Axiom Verge is the Metroid homage developed by the one-man game-developing genius that is Thomas Happ. It’s a Metroidvania (obviously) that captures the exploration and impending sense of doom made famous in the genre by the timeless masterpiece known as Super Metroid. Despite the obvious parallels and influence between Axiom Verge and the Metroid series, it does in fact feel like it’s own game.
The gameplay is very typical for a Metroidvania. You begin with limited weapons and a limited move-set, and you edge your way through the game picking up power-ups and new moves as you go, and every time you get something new it opens up various new paths within the game world. I love Metroidvanias because they make you think and reward you for doing so. I love the idea of travelling past a certain coloured door or a certain obstacle and making a mental note of it (or a written note which is what I do because I’m old-fashioned like that) and then returning later to try out your new item to move past said door or obstacle. As with a lot of Metroidvanias, there are plenty of secrets and collectibles which will keep you entertained throughout.
There are some obvious elements lifted from the Metroid series over and above the general gameplay. For example, you’ll find power ups sitting on statues which very closely resemble the Chozo statues in the Metroid games, which sometimes made me forget I WASN’T playing a Metroid game, which in itself is not necessarily a bad thing.
There is a fair bit of backtracking but that is par for the course in a Metroidvania game; the entire premise of the genre is based upon returning to places that you couldn’t previously access, as I’ve previously alluded to.
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The controls are smooth and easy and you can aim and fire at 360 degrees which makes it fun and almost Contra-like in onscreen action. The game difficulty is also perfectly positioned I feel – it’s challenging enough (you will die a lot at certain times) but not frustratingly so. Oh and the boss fights are awesome! Although, awesome boss fights tend to be a staple of Metroidvanias, I find i.e. it’s hard to find one with average boss fights.
The world design is very very good, and therefore who cares about backtracking if it means you can repeatedly revisit some of the gorgeous and expansive vistas you come across in the game! Despite being a 2D platformer (from a perspective point of view) you enter certain rooms and areas that feel massive, dauntingly massive in fact.
The various areas tie together really well. One criticism would be that there’s not enough fast-travel in the world map so at times, it feels a bit of a chore to get from A to B. In a map as expansive as this, there’s a balance between implementing too much fast-travel so that it becomes too easy, but then also not enough fast-travel so that it becomes frustrating at times, and I feel it’s slightly closer to the frustrating end of the scale.
Story / Personality
This game has you play as the character Trace who begins the game with total memory loss and slowly gains his memories and understandings as the game progresses. It has the usual twists and turns you’d expect in this kind of sci-fi setting (i.e. is the protagonist a goodie or a baddie etc etc?) but I genuinely felt moved and excited at various points throughout the story, without giving too much away. So yeah, if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t want to skip past all the dialogue and try and actually follow what’s happening, then this is the game for you.
Graphics / Art Design
Axiom Verge looks gorgeous, simple as that. Some will scoff at its 2D pixelated visuals but you have to appreciate the game’s development story before passing judgement – this was developed as an indie game by Mr Happ on a relatively small budget, so it’s not going to have the same sexy visuals as say Hollow Knight or Guacamelee. Personally, I felt the visuals were simple but also functional and effective.
Music / Sound Design
The music SLAPS! As the kids say these days. Funky and easy listening, but also scary and creepy at the same time. I found myself humming one particular track over and over again when I went to bed for a few nights (the track is called Inexorable if you want to Google it). It strikes the right balance between enhancing the feeling of isolation that you want to feel in a Metroid homage, but also still leaves you tapping your feet. What more could you want!
Final Score: 90%
It is often asked; when does an homage become a shameless copycat piece? And vice versa. It seems that if a game is awesome, then that discussion point becomes moot anyway, and that is exactly what happens here with Axiom Verge. Who cares that it is ALMOST too similar to Metroid when it stands alone as an awesome game in itself.
If you love Metroid; play this game. If you don’t love Metroid; play this game. Axiom Verge is amazingly crafted and plays superbly well. I really enjoyed playing it and recommend it to anyone who’s after a challenging Metroidvania. For me, it’s in the top three Metroidvanias I’ve played on the Switch (and I’ve played a lot of them); Hollow Knight is quite obviously the best but I would say Axiom Verge leads the chasing pack.
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