Axiom Verge is an excellent 2D action-adventure game full of nostalgia for those familiar with the genre. The visuals are both retro and modern at the same time combining familiar 2D sprites with subtle touches of 3D and particle systems among the classic SNES style.
Developer: Tom Happ
Platform: PS4 (PS Vita w/ cross buy coming soon)
MonsterVine was supplied with a PS4 code for review
It is impossible to play Axiom Verge without making direct comparisons to Nintendo’s Metroid series. Every element of Axiom Verge is seemingly dripping with homage, to the point at which someone who doesn’t know any better would assume it is simply a new game within the Metroid universe.
Axiom Verge sets up a story revolving an accident at a laboratory in New Mexico which transports the main character, a scientist named Trace, to a strange land. This land has mysterious beings guiding Trace to help restore order to their world. The narrative is very mysterious and had me interested in the world, chomping at the bit for every clue I could find to learn more. Luckily the game has a good amount of collectibles that offer clues. Knowing which areas have these items, and how to get back to them once the right gear has been acquired can be difficult thanks to a frustrating map.
Maybe I have been spoiled by the in-game map systems of the modern games in this genre, but I found Axiom Verge’s map to be extremely frustrating. The layout and colors will be familiar to you if you have played a Metroid game, but the maps in Axiom Verge lack some very basic options that have been around since Super Metroid launched 21 years ago. Zoom options, barrier types (like green & pink doors in Super Metroid) and areas of interest are all missing from the map system. The area layouts are complicated in Axiom Verge and determining which areas are dead-ends and which have yet to be explored are only differentiated by a thin white line. I frequently overlooked an area that I needed to visit in order to progress the story, and this became an increasing issue as I approached the endgame. I frustratingly spent combined hours retreading previously explored areas trying to find a place that I knew I had seen before, but was unsure which unexplored section contained the next path. I appreciate not having my hand held with onscreen indicators constantly pestering me with an obvious objective marker, but having to carefully eye the map for the right place, spending a chunk of time travelling and then discovering it’s still the wrong. I like the forced exploration in Axiom Verge, I wish that finding my way around previously explored areas was more streamlined.
It wouldn’t be a proper side-scrolling, 2D action-adventure without plenty of upgrades, and Axiom Verge has plenty. By the end of my playthrough I had unlocked a dozen different weapons, each with a unique style and approach to tackle enemies. If you are having trouble getting through a certain type of enemy, try using a different weapon and remember to use all of your earned skills. Hidden among the variety of weapons and gear also are upgrades for projectile size, strength and range. These upgrades give a sense of power, and make the enemies from the beginning of the game a non-issue.
After couple of hours in, Axiom Verge makes things clear through gameplay: This isn’t a Metroid game. To see Axiom Verge to the end you are going to need to approach situations with different tactics.
These different tactics required come into play once Trace gets access to specific set of upgrades that let him alter the world around him. For the lack of a better term, Trace is equipped with glitch ray that interacts with the environment and modifies enemies.
There are critical exploration moments that come into play that require these glitching abilities. Take this as an example: A ground like mushroom is blasting spore like enemies into the air. They float upwards to adjacent platforms which are triple the height of Trace’s jumping ability. Touching these spores causes damage, and Trace to fall down. After blasting the spores with the glitch gun they become neutralized, floating platforms with a new glitched art style which Trace can ride up to his destination.
The glitch gun reacts differently to each enemy. In some cases it increases the hit-box of smaller enemies making them easier to destroy, while in other cases it makes larger enemies more agitated with a smaller hit-box. I found poking and prodding the systems a lot of fun, and accidentally found my way into some secret areas by glitching the enemies around me. In addition to the glitch gun, Trace also gets the ability to glitch his way through walls opening up new ways to approach previous areas and allowing access to new zones I had been previously clueless as to how to explore.
These mechanics are new and exciting. The further I progressed, the more creative and powerful I felt when successfully solving the exploration puzzles through designed glitching.
The Final Word
I have been waiting, and craving a game like Axiom Verge and it delivers in almost every way. The glitch style gear and weapons had me rethinking how I play as I progressed and delivered a strong sense of pride when I discovered a new technique. Despite the frustrating map system, I loved being in the world that Tom Happ created and the mysterious story it is wrapped in. If you like 2D Metroid games you are sure to enjoy Axiom Verge, even though it does have you over exploring familiar territory.
– MonsterVine Rating: 4.5 out of 5 – Great