In the video game world, when innovation is achieved, climbing through the dregs to find the precious appreciation it so deserves, imitation always follows close behind, clinging to its coattails and waiting in secret to steal its thunder. Or so the legend goes. When The Legend of Zelda took the world hostage on the NES, a knock-off version on a certain rival system was inevitable. Such is Golden Ax Warrior. The odd thing is the game is so spot on Zelda in every way, it's actually pretty good.
The rich lore of Golden Ax will forever have a place in my cold, dead heart. Steering this franchise into this completely different direction proved less than stellar on the Game Gear, but this version is much more true to its contemporary than its own lineage, and it actually works to its advantage. The interface is exactly like that of Zelda. The view is from above, the map is a giant square grid, the screen scrolls over the same way, and the monsters appear the same. It's almost as if they used the actual Zelda engine and just made a new game with it. As much as I usually loathe rip-offs of this extreme degree, maybe it's because this is the Golden Ax franchise, or maybe I just really wanted another classic Zelda game so bad I didn't care where I got it.
The plot is again focused on the Golden Ax, as it was in the piteous Ax Battler game. You don't really need a plot for this to work, though, just like you don't need flashier computer effects to enjoy the original Star Wars movies (I'm looking at YOU, George!). Once you start getting used to the familiar-but-new gameplay, you start to realize that this is a good time, no matter how much they raped the original.
There isn't much else to say about this experience. Walk around, fight monsters, explore dungeons, get new items. It's all here, and it's been waiting for you, but not like the way the Army's waiting for you. The good kind of waiting.