Although bashed by fans and critics everywhere, Golden Axe is a suprisingly satisfing experience - that is, if you invest the time and effort it requires.
In many ways, this game makes you remember older, tougher times. The simple but unforgiving combat system will punish you severily for each mistake you make, there is no easy mode whatsoever, and the oldskool approach to checkpoints will make you controller fly out of the window. You start the game with two lives, with some rare extra ones to be found during the game, and that is all. Die with no lifes left, and be prepared to retry quite large sections of gameplay.
Even if you invest the time to practice and learn how to survive (hint: most reviewers didn't) the game has its flaws. Many gameplay elements fail horribly: beasts are hard to control in limited spaces since they can't turn easily, it is far too easy to fall to your dead in some places, targetting foes with magic often fails, and the few open spaces in the game are mostly empty. There is also very little variation in the game: even the bosses play just the same as every other monster. However, the core combat mechanic is solid enough, and will give you some epic moments once you master it and are able to leave unscratched the same battles that previously seemed full of cheap shots by the IAs. You'll feel the frustration while you reach this point, though, as the bad camera and the small counter window for most of the attacks won't make it easy to survive.
Graphics are decent, although hidden behind a bland and monochromatic color palette, and the framerate is very smooth (but with evident tearing). Music is forgettable for the most part, except the few great pieces that were taken from the original.
The game is not really long, but it has some replay value in the form of an extra difficulty level and some unlockable weapons and costumes (those are not available in the story mode, but in a 'challenge' mode that is essentially the same as the story). Most of the 360 achievements require unlockables, so they may take a lot of time to get.
Be aware also that there is no co-op. This is apparently important for some people, although I can't figure how they would implement it in a game of this kind (other than on-line) since you need the screen space to see you opponents at any time.