Despite the system never catching on in the U.S., the early line-up of TurboGrafx-16 games were surprisingly good. While critics lauded Ninja Spirit as one of the best early 16-bit games, The Legendary Axe was also considered to be at the top of the pile. By today's standard NEC's early action game may look a bit simple, but there's no doubt that The Legendary Axe is a solid action game worthy of some attention.
You play the mighty warrior Gogan, an axe wielding hero who has decided to take a long journey in nothing but a skimpy loin cloth. Unfortunately Gogan lives in a terrible village, one ruled by the Jagu cult who requires a sacrifice every year. This year's sacrifice happens to be a childhood friend of Gogan, an innocent civilian named Flare. To help save Flare you have been given the Legendary Axe, a famous weapon that is said to contain special powers.
Okay, so the story isn't very original and you won't spend a whole lot of time actually developing the plot. We're dealing with a story that is on par with most of the action games from the 1980s, it's pretty much just an excuse to give you a cool weapon and a simple task that requires you to kill hundreds of enemies. You've seen all of this before, but The Legendary Axe manages to present the action in a convincing way that never gets boring.
The game is split up into six different levels, each with their own look and boss battle. The only weapon you get to use is the Legendary Axe, but throughout the game it will become more powerful. The levels themselves are presented in a straight forward manner, you'll never get lost while searching for Flare. There are a few secret areas you can find, but you won't veer off of the main path too much in this game. I shouldn't say that all of the levels are straight forward; the fifth level (the final "real" level in the game) is actually a complex maze that will have you backtracking even when you don't want to.
What sets this game apart is the sheer amount of cool enemies you'll be facing. You aren't just going to be killing human warriors and birds; you'll also have to deal with rock throwing monkeys, bears, flying eyeballs crazy fish men, and dozens of other cool creatures. By themselves these enemies aren't too difficult, but when you start to throw them all together you will find that it's not as easy as it looks. Like all 2D action games you can expect to deal with a few cheap hits, but with some skill (and a lot of luck) you will be able to fight your way to Jagu and save Flare from captivity.
When compared to future 16-bit titles (especially games released on the Super NES), The Legendary Axe fails to impress. But this is a game that was released in the U.S. in 1989, developers were still figuring out what they could do with the new technology. Don't let the graphics fool you, the game moves at a reasonable speed and is rarely bogged down by slowdowns or any other technical difficulty. The sound is also pretty good, though it's not going to win any awards for quality.
There have been plenty of amazing 2D action games released since the days of The Legendary Axe, but that doesn't mean you can't still have fun trying to say Flare. This is a short adventure that will only take you a couple hours to complete, making it a perfect time waster for anybody who owns a TurboExpress. This was a strong early entry for the TurboGrafx-16, the type of game that should have been more popular than it was. If you have a few hours to spare and you don't mind hacking your way through hundreds of cool looking enemies, The Legendary Axe may just be the game you're looking for.