Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Axiom Verge Review (XONE)

When Capcom neglected Mega Man, Yacht Club Games were there to give us a reasonable alternative in Shovel Knight.  And now that Nintendo apparently doesn’t care about Metroid, particularly 2D Metroid, another indie dev has stepped in to fill the void with Thomas Happ’s spectacular Axiom Verge.  Axiom Verge is an obvious love letter to Metroid’s 8 and 16-bit roots but offers up some of its own unique twists in the form of a ton of unique weapons and upgrades and some fantastic boss fights.  Axiom Verge is the best 2D Metroid in ages and well worth a look.  See all of the details here in our full review.

Game Details

  • Publisher: Thomas Happ Games
  • Developer: Thomas Happ Games
  • ESRB Rating: “T” For Teen
  • Genre: 2D Action Platformer
  • Pros: Looks and sounds amazing; tight gameplay; boss fights; interesting story
  • Cons: World isn’t distinct or memorable; not enough direction
  • MSRP: $20

Axiom Verge is the story of a scientist who, after an accident on Earth, wakes up on a crazy alien world.  He meets a Rusalki – a giant war machine barely clinging to life – that asks him to help repair it and others around the world so that they can defeat an evil being known as Athetos.  From there you’re unleashed out into the game world to explore, find upgrades that open new paths, and fight a lot of bosses in typical Metroid style.

I found the story to actually be pretty interesting and, at the very least, it was fairly non-intrusive.  There were oldschool dialogue boxes for 30-seconds here and there, but the game wasn’t super in your face about following the story.  I bring this up because so many reviews of Axiom Verge on other platforms cited the story – the mere presence of it at all – as a negative against the game and I can’t agree with that at all.  What are those reviewers, 8-year olds with no attention span?  No, they’re supposedly grown adults that can’t sit through 5 lines of text without getting bored.  Ridiculous. 

Gameplay wise, Axiom Verge captures the Super Metroid feel pretty much perfectly.  The 2D platforming and shooting is very tight and just plain feels good to play.  Axiom Verge differentiates itself from Metroid and other similar games, however, with a wide range of different weapons and upgrades.  Sure, there are the expected upgrades like a higher jump, grappling hook, and more health like other games, but Axiom Verge also has a ton of different guns to use.  From a standard shot to lightning, bullets that bounce off of walls, a close range explosion, bombs, and much more, Axiom Verge gives you a surprisingly huge arsenal to play with.  There are lots of different enemy types, too, and each one has a different weakness so playing with all of the weapons at your disposal is vital. 

Axiom Verge also has a couple of other unique tools.  First is an upgradeable beam that sort of re-writes the data of enemies to change their characteristics.  Some enemies will get slower, or won’t attack you anymore, or will be able to break through certain objects when you re-write them, for example.  There are also various glitches in the world that this beam, and later a bomb, can clear away that allow you to make progress through previously blocked areas.  This concept is very, very cool.

Another unique trick is a little drone you can send out to go through small areas – as opposed to turning into a morph ball like Samus would – and later you can even teleport your character to the location of the drone which is a total game changer.  Another ability I like is the teleport that lets you pass through certain walls and reach new areas.  At first it is somewhat limited, but later you get a much better version that, again, is a game changer. 

All of these weapons and abilities make Axiom Verge a remarkably varied and interesting experience throughout.  You really have to make use of all of your abilities and sometimes come up with some creative solutions to make progress, and I love that.  It also has to be said, though, that Axiom Verge can be very, very, maddeningly difficult in some areas.  Just getting through the game world is a challenge at first and you really have to be on your toes to survive.  On that note, however, the boss fights are actually generally fairly easy and always have a save room right next to them.  The bosses are giant bullet spamming HP sponges, but they always have some sort of gimmick and pattern on how to beat them that I quite enjoyed.

With all of that said, I do have a couple of complaints about Axiom Verge.  First, the game doesn’t tell you where to go at all to find the next key upgrade that will open up more of the map.  Instead you just have to blindly wander back and forth from one side of the map to the other essentially visiting every room over and over and over again with every new upgrade to try to find some way to make progress.  And, naturally, when you do make progress you inevitably find some new obstacle that requires a different upgrade located on the opposite side of the map, so you trek all the way back and do it all over again.  The game would have really benefited from having just a tiny bit of direction so you don’t have to wander around quite so blindly. 

I know, I know, backtracking all over to use your new upgrades is a typical “Metroidvania” gameplay staple, but in most other games of this type the game world is more distinct and memorable so you actually remember where a locked door or blocked path is.  Axiom Verge’s world, on the other hand, just blurred together for me.  Each area does usually have a different color palate, but I didn’t remember anything specifically about any of it, which is why I had to blindly fumble around so much.  Again, a little nudge in the right direction from time to time would have greatly helped with this.

While I don’t feel the game world is super distinct, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t look fantastic.  Axiom Verge is a gorgeous oldschool sprite-based 2D action platformer that is truly a blast from the past.  It looks great.  And it sounds awesome, too, with perfect sound effects for all of the weapons and an incredible soundtrack.  The music is simply outstanding.

Ultimately, Axiom Verge adds up to be a pretty incredible experience.  I do feel that a little added guidance to point you in the right direction more often would make it a better game overall and ease some frustration that comes with repetitive backtracking, but even with that gripe it is still pretty darn fantastic.  It plays great and offers a ton of unique and interesting upgrades and also has pixel perfect presentation and a top-tier soundtrack to really complete the package.  Axiom Verge is an excellent oldschool throwback that we highly recommend for a purchase on Xbox One or any other platform.