Wow. Just wow. This is one of the most impressive games I’ve played through in a while. It would be easy to write Axiom Verge off as a Metroid clone. Because when you get down to brass tacks, it is. It drops you in a map, and forces you to explore. Forces you to find the exit, only to tell you you’ll have to go back to that area to get something later on. The thing is there are but a mere handful of examples of games that tried to do something a Nintendo game did, and did it well. There are even fewer that have managed to do it as well. Especially this well.
Axiom Verge has. This game feels like it could actually fit in the Metroid universe somehow, or that you could call it Super Duper Metroid, and that it is the successor to Metroid fusion. Metroid fans would be completely okay with that. That isn’t an exaggeration or hyperbole here. It is seriously THAT good.
PROS: Spot on labyrinthine level design. Pixel Art. Chip tunes.
CONS: Not the most original story. (But still good!)
SECRETS: Who knew nostalgia could be so trippy?
I could end the review with that introduction. It really does live up to the hype it has had for almost a year. But a lot of you who missed it, or have been on the fence, or for those who are skeptical you might need more. Axiom Verge is the tale of a scientist who is transported to another world when his experiment goes awry, and his lab explodes. If that sounds a bit familiar it’s because that is also the setup to Eric Chahi’s Another World (a.k.a. Out Of This World). But beyond the initial intro, it is a completely different narrative than that game’s. You’ll meet other characters while heading back, and forth through areas who give you a little bit of back story. But they also don’t spell everything out for you either. Your character asks questions, tries to figure out where he is, and in the process some key things are revealed. But the details are kept vague. Not everything is revealed, even when you finish the game. But the characters do get enough development that you can at least get behind them, and they are memorable. Notably the giant mechanical beings you’re introduced to. All of them become more important toward the end of the final act.
That said, the story isn’t the strongest part of the game. Although it is told better than many game stories. Still, you’ll see a lot of inspiration from stories you’ve seen in other mediums. But like the game it writes a love letter to, it lets the gameplay tell the bulk of the story, and it’s better for it. You can take your time, and try to really find every possible item, or secret. You can try to rush through to the end as fast as possible. In fact, Axiom Verge even has a speed run mode. Of course, choosing it shuts off one of the really cool features in the game.
The boss fights are another area where the game really excels The sprite scaling does a wonderful job of showing you the scope of any given battle, while throwing you into a situation where you have to act fast. But in doing so you have to analyze the situation. “Do I have the right tools for this fight?” “Is there a discernible pattern?” “Is there something in the background I should be paying attention to?” You’ll have a limited amount of time to ponder these questions because once you’re in a boss chamber it’s sink or swim.
Not only does the game have a large number of areas to explore, there are secret areas beyond those. These areas actually kind of screw with your mind a bit, because of a really cool set of visual effects. When you get near one of these areas, the game’s graphics will suddenly add scan lines much like you’d find playing old games on a 30-year-old standard definition television set. Get a little closer to find the brightness, and contrast will change. Actually go into one of these areas, and things can even become a bit surreal. Moreover going into these areas usually hides an item or a power up you’ll probably want.
Interestingly, the game will increase the number of these secret areas depending on the difficulty you choose to play, with the easiest setting giving you the fewest, and the hardest setting giving you the most. Do note if you play the speed run mode you can’t get into any of these areas when playing that mode. Speaking of the graphics, these are some of the nicest retro-themed visuals of their type. They’re on par with games like Shovel Knight most of the time, and sometimes even exceeds them. But where it really stands out, are some of the eerie character, and object designs. They both clash, and fit in with the rest of the game’s art style. It looks really good.
The visual cues of the secret areas, also tie into the game’s story somewhat. Over the course of the game these secret areas, and even some normal areas will be blocked by garbled graphics. These look comparable to what you’d see on your television if you put in a dirty cartridge into an old game system. At some point you can find a power up that lets you clean up these graphics, in order to enter these areas. it ties into one of the details of the story too. If you do find yourself really invested in the storyline, there are also a number of journal entries, and logs hidden throughout the game as well.
The game also has an amazing soundtrack, with a lot of different influences felt throughout the game. Like Metroid, each of the areas in Axiom Verge have their own particular background music. You’ll hear Industrial Synth in one section. New Wave in another, Electronic Tribal in yet another, Synth Pop in yet another, and so on. Most of this music is very memorable too. Even though much of it is ambient, fitting the scope of the game’s world, you may find yourself hearing it hours later. In your mind, as an ear worm on loop. If you find you really enjoy the music, you can purchase the soundtrack as well.
There is an immense level of replay value here. With over 20 weapons, items, data logs, you’re probably not going to see everything on your first play through. Between these, and the secret areas in the game you can easily spend days playing it before finding everything. Then factor in the speed run challenge, and that’s even more play time.
But the most impressive thing about the game is that it was all made by one person in their spare time. Thomas Happ deserves all of the praise he has received for this game. It is an amazing feat when one considers how much is crammed into this 175 megabyte folder. To put that into perspective, Super Metroid had at least ten people working on it. Sure, one could argue it’s easier now to make a game like this than it was in 1994, But the amount of effort, and care put into this title really shows.
I really couldn’t find much fault with anything during my play through. Sure the story borrows from other tales a bit. But it isn’t a bad story. It might be a Metroid clone, but it’s a damn good Metroid clone. One that frankly still does plenty enough to set itself apart from Metroid. Functionally, I never had a crash, everything performed well, and I never saw a glitch in nearly 16 hours of play time. The PC version also has some basic options that can be toggled if you have a fairly old computer.
Axiom Verge really does live up to the lofty praise it has gotten. It’s simply a must play game whether you choose to play it on a PlayStation 4 or a computer. The game is also coming soon to the Wii U with some enhancements for the game pad. This is a game that I highly recommend you pick up. It’s interesting, fun, and will keep you busy for a while.
Final Score: 10/10