Step aside Samus; it's Trace's turn to explore an alien world. Axiom Verge is an exploration-based platform shooter that has captured the attention of retro gamers everywhere. However, is it worth leaving Zebes and exploring yet another unfamiliar planet?
Axiom Verge follows the story of a scientist named Trace. After an unfortunate incident that destroys his lab with him inside, he dies. But, his life isn't over since he wakes up in a mysterious world in which colossal beings help him traverse. Many twists ensue which either will compel you to unravel more of the plot or simply give up trying to understand so you can focus on the gameplay.
Visually, it's difficult to pin Axiom Verge to an era. As a widely considered 16-bit experience, it actually doesn't look as good as one. It's definitely a step up from the 8-bit era, so it's probably 10 or 12-bit (if that makes any sense). To clarify, some parts look 8-bit while some look 16-bit, but other aspects couldn't be handled by either generation. In the end, it accomplishes its own visual style that's a hodgepodge of various retro-inspired components. Environments that you explore mostly look the same and as a result start to become dull and tedious after a while. That being said, there are a handful of fantastic looking (albeit brief) areas that feature beautiful multilayered backgrounds. The soundtrack is composed of low-frequency sweeping bass effects with odd keyboard arrangements overlaid. It's neither atmospheric nor catchy which suits the peculiar vibe well, but it eventually becomes as monotonous as the environments themselves. Overall, it's difficult to fit Axiom Verge into a specific category since it's presented in a rather uniquely quirky fashion.
As a side note, it should be mentioned how similar Axiom Verge is to Metroid. Many enemies, environments, and playable sequences seem like they're shamelessly lifted straight from a Metroid game. Without giving too much away, I found this unsettling because it's acceptable to be inspired by or make references to other works, but to borrow this heavily from something is a bit too brazen.
Controlling Trace is easy for the most part. You start off only able to run, jump, and shoot, but you quickly grow a vast arsenal of weaponry and abilities. Eventually, you can perform moves such as warp through walls, summon a helper drone, drill through blocks, and last but not least be able to both distort and repair graphical glitches. Almost every conceivable control is mapped to its own button. Even though you can freely change which actions are mapped to which buttons, there are still a lot of controls to memorize. This often becomes problematic because you don't use all of the abilities regularly so it's easy to forget some commands from time to time. Dashing is executed by tapping twice in any direction. This means that you'll dash accidentally on occasion (especially if you're playing with the analog stick) thus potentially putting your life in peril. While navigating the area maps in the menu, you cycle through them in an arbitrary order which makes trying to wrap your head around how to travel between adjacent maps incredibly frustrating. Don't get me wrong, the controls are responsive and satisfying, but at times can be cumbersome and irritating.
Axiom Verge's wide assortment of weapons and abilities are satisfying to experiment with and master. Being able to effectively navigate tough platforming segments while you pick the best weapon to take out an army of foes is extremely rewarding, particularly after your arsenal has built up substantially. This feels especially pleasurable if you're looking for a challenge since Axiom Verge has you covered with a high degree of difficulty. Nothing is insurmountable yet accomplishing seemingly impossible feats will make you fist-pump with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. It may be a challenge in itself to merely figure out where to go next within the massive game world, but as you explore you'll uncover previously inaccessible treasures that'll actually make you happy to be lost. You might encounter a few situations where your patience wears thin and exploring ceases to be enjoyable, but you'll be compelled enough to keep moving ahead once you inevitably discover how to progress.
When it comes to exploration-based platformers, Axiom Verge offers a solid gaming experience that you won't regret partaking in. Although it may not look or sound spectacular, the vast game world, massive collection of weaponry and special abilities, and intense old-school challenge will surely reward you for your patience and skills.
- + Large game world that's full of incentives to explore and backtrack
- + Diverse assortment of weapons and moves
- + Satisfying old-school level of challenge
- - Mostly dull environments and soundtrack
- - Various irritating control issues
- - Too similar to Metroid and not nearly as enjoyable or fulfilling