by June 8, 2015 @ 7:46 am
It felt strange playing Axiom Verge on my computer and not on the Wii U. Though there are a few things that separate developer Tom Happ’s indie title from Nintendo’s Metroid franchise, the core concepts are all present. That’s not to say that this Metroidvania — or rather, Metroid-like — feels like a ripoff, because this is indeed a 2D action-adventure title that can stand on its own. That said, the similarities are hard to ignore. And despite a few hiccups, the game is an overall enjoyable romp across an exciting alien land.
You play as Trace, a scientist who wakes up and finds himself on a strange planet. Along the way you encounter machine-like beings who get you up to speed on their troubles and the task at hand, which revolves around you helping them save the planet. You’re also trying to piece together bits and pieces of your past and, eventually, your future. Unfortunately, the way the story is told and the characters at the center of it all aren’t especially interesting, so it’s hard to care too much about what’s happening.
Where Axiom Verge doesn’t fail to deliver is in its faithfulness to the Metroidvania style. In some ways, the game does things better than other titles in the genre have in recent memory. You’re literally dropped onto a massive planet with nothing but a basic weapon and a blank map. Traveling to different rooms fills up that grid-like map, and it isn’t long before you’ve got bunch of spaces filled out. You’re not just going from one room to the next, though. As you adventure across the game world, you visit different regions, each with their own enemies and obstacles.
In true Metroidvania fashion, you’ll often hit roadblocks that require specific abilities. As expected, visiting different areas, collecting new abilities, and then revisiting previously inaccessible areas is commonplace. Probably the most interesting thing about Axiom Verge is how little it relies on typical video game power-ups or actions. You never actually gain a double jump, but you do get a really high jump, so reaching ledges is made possible in a different way. Oh, and if you see a small space that you can’t walk through, don’t worry, because you’ll eventually get a drone that can fit into tight corridors.
To say anything more about the abilities you gain would spoil a lot of the fun in discovering them for yourself, so I’ll cut the spoilers there. All you really need to know is that getting a brand new ability is awesome and immediately makes you want to explore new areas and revisit old ones to see what you can find.
Aside from these abilities, Trace can also find a number of weapons. There’s a super-powerful electric shock, a homing shot, multi-shots, and more. Once you’ve found a few of these — especially that rad electric shock — you likely won’t want to return to your basic starter pistol. Unfortunately, you could get by without most of these weapons. The optional nature of the weapons makes them seem severely less important, even if certain guns can be useful.
I got through Axiom Verge in just under 11 hours. I spent about six of those hours liking the game, but during the last five hours I was completely enamored with it. It was during that latter half that I really started to let go and let myself explore to my heart’s content. I found myself not just compelled to revisit past areas, but absolutely ecstatic to do so. I couldn’t help the desire to go back and explore and put my new abilities to use just to see what cool new weapon or secret area I’d discover.
That sense of discovery is exactly what Axiom Verge does a lot better than other games that wear the Metroidvania badge of honor. Unlike so many other titles in the genre, this game proudly lets you get lost in its maze-like environments. And I don’t mean to say you’ll get “lost” in a proverbial sense — at certain points, you’ll literally be lost and won’t know where to go. Careful inspection of your maps and experimentation with your new abilities, however, will help you find the way, and when you do, you’ll feel really good about yourself.
What you probably won’t feel good about are the boss battles in Axiom Verge. None of these encounters are all that memorable, and nothing stands out about them to make them feel special. They’re just sort of there. And because later boss battles become increasingly frustrating to get through, you’ll wish you could’ve just continued on with your merry exploration without having to deal with these awful — albeit neat-looking — enemies.
Axiom Verge has a cool sci-fi look to it. The pixelated visuals blend NES and SNES styles in a way that’s not jarring but rather brings together the best of both worlds. You get a thematic look and feel of the original Metroid with the detail and enhanced color palette of something you’d see on a 16-bit console.
Kudos to Mr. Tom Happ for making such a clever game. I dare say that if Nintendo works on a new 2D Metroid, the maker of Axiom Verge should definitely be on that development team. The way the game pushes the boundaries of exploration is exactly why it’s one of the best in its class. If you’re not a fan of these types of games, this one won’t convince you otherwise. But if you love a good 2D action-adventure filled with aliens, robots, cool guns, and neat abilities, you shouldn’t hesitate to get lost in this spectacular sci-fi world.
Follow this author on Twitter.