Axiom Verge is a retro throwback done right. I freaking love this game. After reviewing Mighty No. 9, a pretty decent retro throwback, it just seems right to continue on that path and review a better one. As opposed to Mighty No. 9, we’re not on the defense this time around. Axiom Verge has its flaws, but reviewers seem pretty unanimous in praising this game.
Welcome to Pixels to Polygons, the column where we compare the games of yesteryear to more modern entries.
Whether you want to call Axiom Verge a tribute, a ripoff, homage, whatever, it doesn’t matter. What matters is this game takes elements of the original Metroid formula and enhances them in so many ways. If you’re going to clone a game, this is the way to do it. You don’t need to have any experience with the source material to be able to enjoy Axiom Verge. It stands completely on its own merit. And I think what’s most impressive about this game is that it was all done by one person. So what makes this a must-play for fans of the Metroid-style game?
Firstly, the game plays wonderfully. I think this is the most important aspect of any game. While you can sometimes be more forgiving with a game that doesn’t play just right, as long as there are other elements to compensate (eg. soundtrack, graphics, story), but I think we can all agree that a game playing well is the most critical element for getting into a game. Much like we can all agree that we love our pancakes as fluffy discs with syrup on top, and not soaked in, creating a gross paste (I couldn’t resist adding a Rick and Morty reference). Axiom Verge feels so right. I never had to think about the controls and how I needed to react in my environment because the intuitive and fluid controls allowed me to immerse myself in the experience. You should never have to think about controls while playing a game.
To make the fluid controls more fun to use is a diverse arsenal of weapons and upgrades. The weapons are an especially large and diverse area. There are weapons shoved into every little nook and cranny of the Axiom Verge world, especially in secret areas, and they vary greatly, everything ranging from your pea shooter, to exploding bullets, to a flamethrower, to a massive laser beam. Then there are the fun additions outside of the weapons, like the teleporting jacket (you get to teleport with the jacket, I just didn’t know how else to write it), the drill, the drone and the hacking gun. The hacking gun is one of the major highlights of the game. Aside from a few obstacles, you never really have to use the gun, but it can drastically change the playing field. You’re able to hack every enemy in the game and each has different outcomes. Some enemies transform and open up secret areas, others slow down and change attack patterns to give you more of a fighting chance, and others will just get stuck (which is way more useful than it probably sounds). I love when a game introduces mechanics that aren’t forced upon the player if they don’t want to use them, but life becomes much easier with them.
Another upgrade that you get is a code analyzer. While this isn’t a particularly impressive item in and of itself, I do feel it’s worth focusing more attention on due to its connections with the adventure, collectible and secret aspects. You can look at this upgrade as something that just puts the main character in a bikini, which is hilarious to see him in as opposed to the lab coat and it’s a great Metroid reference with JUSTIN BAILEY being the code. But this upgrade is representative of so much more.
There are collectibles peppered throughout the Axiom Verge world. Some provide the player with insight into the story and lore of this world. Others provide codes for translations of more lore, and more importantly, codes to open up secrets in the world. You can ignore all of these collectibles and secrets and still beat the game, but engaging in all of them enhances the experience. They aren’t just secrets and collectibles to be obtuse and add padding, they are connected with the whole game world. This is a major leg up from much of the gaming competition, since many games seem to add collectibles in random spots for completion’s sake as opposed to gameplay enhancement (which I guess works for trophy/achievement hunters in modern times). So this is why I think the code analyzer is such a fantastic addition, as I feel it really puts into perspective how cohesive the Axiom Verge world is.
The cohesive game world is another component to this game’s brilliance. I love how intuitive and enjoyable it is to explore your surroundings. The world slowly opens up to you in a pace that feels just right. You can even leave reminders on the map for areas of particular interest. This usually isn’t necessary though, as you have a map that clearly indicates where you have been and what areas you have gotten to an impasse and need to return to with a new upgrade. There are also indications on the maps as to when you’ve completely explored a map and when you’ve found all the upgrades in the area. While I can see the backtracking being a little annoying to some players, I didn’t mind. I think that may have been somewhat resolve with more diversity in the areas, but I don’t mind the relative consistency in the environments as it sticks to a theme and is a rather short game. I welcomed being able to explore areas time and time again and get more out of the experience.
I think what makes backtracking much more enjoyable is the incredible soundtrack. While I don’t think I would listen to most of this outside of the context of the game, I feel the compositions are incredibly fitting of each environment and really draw the player in. Then again, I think it’s incredibly difficult to be able to strike that balance where a game’s soundtrack can be appreciated out of context while still being incredibly fitting to the theme of a game (unless you’re Jake Kaufman), especially with more atmospheric kinds of soundtracks. So I can’t really fault the composition for that since the soundtrack works perfectly for the game. I especially love the boss themes, which I sometimes find run through my head from time to time.
This brings me to another component I would like to briefly focus on, the bosses. The bosses are so much fun to fight. They differ greatly in design and some even have puzzle elements to them. It’s wonderful. Sometimes you have a straight-forward blast-fest, but other times you have to combine platforming with strategic removal of boss parts in order to be safe or blast through a battle at record speed. The Ukhu variant is a perfect example of this. You can use a weaker gun and stay in safety while you slowly widdle away at the healthbar, or you can get up in its face, hack some bees (I told you the hacking gun was fun and useful) and go for broke by blowing it up immediately with a risky, but oh so satisfying shot.
Which brings me to my final point, I absolutely love that this game is built for speedrunning. The dedicated speedrunning mode allows you to ignore the story and just get right to brass tax. Each boss has strategies for quick kills and the way the save system is designed in a way that allows you to reduce massive amounts of backtracking. I love story and really getting into a gaming experience, hence my love for RPGs, but sometimes I love to just pick up a game and just destroy it in a sitting without having to pace myself and go from zero to hero. This is why I find myself returning to games like Super C and classic Mega Man games, where I don’t have to scroll through walls of text and slowly get introduced to being a useful character and such just to get to the whole reason I am playing the game. This isn’t an essential component to the game and I would still replay it without the mode, but it’s a nice little cherry on top to really tie the experience together.
While this isn’t a complex analysis of Axiom Verge, I hope I have provided enough insight as to why I loved the game so much. If you haven’t tried it out, I hope this gets you excited enough to go check it out. Let me know what you think about this review, this game, or your run time (mine is 1:03, not impressive, but decent I would argue) in the comments below. If you want a score, too bad. Scores aren’t an accurate reflection as to how much you will enjoy a game, they’re an arbitrary value to avoid reading an analysis.
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