however, you emerge into the larger game world, viewing your character from a top-down perspective.
This game world is initially less expansive than Zelda’s, based on the fact that you must defeat the boss in each of the seven areas to progress to the next. Despite this illusion of linearity, the game, like LoZ, is quite obtuse. There is generally a secret entrance on every screen. These entrances lead to everything from smart-aleck shopkeepers to weird fairies to dungeons.
The dungeons in the game come in two flavors: side-scrolling and top-down. The side-scrolling sections are similar to Ys III or Zelda II, but the top-down dungeons, with their auto-scrolling, play more like a shooter (which is unsurprising, considering developer Compile’s history with the genre).
The game looks quite good, with large, clean sprites that rival those of later NES titles. The soundtrack is varied for its time, with an overworld theme that changes based not on the area you are in, but rather the equipment you are using, which is quite novel.
Although it has some aspects clearly inspired by The Legend of Zelda, Golvellius contains enough variety and creativity to stand out on its own, while still capturing the “feel” of adventure and exploration that makes the original LoZ so great.
Golden Axe Warrior (Master System, 1991. Developed and Published by Sega)
There is no denying it: Golden Axe Warrior borrows shamelessly and liberally from The Legend of Zelda. From the visual style to the game’s flow, anyone who had played the original LoZ would find themselves immediately comfortable with this title.
But for every everything borrowed from The Legend of Zelda, Golden Axe Warrior makes an improvement. For one, you are not stuck using a sword throughout the entire adventure; early in the game you acquire a side-swinging axe, which can cut down both enemy and tree alike. Another improvement in Golden Axe Warrior is the addition of magic. These spells, hidden throughout the game world, are a nice addition to your arsenal. Shopkeepers also seem to have more personality in Warrior (though the innkeeper looks like a creepy hybrid of Kenny G and Weird Al that I can never unsee).
Though neither Golvellius or Golden Axe Warrior match the brilliance of The Legend of Zelda, each title was a quality alternative for Master System-only owners back in the day. Both titles still hold up now and are great choices for anyone longing for the obtuse adventuring of the title that inspired them.