|Genre:||Action / Metroidvania|
|Developer:||Thomas Happ Games|
|Publisher:||Thomas Happ Games|
Axiom Verge is one of those games that is so highly regarded by many gamers that I always boot them up skeptically. I bought this game during one of the many Nintendo eShop sales, so while the “risks” were low in terms of investment in money, I did have to invest some time into this game to see if it’s really as good as I hoped it would be. Granted, I’m very late to the party, seeing as the game originally released in 2015, but wasn’t released on the Switch until October 2017. Yet, here we are in 2022, five years later. So, does this game hold up? Let’s dive right in!
Gameplay & Graphics
One thing that’s immediately clear on playing the game is that Thomas Happ has taken great inspiration from the 8-Bit era of games and the game looks a lot like the classic Metroid, in terms of look and level design. The colour pallet does seem to be broader, however and the music is definitely not on the same limited level as the NES was. A lot of graphical elements wouldn’t be possible on the NES either, but everything is immediately recognizable to people who have played Metroid and similar games from the NES era.
Gameplay wise the control are smooth and straightforward. Seeing as the game is a Metroidvania title, we see classic elements like backtracking, a large world map that is divided into areas and you’re continually searching for the next boss, to get another upgrade and collecting many smaller upgrades along the way as you progress through the world. One other element that this game has adopted is that the game doesn’t take you by the hand, but expects you to find your way yourself. While this could be seen as a good thing, I often had to look up guides because I had no clue where I had to go next, or I knew where I was supposed to go, but had no idea how to get there. Usually these segments involved timed jumping and other methods that seemed counterintuitive to me, but ended up being the correct way to progress.
The gameplay overall is quite good, but there were a couple of things that really bothered me and one of them almost caused me to quit te game altogether and that’s the grappling hook. It took me a long time to figure out how it works exactly, because when you swing there’s no upward momentum and you basically just drop down. I absolutely hated the segments where you were forced to use this item and it’s one of my key reasons never to play this game again. Am I glad I finished the game? Yes, it was a worthwhile experience. And although the game offers randomized runs, speed runs and a lot of replayability, I just don’t think I care enough for them to play this game for another run.
Another thing that quite bothered me was that power-ups in say, Metroid are always highlighted on the map, so you can easily see where they are and know where to backtrack if you can finally access new areas because of a new power-up you got. Axiom Verge allows you to mark the map instead, but this felt like a downgrade from what I’m used to. Maybe I’m just spoiled, but I really like these quality of life aspects that Metroid and other titles do offer.
The boss fights weren’t all that hard either, but do offer a challenge. Most of them involved learning the boss’ move set and anticipating their moves, while some just allowed you to stand somewhere and shoot without barely getting hit. Another thing that quite bothered me as I progressed was that the game features a ton load of different weapons, but I ended up using only a preferred few. The sheer amount of weapons didn’t offer the significance you normally get when you attain a new weapon.
One of the game’s selling points is that the world the player finds themselves in is “glitched” and as such, you can often get to places by teleporting through walls, altering the levels with your weapon and progressing to previously unreachable places when you score upgrades. At the same time, because the game doesn’t tell you where to go next, you can get lost in the vastness of the world only to find out there was this really small thing you needed to reach in order to progress. I don’t think I could have completed the game without looking for guides online, which did bring back memories of old days, but also felt a bit outdated.
Music, story and atmosphere
Axiom Verge is a massive achievement in that this game was developed by just one person. Thomas Happ created all the graphics, music and programmed everything into this game and while this is very commendable, it also shows a bit. That’s not to say that this game is bad because it was made by only one person, far from it, in fact. But I do think some elements of the game could have been better if the game had been created by a team. One of the things I found the game lacking for instance was in the soundtrack department. A lot of the songs are atmospheric in nature and while this does suit the Metroid-y vibes of the game it also made it quite unremarkable and I didn’t find myself humming the tunes of the game, as I usually do when I’m really into a game. The soundtrack is definitely hit and miss and I think the game could have benefitted from having a dedicated musician to write the soundtrack. You can judge for yourself by checking the video below! Checking the comments on the video, I realize I may have an unpopular opinion on the soundtrack, but hey, we can’t all like the same things. 😉
When it comes to the story and atmosphere the game really manages to hit the right notes, however. The story focusses on Trace, the player character, who finds himself in a strange world after an accident in a lab where he works. The game constantly reminds the player that you’re in an unknown place and it’s up to you to fit the pieces together and find out where exactly you are and more importantly who you are. Notes are spread all across the different areas and give up bits of information about the world and the other characters in it.
What the soundtrack manages to do well, is set an atmosphere and maybe that’s what it really needs to be judged like. The game sounds can sometimes really get onto your nerves, just as the old NES games did, with a lot of repeated sounds, especially the ones when you hit an enemy with your weapons. But overall the atmosphere of the game is top notch and manages to have you feel like you’re in some unknown dimension between worlds, especially due to all the “glitches” in the graphics.
The fact that Axiom Verge was created by just one person makes this game a phenomenal achievement. I’m really glad I finally gave it a go and although the game didn’t quite meet my expectations overall, I’d definitely recommend this game to anyone looking for a good Metroidvania type game. It definitely has its flaws, but those can be overlooked with relative ease. For me, however, this won’t be a game I’ll replay every now and then. It’s just falls a bit short on some departments to make it a classic in my opinion. I do recognize all the love, attention and energy that’s been put into this game and that alone make it worth playing at least once.