When playing a metroidvania game, it can be fun trying to figure out how much either Metroid or Castlevania influenced it. In the case of Axiom Verge, that is easy to see. The game is very clearly a love letter to classic Metroid games. From its aesthetic to gameplay, it is a well put together homage to the classic Nintendo series.
The game follows a scientist named Trace who is caught in a lab accident that renders him unconscious. When he comes to, he finds himself on a strange new world with no idea how he got there. Before long, he meets an AI and agrees to help it defeat a mad scientist that is up to no good. After this, the plot thickens quite a bit as Trace recovers some of the memories that he lost due to the accident.
Right from the get go, players can see parallels with the early 8-bit Metroids. Graphically, Axiom Verge went for the same sort of simplified pixel graphics. The detail is greater than that found in classic NES games, but doesn’t quite take things to a fidelity on par with the 16-bit era. Some of the monsters have a similar feel to those found in Nintendo’s classic series as well. That being said, the environments in the game are dripping personality. It’s really exciting venturing to new areas, as it’s hard not to be curious what they’ll be like.
The game’s bosses are also a sight to behold. They’re imposing figures that fill up much of the screen. This is something that was common during the 8 and 16-bit eras, but largely went away for a very long time. It’s nice to see this sort of thing come back in Axiom Verge. Boss fights should be epic, larger than life battles. That’s exactly what we get here.
As one explores the world of Axiom Verge, it’s easy to see that it is a very large place with lots to explore. There are plenty of branching paths and tucked away places beckoning at the player. It’s easy to start thinking about what they may hold. Will there be a new gadget? Maybe a boss is down that path?
Of course, often times it will not be possible to venture down those roads immediately. There will be some sort of barrier blocking it, or it will be a jump too high, or the path will be too tiny for Trace. These are all instances where one is quickly reminded that they are indeed playing a Metroidvania and will need to discover a key item in order to go down that road. Nevertheless, there are constant hints of new opportunities to explore that will entice the player onward.
While doing this, it becomes apparent that the game is a bit more combat-oriented than others in the genre. It has a bit more of a run-and-gun feel to it. There are a lot of enemies that would like nothing better than take down Trace. As such, he’ll be spending a lot of time blasting these things to pieces. He has a decent-sized rifle to start, and gains new types of shots as one progresses. From there it’s up to players to swap out weapon types as situations dictate.
Then there are the gadgets that give Trace new abilities. There are a bunch of these, such as a lab coat that allows Trace to pass through solid objects, as well as a nifty grappling hook. One particularly fun piece of kit that he gets is a little remote controlled drone. It’s a tiny robot that walks on four legs and has a laser for fighting enemies.
This little guy is used to enter areas too small for Trace. These can be simple corridors with a switch on the other side to open a door. Other times, it could lead to a series of rooms crawling with enemies ready to attack the drone. Usually, in this situation, there is some useful item at the end of all this. If the drone is destroyed, it de-materializes and players return to Trace. This doesn’t mean that the drone is gone forever, though. It can be redeployed, but players need to start all over again in the area they are trying to explore with it.
The game provides a good challenge. Players need to figure out where to go next, remembering old areas that may later be explorable. The sheer number of enemies and obstacles necessitate one being on their toes if they don’t want to get killed. Meanwhile, boss fights are extremely exciting not just because these things are so big, but they also have some interesting patterns for players to figure out.
With all of the Metroidvania games to come along in recent years, there is a lot to choose from currently. One needn’t fear choice paralysis, however. Axiom Verge is an excellent place to start when delving into these games. It’s easily one of the best of the bunch. The game offers tons of exploration coupled with fast-paced action. It has an interesting story with some nice twists. It’s graphics and sound are a nice homage to early Metroid games and other titles of the 8 and 16-bit era. The game just does so many things so very well. People interested in delving into the genre for a bit should seriously consider picking up Axiom Verge.