Axiom Verge (Available on PC, PS4, Vita, Wii U, and Xbox One)
ESRB Rating : T
Number of Players: 1
Publisher: Thomas Happ Games
Developer: Thomas Happ Games
Release Date: Sept. 1, 2016 (Wii U), all other versions released in 2015 or earlier in 2016.
Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Axiom Verge T for teen because of violence, language, and blood. Axiom Verge is a 2D Metroidvania-style action game that is about as graphic as Super Metroid was back on the SNES. If I was a kid I would certainly have a lot of fun with this game and there’s nothing featured here that’s too over the top. The problem would be some of the gameplay mechanics may be a little over the comprehension level of very young children.
Plays Like: The core Metroidvania gameplay of Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is what Axiom Verge was built upon. This means you traverse a 2D massive open world with the only limiting factor being some new weapon or ability. Once you get said piece of gear you can backtrack to previously explored areas to delve deeper into them.
Review Basis: I finished the Wii U version of the game.
Axiom Verge is a very special game in that it was developed by one individual, Thomas Happ. He was the sole artist, musician, programmer, and developer of the game. That is one impressive feat. While the game suffered several delays during its development cycle, I’m very pleased to say the end product is outstanding. If you enjoy Metroidvania-style action adventure games, this is one you most certainly don’t want to miss.
What makes Axiom Verge such a unique experience is that it takes the concept of videogame glitches and bugs, and makes that its core premise. You take on the role of Trace, a scientist that is working on an experiment when suddenly something goes horribly wrong. Sound familiar? The next minute the lab explodes seemingly killing everyone inside, except a few moments later Trace wakes up in what appears to be another world or inside some giant computer construct of some kind. At the onset you’re not given any hint as to what’s going on, which acts as a great incentive to keep playing, and it works superbly well. I found myself glued to the screen for hours at a time.
If the story weren’t enough to keep you going, the absolutely killer gameplay is. The basic concept works as you would imagine, you move around a large open world, that’s broken up into key areas. In order to progress further in these areas you need certain abilities or pieces of equipment. This means there’s a ton of backtracking involved, but it’s the good kind of backtracking, as you’re always having fun.
Weapons are really unique in Axiom Verge. At first you have your standard hand gun, but before long you’ll find a weapon that shoots out one projectile but can be triggered to explore thereby sending out five or six other tiny projectile attacks in every direction. There’s a tri-shot, an electrical charge shot, and more.
On top of weapons you can also expect to get some useful power-ups that allow you to jump higher, access to a drone which can crawl through tiny areas, a power drill which allows you to break down blocks, and the single most important piece of equipment in the game, the glitch gun. The glitch gun, which likely had another name, can be used to fix glitches in the game. This not only allows you to access new areas, but the weapon can also be used on enemies, transforming them into something else. Some enemies will transform into creatures that can break blocks, thereby granting you access to secrets, others will simply become easier versions of enemies to defeat. The really neat ones actually do something useful to help you. One enemy in particular will constantly shoot out these bug type enemies at you, but if you glitch it, it start shoot health at you. Little touches like this make Axiom Verge completely unique.
There are a plethora of secrets everywhere in the game. This is a staple of the genre, but here it goes much further. You can gain access to entire maps that are glitched and in black and white, and while this may only lead you to a weapon power-up, a new health extension, or something else minimalistic, each upgrade helps.
Boss battles are fantastic, and while none of them are overly challenging, they add a nice layer of new gameplay obstacles for you to overcome. There is one boss in particular that is so massive the screen pulls way back so that your character is about half the size he normally is. You then have to use platforms to dodge incoming attacks, and even use the glitch gun to create new platforms when you have to shoot him in specific spots.
The audio visual presentation is fantastic. I’d say it’s right up there with Shovel Knight as it’s a retro-inspired videogame that actually looks the part. This feels like an NES game even though the controls are about ten times tighter and more responsive. All the little details in the sprites are outstanding, and games like this really make me long for the 2D era. I miss these types of games and graphics. The soundtrack is also excellent and helps keep players feeling isolated and cautious.
Lastly we come to the Wii U specific elements. Having played through the Wii U version for this review, I can easily say this is the best version of the game hands down because of one element, the Wii U GamePad. Having access to the interactive map on the GamePad, plus selectable gun icons makes gameplay that much better. Sure there’s also off-screen mode if you’re so inclined, but it’s having the map on the bottom screen that works just so well. The same was true on the Nintendo DS with the Castlevania games. Having that second screen is perfect for these types of games.
Axiom Verge is an excellent videogame, and the fact it was made by one individual is incredible. I had an absolute blast with it, and can’t recommend it enough. It’s available on a wide assortment of platforms so take your pick, but if you do own a Wii U I suggest you go with that version because the GamePad makes a world of difference.
Final Score: 9.2/10