Axiom Verge is a fantastic Metroidvania that can stand tall amongst the competition in the genre (and there’s plenty). Over the last few years, many stand out game of the year contenders have been Metroidvania titles, and Axiom Verge is among the best.
We start the game with our hero, Trace, who’s experimenting in his lab. The experiment, unfortunately, goes wrong, as they often do in these situations, and there’s an explosion. Trace wakes up in a strange new environment, not knowing where he is with little clues in a dark, dank world. The only thing accompanying Trace is a strange voice which guides him. Has Trace been killed or teleported to a strange new world? Axiom Verge keeps you guessing from the start and provides you with that motivation to keep playing and finding out.
There’s a sense of speed and urgency to the gameplay. The controls are slick and responsive and the game feels fast, more so than it’s genre counterparts. When you start the game you have a standard issue weapon, but as you play you discover more weapons quickly and your power increases exponentially. The array of guns available to the player is great and provides many ways to play the game. There are long-range and short-range weapons – all of which are upgradable with stats like range, damage and ammo size.
As well as the action in the game there’s a certain amount of exploration too. Every room you enter there are new enemies to kill, new items to find and secrets to find. As you clear out rooms of enemies you get map markers added to your screen allowing you to keep track of where you’ve been on the map. More often than not in Metroidvania games, you’ll explore, hit a big wall and then have to find a way around it (or perhaps a tool that will get you through it). Axiom Verge promotes this sense of exploration and guides you with an invisible hand to the next area with skill.
One of the early weapons in the game is a gun that allows you to stabilise and destabilise the environment and objects. Use it against the environment and you may reveal a secret room, hit an enemy with it and they may be easier to kill (or harder if you’re unlucky). It provides a random element to the game which keeps you on your toes and keeps you guessing but always makes the gameplay fun. There are drills, guns and projectiles but also weapons that allow you to interact with the environment in interesting new ways. The weapons and upgrades are plentiful and there’s an array of power-ups and items that affect health, jump abilities and damage. Each new ability and power boost helps you crack the puzzle, or hit the switch that allows you to progress to the next area.
Boss battles are a highlight in the game with big set pieces that challenge you. Learning the attack patterns of the bosses is key to each encounter. The game is fairly forgiving when it comes to dying. There’s plenty of regular save points and when you die you head back to the most recent checkpoint. You don’t lose your items when you die either, which is a nice trait. This isn’t to say the game is a cake-walk because it most certainly isn’t. As you progress through the game it gets tougher, enticing you to play more. Together with the story beats Axiom Verge does a great job of motivating you to keep on playing with mechanics progressing you through the levels.
The graphics and sound hark back to the great games of the 80s and 90s with pixel art, a colour palette which is true to the restrictions of the era and excellent chiptune audio. The game was made entirely by a single pair of hand, belonging to Tom Happ. You can see the care, attention and hard work that’s been poured into the game. Not only the graphics and game design but also music too…
In summary Axiom Verge is a great addition to the indie Metroidvania genre with great weapons, fast movement and the boss battles are fun and rewarding. The game is available on nearly every platform that can play video games. Although I played on PC, the game would entirely be at home on Nintendo Switch allowing you to play on the move. If you enjoy indie games then this is a must buy.
Developer: Tom Happ Games LLC
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Release Date: 31st March 2015