The moment has arrived. The one man development team of Tom Happ has brought unto the world Axiom Verge, and it is good. I would go so far as to say great even! Axiom Verge lives and dies by giving gamers the classic style of play that was pioneered by games like Castlevania and, more prevalently, Super Metroid. It forgoes some of the more basic, and expected, hand-holding tropes of today’s game design in favor of letting the player figure out on their own (mostly) where to go and what to do. If you are the type that needs objective markers and fast travel, this game is not for you, but if you are an old school gamer, or someone simply looking for a rewarding challenge, then this game is the right fit.
The story in Axiom Verge is not really the focal point of the game, but it is there. You play as a scientist who, following a lab explosion, wakes up in a world that looks like Super Metroid was breast fed at the teat of H. R. Geiger. You are contacted by a resident of the world asking for your help to defeat an evil overlord. It’s a bit of a sci-fi cliche, but the point of this game isn’t the story. The narrative does help motivate you to keep, however.
The world of Axiom Verge is beautifully brought to life by the pixel-art style that is brimming with dark and ominous tones and colors of all kinds of varieties: ranging from closed in prison cell-like areas, to vast outdoor expanses. Each has their own unique style and each conveys a feeling of both adventure and dread. There is something sinister going on in this world, and you can’t help but play on and find out.
The music in Axiom Verge must be given the highest praise. I am not going to gush for pages and pages about it, but rather I will let it speak for itself.
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Before I talk about the gameplay, let me explain this particular old school genre of ‘Metroidvania’ to the uninitiated. It’s an action based game where, as you explore the map, you attain more power ups and weapons that let you explore further. Pretty basic in concept and has the potential to fall flat, as many games have in the past. The Metroid and Castlevania games, however, not only pioneered this style of game, but perfected it. Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night in particular are the shining examples of what a style of game like this has to offer. If you have not played those games yet, don’t feel like you have to in order to enjoy Axiom Verge. I myself have not played through much of either of those games, but here I am giving a glowing review of a love-letter to those titles.
What makes the gameplay and exploration in Axiom Verge so thrilling is how it subverts your expectations, even down to simple things. You see a wall you can’t get past? You might assume that you’ll get an upgrade to your drill power so you can bust through it. Wrong! You obtain a lab coat that lets you teleport short distances. Little touches like that are what set Axiom Verge apart from the pack.
One weapon in particular deserved special mention, and that is the Address Disrupter. You might have seen it referenced before as the ‘glitch gun.’ This weapon, that gets its own power boosts, is the hinge of the game. With it, you can alter certain parts of the world. Where you see a sprite flicker of a platform, you can bring it into existence. Are you up against a enemy that is too fast or is blocking the path? You can change its very nature and attack patterns with this weapon. It almost feels like you’re breaking the fourth wall at times, but in the most exciting ways.
Axiom Verge is a must play for any fans of old school gaming, or those just looking for a challenge in both platforming and puzzle skill. If nothing else, just take a moment to marvel at the fact that all that I have described, from the art to the gameplay and music, was made by one man! This is a full package artistic achievement that deserves your attention.