Axiom Verge – What We Think:
It can be hard for a game like Axiom Verge to stand out amidst the crowd, and it’s an ever-growing crowd. Metroidvania games are coming out a lot more often, with one of my favorite recent examples being the Day of the Dead-themed Guacamelee, which I really enjoyed for its style and rewarding combat system. Fortunately, Axiom Verge by Thomas Happ Games LLC does enough to stick out, as well, but for other reasons.
Where Does He Get Those Wonderful Toys?
What makes Axiom Verge unique and allows it to ultimately differentiate itself are its fun items–like a power-up which allows you to pass through walls–and varied weapon projectile modifications, including one that lets you change enemies’ characteristics into something completely different.
Another item you get later on is a grappling hook that lets you swing from left to right in a Bionic Commando-like fashion. These examples are but a few to illustrate how the game incorporates a fundamentally different experience built on familiar tropes.
Overall, combat and movement mechanics in Axiom Verge felt fun and satisfying enough that I was never bored. It’s not highly inventive or too unfamiliar, so it makes it easy to pick up and play. Jumping from platform to platform felt smooth, while firing my gun felt satisfying. Many 2D platformers will implement some odd twin-stick shooter approach which can make combat unnecessarily awkward.
Run and Gun: Evolved
You’ll do a lot more firing your gun than twitch-based platforming in this game, and thankfully it’s designed properly to accommodate that play style. Quick-select weapon-switching helped make dealing with the different enemies easier–enemies that rushed me were disposed of with a quick-firing projectile, while enemies behind a piece of geometry could be killed with a weaker projectile that bounced off walls.
Since moving and aiming your weapon is done using the same joystick, a dedicated shoulder button to plant your feet helps you aim with more precision. It’s small, yet smart design decisions like these that really show the amount of thought that went into everything.
To Die Will Be A Great Adventure
Axiom Verge feels like a mishmash of other 2D platformers, including bits and pieces of Super Metroid and the aforementioned Bionic Commando. Some more modern game design elements show up, as well, like a more forgiving death mechanic which doesn’t punish the player. There are elements from other games that are smartly implemented in this game, much like what Quentin Tarantino does with his directing style.
The extent of this can be clearly seen in one area where you could alter a laser-firing enemy. Once you alter it, it has the ability to hurt other enemies and destroy certain walls. Doing so reveals an alternate, easier path though the area. These instances are where the game truly shines, making you feel like you have more of a sense of agency over your environment. Games of this genre excel when they convey that rewarding feeling through player action.
Much like other games in the genre, you’ll often come across an area only to find out you can’t access it yet. You’ll need to acquire the correct item or ability to get past a door, blockage or higher platform. It’s a staple of the genre and can hinder the game’s flow, especially when you’re really engaged and lose yourself in the game’s world. It’s the one element of the game that doesn’t feel so modernized. However, thanks to Axiom Verge’s design, the game does as much as it can to pick up the pace.
Axiom Verge is focused on providing a space that’s rewarding and interesting to explore. You master the environment one power-up or upgrade at a time. There are a variety of different types of weapon modifications, not to mention hidden areas to find that contain bonus items and health bar upgrades. Items that help you get into a new area are even scattered in a way so that you never go too long before coming across a new one. It’s cleverly designed to keep you from getting bored of an area or a current set of traversal abilities.
When You’re A Stranger
The environment itself feels very alien and unfamiliar. As you traverse through this otherworldly map, you never know what to expect. Some enemies are inspired by real world creatures, while others are just weirdly off-putting. I couldn’t help but feel like the enemy outcast because I was so out of place. Everything else is completely inhuman, giving the game a more ominous and mysterious sci-fi tone.
That mystery aids the game’s narrative, as well. The game’s protagonist is just as confused as the player. He has no idea where he is or what is going on. It’s a familiar trope, but it works well within this game since the environment is so strange. It does become somewhat disappointing, especially early on, when instead of learning about where you are, you just accept your fate and help some unfamiliar voice without question. I see how the “What other alternatives does the protagonist have?” argument can be made, but it just ends up feeling really uninteresting. It leaves a lot to be desired when the novelty of an unfamiliar environment wears off.
The narrative does pick up after a while, though, and it starts to be a little more interesting. It’s clear that the narrative isn’t this game’s focus, but it would have been nice to have cared about what happens to the protagonist a little more.
Music in the game is fantastic and fittingly sci-fi. The soundtrack is a chiptune mix of ominous synth and distorted effects all gelling together to create one of the best video game soundtracks in a while. For the most part, it’s somewhat soothing, almost ambient in some areas, which helps create a mood. Instead of the soundtrack constantly hitting one hard, fast-paced mode like the soundtrack to Super Meat Boy, it has a nice flexibility to convey both the serene and more urgent moments of the game particularly well.
On The Verge of Legendary
Metroidvanias can live or die by their environments and map designs. Since the genre is so focused on exploration, the map layout must be fun to explore. Axiom Verge succeeds in creating an entertaining setting to shoot in and explore. Personally I would have enjoyed the game even more if it had a more engaging narrative, but that is a minor issue when everything else about the game is so stellar.
Watch the trailer for Axiom Verge below: