Axiom Verge is the modern Metroid game we’ve all been waiting for, and at the same time it breaks from the standard formula. This however is the greatest strength Axiom Verge has and why what separates it from the genre is what makes it truly great.
Axiom Verge is a retro-style, Metroidvania/action-adventure game with a story that knows when to pop up and keep you entertained and when to back off and just let you enjoy the magnificent world it puts before you. The game has tons of hidden areas to explore, multitudes of optional items and enough content to keep any completionist going for hours to reach that ever elusive 100% playthrough. At its core though if you are in anyway interested in Metroidvania games, especially those with a gorgeous aesthetic.
Captivating – Axiom Verges aesthetic oozes style despite the limits of its retro art style.
What minimal story Axiom Verge has is thrown at you straight away in an opening cut scene where an explosion goes off in your lab, and you’re transported to an alien world. You, as the scientist Trace, now explore this new world and fill in the blanks of how you got here, what happened at the lab and so on. While not anything ground breaking, it falls on some familiar sci-fi tropes which work well within in the confines of the world and provide interesting enough to make you want to progress. The story also has the knack of showing up at points where it’s unobtrusive and generally interesting, while disappearing when you’re in the meat of the gameplay. At this point it took me around 10 hours to get to the end of the game, that’s without collecting everything and finishing with only a handful of guns, when there were many more to collect. If that doesn’t seem like enough content to you, then no worries Axiom Verge comes with a hard difficulty and a speed run mode built in. The speed run mode is very well done, eliminating any dialogue and info boxes while displaying a clock in game to give you the purest way to practice you speed running skills.
In true Metroidvania style, Axiom Verge is a game about collecting many items in order to discover new areas while also backtracking to access areas you once could not reach. If you can’t quite make that jump, or can’t quite seem to find a way through that door, you’ll be back later with some form of power up. The power ups themselves are the way in which Axiom Verge tears away from traditional Metroidvania games, gone are the simple double jumps and rockets, every movement ability in Axiom Verge is unique in its own right. Traversing the world of Axiom Verge by combining all my movement abilities in large strings was some of the most fun I had in Axiom Verge and immediately lends itself to some insane tactics for speed running.
Collectibles – There is so much to collect in Axiom Verge and thats not inlcuding the weapons.
The game has an incredible variety in weapons too, the games vast weapon wheel provides you with a multitude of ways to dispatch your enemies, while others are required for traversal. From full on flamethrowers, to lightning guns that hit through walls and even a gun designed to glitch enemies to change behaviour. All of this culminates in some awesome boss fights, which are all incredible in their own way, every boss fight ramps up to the next one and the difficulty curves almost appropriately so. What makes the fights so special is the way you can choose to beat the bosses by combing the incredible array of weapons with the rest of your gear to create tense, nail-biting action sequences that makes those moments when you finally win even sweeter.
Axiom Verge tears away from traditional Metroidvania games
Axiom Verge’s world is the real star of this game, split into 9 sections, each with their own theme. This provides an intricate world to explore and discovering different ways to get from one section to another makes backtracking ever easier as you progress, thus making it much easier to find all the hidden goodies, intricately laid out within the world. The game wears its inspirations on its sleeve, the obvious inspiration in the art style and design are an homage to games like Super Metroid, this however works greatly in the games favour.
The old-school art style is reminiscent of the 8- and 16-bit eras, however Axiom Verge throws a little something extra into the mix in order to subvert your expectations in a great way, and not unlike it does with its gameplay mechanics. Its own unique retro style and incredible soundtrack set the game completely apart from your run-of-the-mill 8-bit action platformer. Some of the most memorable parts of game were just experiencing the soundtrack as I traversed the world, and the games title theme Axiom will stick with me as one of the most haunting but beautiful tracks of this year.
Some of the most memorable parts of game were just experiencing the soundtrack as I traversed the world
Teetering on the verge of greatness, Axiom Verge achieves so much and is almost perfect. It’s only downfalls come in that trying to keep so close to the lineage of its genre is what truly holds back Axiom Verge. There were times when the lack of direction meant I was utterly clueless on where to go and it took time stumbling around before I would find the correct item to progress, there were even times when I was headed in the right direction but had no idea I could use my new found abilities to progress. Limited direction and a large open world are staples of Metroidvania games, Axiom Verge is no exception but there were sometimes I was just left utterly frustrated.
The main problem I have with this version of Axiom Verge is the PC port, while by no means a terrible port it definitely lacks in some key areas. The options menu has almost enough graphical options for a 16-bit throwback game, it offers windowed or full screen and the ability to scale the window and the option to alter flicker/strobe. However it quite clearly lacks any actual resolution options, something I would expect from almost any PC port. It does however offer fully rebindable keys for keyboard users, which is great as the default set of keys is abysmal and completely nonsensical, it also offers full controller support (the way I personally played most of the game) with fully rebindable controller keys. The one thing I can’t forgive however is the lack of mouse functionality in any of the menus, being forced to navigate with WASD and SPACE in a PC game is unreasonable, this is even bearing in mind I know it’s one developer and originally a console game.
Limited – The lack of features in the port is one of the games few flaws.
Axiom Verge does nothing short of reinventing the wheel when it comes to Metroidvania games and is the standard the genre should be set to from hence forth. Barring occasional frustration and a less-than-great PC port it is still a fantastic addition to the PC and a game that isn’t to be missed this year. Axiom Verge sets a high standard for the next piece of work to come from Thomas Happ, and whatever comes next is something I eagerly await. But for now I have the ever elusive 100% to try and attain, a feat that will keep me entertained for days to come.