Game review: Axiom Verge (Nintendo Switch)

in #gaming2 years ago

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The term 'Metroidvania' has been popularized in recent years to describe games that typically share the primary aspects of the Metroid and Castlevania games. Specifically, the term refers to exploring a world where your progress is prevented in certain places by doors you can't open, jumps you can't make or barriers that you must clear. As you explore the worlds these games take place in, you'll slowly gain new items and abilities that let you smash that wall that was in your way, leap to a ledge that was previously out of reach or gain immunity to a hazard that stopped you from going down a certain path.

Many games have hit the market recently that have taken this approach, including Hollow Knight, Dead Cells and Guacamelee. A little indie game landed a few years ago that's one of the most pure 'Metroidvania' experiences ever made. In fact, it's very much a love letter to the original Metroid.

The game is Axiom Verge which has appeared on basically all modern consoles, with the most recent being the Nintendo Switch. As a big fan of this genre, I naturally had to pick it up. This was actually the last game I picked up at Toys R' Us before it closed its doors forever.

I just completed the game, so its time to dig in and do a review.

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Image: Axiom Verge Presskit

Axiom Verge is a passion project by a single developer -- Thomas Happ -- who built this game entirely by himself! The programming, art, music -- everything was done by a single person. With this in mind, you might think this game is going to be lacking in at least one area or another and I'm happy to report its a solid game on every level. Let's get into the details.

Axiom Verge begins with a scientific experiment gone wrong, which transports you to an alien dimension where you have to search for a way back home. You're quickly given a basic gun to defend yourself with and over the course of the game, you'll find a huge arsenal of additional weapons, items and abilities to give you access to deeper and more challenging areas of the game.

One interesting aspect of the game is how it embraces 'glitches' of video games as a gameplay mechanic. You may see an areas where the graphics are pixellated or blocky. These glitches can be exploited with certain tools to let you pass through areas, create platforms and more.

As in other 'Metroidvania' games, Axiom Verge is presented as a 2D side scroller where you have access to the typical run, crouch and jump actions. You can aim in 8 directions and even lock your aim into a specific angle with a button combo. While you start off with a very basic set of tools, you'll eventually find many creative items like a Bionic Commando-inspired grappling hook, a gun that fires a disruption wave, a massive drill that can open up hidden passages and remote drone you can use to explore tiny passages.

And that's just some of the main items. You'll continue building up your set of tools and weapon arsenal as you explore this alien world. The number of things to find and secrets to discover is impressive, especially considering the one-man team that created the game.

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Image: Axiom Verge Presskit

That's not even mentioning the weapons. While you start with a basic gun, you'll eventually find many more that have different properties like firing a shot that explodes in a star shape, one that bounces off walls and even a lightning gun that looks and behaves much like a Ghostbuster's proton pack. With so many weapons to choose from, you'll inevitably find a few that work best for you and that you'll use through most of the game. Even then, there were times where whipping out a different gun made beating a challenging boss easier or that made it possible to hit enemies that were normally out of reach.

The game world is broken down into zones on your map, much like 'Brinstar' or 'Norfair' are in Metroid. Each area is connected to the next by doorway tubes much like the famous doors from Metroid, though they're always open and don't require shooting them to proceed. Each zone has a distinct feel, with unique graphics, enemies, music and color schemes so its obvious when you've entered a new area. The map is massive, so exploration is one of the main themes of the game.

The huge map also causes one of the game's biggest problems. With a map so large, there's really no quick travel option in this game other than a bizarre tram shaped as a giant alien head that runs the length of the map, giving you access to most of the main areas. However, just reaching the tram might take 5-10 minutes of backtracking. Whenever you discover a new ability, you'll want to hunt down areas you previously couldn't get through, so without a reasonable quick travel method this becomes tedious later in the game.

The size of the map causes another significant problem. Many times during my adventure I had no idea where to go next. I wandered around areas I'd been several times before looking for something I missed and the entrance to the next area was often hidden pretty well -- too well if you ask me.

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Image: Axiom Verge Presskit

Each area of the game naturally features a boss encounter, which is telegraphed by a large skull-like background of the room that connects to the boss' chamber. These always connect to a save room as well. Save rooms are distributed nicely throughout the map, so you never have to go too far when you want to lock down your progress. These rooms refill your health to 100% too, so having one next to a boss fight is very handy. They increase in difficulty at a nice pace and are all manageable challenges for 2D action platformer fans.

The standard enemies you encounter are great too, from basic little abstract flying critters to zombie-like humanoids who stand still until you approach, there is a tremendous amount of variety in the enemies you face -- some seemingly only appearing a few times in small part of the map.

The story of Axiom Verge is interesting, but is admittedly a head-spinning narrative that involves a lot of brain melting sci-fi gobbledygook. It was a bit too bizarre and ambitious for my taste, but someone else might love it. Objectively, its well done, but it didn't really resonate with me.

Despite its flaws, I came away very satisfied with this game. I like to think that if Metroid was made today, it would look and play a lot like Axiom Verge. The fact that this game was entirely created by one person is an astounding accomplishment and deserves to be recognized for that alone. I'm amazed at how well-rounded the game is.

In the end, it took me just shy of 14 hours to reach the conclusion of the game, which is a good length for a game of this type. If you're a fan of these types of games, its an easy recommend. Though keep in mind the game's flaws -- if backtracking and intense exploration turn you off, I'd suggest you pass on it.

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Image: Axiom Verge Presskit

Axiom Verge uses a graphical style that's about halfway between 8 and 16-bit, which makes it look like a lost Super Nintendo game. The graphics are colorful, yet dark and grim at the same time. The visuals create a convincing alien world feeling, with creative landscapes, enemies and terrain. There is a ton of detail in the backgrounds and in the random one-shot items strewn around the world, from a mountain-sized alien corpse in the background of one area to a simple lone wheelchair in another. The graphics make you think about the history of this world and what the things you discover mean, if they have any meaning at all. Everything is animated very nicely, especially some of the effects like exploding enemies, weapon effects and the backgrounds each feature multiple layers of parallax scrolling.

Music and sounds are also excellent. Each gun, each enemy and various events all have unique effects that sound like they might have been possible on 8-bit hardware. Music is definitely a high point, where each area has a unique tune that matches the look of the area. One section in particular uses unsettling female vocal samples in an otherworldly chant that fits into the soundtrack. In short, the music and sounds are very well done and perfectly represent the alien world this game takes place in.

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Image: Axiom Verge Presskit

I had high expectations for Axiom Verge and I'm happy to report that I was not disappointed. This is as pure of a 'Metroidvania' experience as you'll find and its a love letter to both trippy sci-fi and the 8 and 16-bit generations. The gameplay is fun, controls are tight and its all wrapped up in a beautiful 'faux-retro' package.

To think this was all done by a single person is just amazing. Other than some issues that exist simply because the world is so large, the game is well rounded, fun and addictive. Axiom Verge is a must-play game for fans of this genre.

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Axiom Verge is available on Switch, Wii U, XBox One, PS4, PS Vita and Steam

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Thanks for reading. As always, upvotes, resteems and comments are appreciated!

Cover image: Axiom Verge Presskit

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Very in depth review buddy. I thought I was already following you...oops! I am now. 😃

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