Axiom Verge from Thomas Happ Games is another example of a developer going back to the days of the NES for inspiration and aesthetics. While it may look similar to the classic Metroid, Axiom Verge is a game all its own and gets really close to metroidvania greatness.
The story of Axiom Verge is that you are running a science experiment when as if by clockwork, things go wrong and you find yourself transported to an alien planet that is under attack. The environment seems to be pulsating with life and your only guide are the remaining guardians of the place.
Axiom Verge as you can tell my screenshots is definitely reminiscent of Metroid; from the level designs to the alien aesthetic. At the start, your only weapon will be a living gun, but you’ll soon find a variety of upgrades to it and yourself. Just like any good Metroidvania-styled game, Axiom Verge is all about that growth from beginning to end in how you change based on the upgrades.
To the game’s credit, there are a lot of upgrades here and you’ll find that most of them have secondary purposes and usefulness besides the “key” they represent to get to the next area. One twist that Axiom Verge has is that you get a special item early on that lets you alter certain environments and enemies; transforming them into something different. You’ll quickly get several different ways of attacking enemies and it’s up to you to figure out the best means to quickly kill them.
Credit also has to be given to the soundtrack and aesthetic design. Similar to Odallus, Axiom Verge looks like a classic NES game, but old school gamers can tell the higher quality in terms of the pixel aesthetic present.
The music is all original, yet it still manages to bring back memories of classic games.
From a design perspective, it’s amazing how much originality Axiom Verge has in terms of its Metroidvania exploration. Usually in these classic games, I can find elements of the design and mechanics that are homage’s to classic games; with Axiom Verge, there isn’t much with exception to the overall look.
As another classic throwback, Axiom Verge is a great game, but it’s just slightly lacking in one area that prevents it from achieving the same level of greatness that Shovel Knight and Odallus did.
Level design is very important in Metroidvania games: The world has to flow in a way that makes logical sense and guides the player, while still providing hidden avenues and secret paths for the people who want to find it all. Axiom Verge’s level design is perhaps the weakest element of the game; the problem is twofold. First, every area that takes place inside the alien planet looks very similar to each other.
The actual layouts of each area lack the unique feel or memorable design that we saw in classic games like Symphony of the Night or Super Metroid; even recent games like the as mentioned Shovel Knight and Odallus. It started to feel like the areas were blurring together without something to distinguish one from another.
The second problem and one that is up for the debate is the amount of backtracking required in Axiom Verge. Backtracking is always important in Metroidvania-styled games: Once you find a new mechanic or item, you want to see what it unlocks.
Here, there were many times where after finding an item, all forward momentum ground to a halt as I had to go back and remember where the item would be used. While the game does let you place marks on the map, you can’t specify what kind of upgrade you were missing.
Expect to spend a lot of time backtracking and fighting the same enemies over and over again, looking for that one path that you missed. There are also tons of upgrades to find which can become very important for bosses and later enemies; further requiring you to go back and forth. During the time I spent with the game, I did not find the option to fast travel, but something like that available from the start would have done a lot to reduce the amount of time spent backtracking.
Axiom Verge is a great game and while it doesn’t reach the same heights of combining old and new design that Odallus and Shovel Knight did, it still comes really close. For fans of Metroidvania looking for another world to explore, you’ll be right at home in this alien land. For more on Axiom Verge, you can check out the spotlight video I made for it.