Thoughts on: Axiom Verge

Axiom Verge. Super Gigeroid

A lot of people seem to call this game a love letter to “metroidvania”, and I can’t fault them for that. This is one person’s attempt to create a truly modern 2D Metroid-like game, using all the lessons learned from the best of the best in genre and adding new elements, that weren’t tried in the genre before. This game has exciting exploration, varied locales, fantastic soundtrack, unique visuals that mix old-school 8bit and 16bit era art with subtle modern effects, surprisingly good challenge for the most part and a very interesting atmosphere that can probably be summarized as “sci-fi adventure as if Another World/Out of This World was designed by H.R. Giger”.

It’s not without flaws or questionable decisions. Challenge in the opening parts, before some upgrades, feels higher than you’d expect from a Metroid-like game, with action not being tight enough to justify that. Boss battles look great, but only 2 actually feel fun to play, with most others just being “shoot shoot shoot die already it’s getting annoying shoot shoot” deals. Game features some random elements in the way of “Secret Worlds”, which, in concept, are cool, but make the “exploration” part of the genre most loved for it, a bit less rewarding, because the areas are random and you have no chance of getting everything in one run. Some of the navigation moves just feel clunky to pull off, especially the very important one, that requires directional double-tap – most of the run-and-shoot actually plays better with an analogue stick, but these are very hard to pull off and are frustrating even on a d-pad, no matter what gamepad you use. And finally, the story and dialogue feel rather averagely written, which is sad simply because the setup and situations they show are actually very interesting. So, story, while often predictable, is exciting to experience and the world lore is out there to be found, but both are just told in a very mediocre way.

Axiom Verge. Super Gigeroid

That said, the game is still fantastic, especially due to its innovation in treating death more like a… well, Souls game, I guess will be the most understandable comparison. That is – death does bring you back to the last save room you used, but you keep all the unlocked map squares, items and everything that is permanently done (like killing a boss or triggering a cutscene) stays done. This, along with the idea that enemies do not respawn immediately after leaving the room and instead after you move two rooms away, makes exploration so much more fun, while not simplifying the rules to the point, where it gets boring.
One of the best recent games in genre which, while probably isn’t as full of awesomeness as La-Mulana or Aquaria, still feels like a solid “proper full game” that you’d get full priced 15 years ago and love it. A real treat for anyone who wants to explore some amazing worlds in Metroid style.

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