Golden Axe is Sega's fantasy-themed, scrolling beat-'em-up, which takes the concept popularized by Double Dragon and brings it to the Middle Ages, complete with swords and sorcery. This emulation of the arcade version feels nicely accurate, and it has the standard set of Xbox Live Arcade features, but it's also a game that you can blow through in around 20 minutes. Between its unlimited continues and crusty looks, you're probably only going to be interested in this game if you liked it back in 1989.
You can choose from a barbarian, an amazon, or a dwarf, each with his or her own weapon and magic skills, though the main difference between the characters is the range they have with their weapon. The dwarf, of course, packs a gigantic axe, which is better for reaching out and touching enemies than the swords of the other two fighters. You'll make your way through nine stages, fighting off a variety of enemies, including skeletons, giants, armored knights, and the game's final boss, Death Adder. The enemies are more troublesome when you play alone because they're good at getting on either side of you, which can be difficult to defend against. When playing with another player, though, holding back the enemy horde isn't nearly as tough.
In addition to cooperating in two-player games locally, you can get on Xbox Live and play over the Internet. While functional, the game didn't seem very tolerant when it came to latency, and it frequently slowed down or stopped while waiting for the two players to sync back up. As with all things relating to online play, your mileage may vary. The other additions to the game include the ability to save your progress, a standard complement of achievement points, and a graphics filter. The filter is designed to smooth out the game's hard edges, but it just makes it look like you've smeared a bunch of goop on your TV screen. It's a lot like the filter used in Contra on Xbox Live Arcade, but not at all subtle. There's also an enhanced audio option that doesn't seem to make any noticeable difference in the music or effects when enabled.
Golden Axe may inspire a ton of great, nostalgic feelings, as it was a classic in its day. But with unlimited continues, shaky online, and short length, there's not a lot to keep you coming back once you've completed it once or twice. If that sounds like five dollars of entertainment to you, then by all means, download away. But don't say we didn't warn you.