Moving up on the list, we come to a beloved hack and slash series from the late 80s and early 90s. Golden Axe was the gold standard, if you'll forgive the pun, for brawlers in both the arcades and home consoles for many years. As befits the swords and sorcery genre, dragons were a big part of the experience. In the original game, you could use dragon-like creatures as mounts. The Genesis sequel, Golden Axe II, gave Tyris Flare a wicked fire-breathing dragon as her ultimate magic attack. And check out that Boris Vallejo cover!
What was it about Golden Axe that made it so great? It wasn't any one thing, so much as several strong features all wrapped up into one. The heroes were appealing, very distinct from one another in play. The decision to save potions up for one mega blast, or use them more recklessly for a lesser effect was interesting. Surely, though, solid three player co-op throughout was the biggest factor. If only the most recent Golden Axe, 2008's Beast Rider, had included this vital aspect of the series' legacy...
So far, we've looked at a pair of non-dragons, two maybe-dragons, and a game where you can ride or summon dragons as allies. That's okay and all, but wouldn't it be better to actually BE a dragon in a game? Early adopters of Sega's Genesis console got to do just that in Altered Beast, an arcade port that was the system pack-in before a certain speedy blue hedgehog arrived on the scene. On certain levels, your protagonists would turn into strange were-dragon hyrids. Flying around the screen and zapping anything that moved was undeniably fun.
Unlike the previous games on the list, Altered Beast wasn't followed by very many sequels, which really is a shame. Buffing your skinny human dude up into crazy were-creatures was a hoot, especially when you could steal the little blue orbs from your co-op partner, preventing them from powering up. And who could forget the unintentionally horrible digitized speech? "Wise... fwom your gwabe!" Let's hope the franchise comes back from the dead and onto modern consoles sometime soon.