Axiom Verge is old school gaming fun without the controller breaking rage, a modern metroidvania game that evolves gameplay while recalling the fun of old school gaming.
Tom Happ, the developer, drew upon the memories of early games to create a masterpiece. The art and music direction are referential while still being unique. Nonetheless though, the true star of Axiom Verge is its gameplay.
A massive virtual playground waiting for you to pick up a weapon and start shooting, the super fun gameplay based on traditional games with a modern twist is highly addicting and satisfying. Axiom Verge takes old school gaming to a new level while maintaining the genre’s core.
Right off the bat the soundtrack and art style must be discussed, because both are amazing and create such a strong ambiance. Level design and color scheme immediately stir nostalgia as well, with a brightly colored 2D world ready to be explored.
The levels oscillate between cold mechanical backdrops to a seething biomass, and sometimes a disturbing mixture of both, and color schemes pleasantly shift with the area design in a thoughtful manner. The soundtrack likewise follows the pattern established to further immerse the player. Made from chiptunes, Axiom Verge’s music is more than old, cheesy beeps; it actually heightens the eerie science fiction setting, sounding both haunting and invigorating. When experienced all together, the combination is phenomenal and creates a new world reminiscent of past games. But while the style and aesthetics of Axiom Verge grabbed my initial attention, the gameplay kept it.
Gameplay is about exploiting the enemies and weapons limitations and range. It isn’t about how powerful the weapon is, but how can you position yourself so it isn’t even a fight. Not to say there aren’t challenging moments that require skill and patience to get through because there is plenty of that; however, the approach to each enemy is to find the weak point and then figure out which weapon works best.
The plethora of weapons is not simply for variety’s sake either. Different weapons are more appropriate for specific areas or enemies, requiring frequent transitions between them. As Axiom Verge progresses, you will have to combine more skills and abilities together in order to continue on. The developer expertly incorporated the catalog of weapons so that while you may have a favorite, it can’t be the only weapon you use. The game is about exploring, and weapons are a major part of that.
Gameplay is challenging without being or feeling impossible. Axiom Verge is old school hard, but with modern convenience in that all progress is saved upon death. The only setback upon your character getting killed is respawning at your last save point, which is rarely an issue either, due to the game’s strategic layout.
Enemies scale well with each area along with weapons and upgrades too. Extremely difficult areas signal that I missed one of those items or upgrades, rather than inability or bad game design. The game compels you to explore every area and manipulate your surroundings in order to reveal all the map’s secrets. The satisfaction from discovering new pathways or items thrills as well as compels you to continue exploring every inch of the game.
Gameplay is king here, true, but it is helped along by a great story. Trace, the main character, somehow ends up in this bio-mech world and works with Elsenova, a giant robot-like humanoid. Together you try to save Elsenova’s world and people so Trace can get back to Earth. The story unravels in unexpected turns that raise intriguing questions about this world’s reality. It’s a compelling story that works with the game instead of hijacking it or falling to the background.
Even with all those good points, there are some negatives. Chiefly among them is that Axiom Verge relies a little too much at times on its genre, without providing much direction. Based on old-school gameplay and style, Happ made this game with metroidvania and early era gaming fans in mind.
Those unfamiliar or lacking experience with the metroidvania games or yesteryear will find this game difficult at times. Initially, progression is straightforward, but once you have to return to previously explored areas with new abilities and weapons, things can quickly fall apart.
Although, it wasn’t until the end of the game that this really became an issue. It is not impossible and the map isn’t so big that going through the areas is too tedious; nonetheless though, it can be discouraging for the uninitiated. Not impossible though, and if you can stick with Axiom Verge, it is well worth the dedication. It’s target audience is specific, but this is a game that can definitely be enjoyed by fans of all genres.
If you can put up with the meandering parts of Axiom Verge, it will quickly become your favorite game. A great combination of gameplay, story, and art and music direction make this one of the top games so far this year. Challenging gameplay harkening back to Metroid and Castlevania, and Axiom Verge is encouragingly difficult, one of those games that motivates you to push through rather than give up.
The amazing level design is a part of that and is only further complimented by the art direction and soundtrack. It’s a must play for those endeared to old school gaming, as well as any who are new to the genre.