Axiom Verge wears its influences on its sleeve. As a retro-spirited Metroidvania action platformer there is little does that hasn’t been done before. But the game achieves what it sets out to do in a competent, if unremarkable, way. For old-school fans this is certainly worth your time, but it will do little for people who want something fresh and new added to the formula.
Right from the get-go Axiom Verge plays on your sense of nostalgia for the glory days of the Metroid series with the opening areas of game striking almost copyright-infringing levels of similarity. Right down to the goo that lines caverns to the platforms that ascend up the corridors, Axiom Verge sets its stall out early as a shot of nostalgia straight out of the 90s. This can been seen as a positive or negative depending on what the player wants from the game, and if that is simply to get small taste of the past then this shouldn’t be much of a concern. However, the game does little to justify its world in its own right, with an unremarkable, muted art-style that fails to inject personality into the place. It fails to bring distinct character to each individual area of the game – an issue in a game built around the idea of world exploration.
This is also not helped by the story, which consists of B-movie sci-fi concepts of alternate realities and sentient AI. The game does not overplay these elements and (as is to be expected of the genre) can be easily ignored for those disinterested. But the ambiguity and esoteric nature of the way the story is portrayed fails to give the player a fundamental purpose and any grounding to the world. The robots speak riddles and broken-English while trying to deliver lofty messages of other-worldliness which never quite come together in any satisfying way. This is juxtaposed with the seemingly out-of-place bluntness and attempted humour of the game’s protagonist.
However Axiom Verge does most of what it sets out to achieve fairly well and succeeds in delivering a core Metroidvania experience. These sort of games live or die by their pacing, as they have to find the right balance between rewarding exploration and creating a steady sense of progression. Axiom Verge manages this for the most part, except for a rather frustrating endgame which as well as ramping up the difficultly is also vague as to where you have to go. The geography of the world does help with this, as the locations of the different areas have a certain logic to them and wrap around on themselves whilst still remaining sectioned off enough to give a sense of progression. Players are aided by a kind of corridor area that they will find half-way through game where jumping on a floating head provides shortcuts to each of the areas. There is plenty to explore when you do get lost, and it is incredibly satisfying to work your way through previous areas of the game with new items and weapons that help find the plenty of collectables scattered about.
There is also a very simple but enjoyable combat system, with the player being rewarded with a large arsenal of weapons to chose from throughout the game. Picking up weapons and using the right one is key when it comes to some of the tricky boss fights that will come the players way. This is perhaps the one area of the genre that Axiom Verge has actually done a very job of updating, keeping the core foundation but improving on the variety of weapons available and the ease in switching between them.
Clearly the developers were aiming for a game that could be replayed multiple times and that players would become inspired by. The sheer amount of items available is staggering, and it is quite likely you will finish the game whilst only acquiring around half of them. Speed runs are also encouraged, and there is a hard mode available for any pseudo-masochists. These are nice inclusions for hardcore fans of the genre, but will only serve a niche community.
It is difficult to recommend Axiom Verge to anyone who isn’t already a fan of Metroidvania games, as everything that is done here been done elsewhere in a better and more memorable way. But for devout fans of this sort of style who just need a itch to be scratched, Axiom Verge is successful at providing some short-term relief.