After appearing on just about every other available platform, including Mac OS and Linux, the critically acclaimed 'Metroidvania' title Axiom Verge
finally makes its way onto the Xbox One. It's quite an achievement considering that it is all the hard work of a single-man enterprise, Thomas Happ. He is the developer, artist, and musician for the title; given the eponymous name of the publisher, he probably does that too. It's said that hard work reaps its own rewards and his diligence and dedication to the genre have paid off. Happ has delivered a modern day, retro-style, metroidvania game that is a classic addition to an already classic genre. If you're a fan of the genre then this is a must-have addition to your library.
The player takes on the role of the scientist, Trace, who discovers and crosses a breach between worlds, arriving at the gateway world of Sudra. Unsurprisingly, not everything is as it should be and Trace agrees to help out the inhabitants of the world, saving the planet. The story continues to unfold in the form of dialogue between the characters and notes that are hidden throughout the world. It's not the most straightforward of tales and comes with a twist. Unfortunately, over the course of title and the multiple traversals throughout the world, the story can get a little lost as the player focuses more on the game world around him.
Happily, good gameplay doesn't age and Axiom Verge
captures all of the elements of the metroidvania genre brilliantly, remaining true to the classic ideals whilst adding a few twists of its own. Games in this genre are generally platforming games that scroll both vertically and horizontally as the player goes from screen to screen, exploring the world around them. Each screen is considered an adjoining 'room' in the parlance of the genre and Axiom Verge
has just under 1000 of these to discover, some of which are secret. Not all of the rooms are immediately accessible and some can only be reached by using special power-ups, items or skills. The player has to work through all of the open areas in the world, defeating various enemies -- over 80 in the title -- whilst trying to locate all of the various weapons, tools and upgrades that are necessary to move on.
The title features over 40 weapons and tools and has almost 100 upgrades. Some of the are essential to progress and locating all of them is a challenge. Initially starting with a simple drill to open up new areas, the player later discovers a remote drone that introduces a new set of puzzles and challenges, as well as a disruptor to alter the so-called glitches in the world. First encounters with the glitches can make you think that there is a problem with the title as the graphics on the screen appear and disappear in a confusion of blocky pixels, but this isn't the case. In one level the glitches became rocks through which we could drill, while elsewhere they became additional platform elements that could be used to climb higher in the level. It's a neat little trick from the title that sometimes requires a combination of tools to advance.
Advancement might be misleading to some new players, however. Making progress is not limited to heading in one direction and with such a big world at the player's disposal, it becomes a challenge simply trying to remember the location of some of the previously closed off areas and what was needed to get past the blockade. The game provides a map that reveals previously discovered rooms as squares and allows the player to drop two markers on the map, but that is all. There is no legend or clue to what the rooms held. The combination of platforming and remembering previously visited locations means that the game becomes a challenge of both manual and mental dexterity.
The traversal through the world is a key element of all titles in the genre. As enemies respawn when the player revisits a room, crossing backwards and forwards can sometimes feel like a chore. The only exception to this is the bosses, who thankfully remain defeated. Some titles do include fast-travel between areas, but Axiom Verge
sadly doesn't -- possibly the only flaw in the title -- meaning that the player will be continually going from screen to screen and repeating encounters. Despite this, facing old enemies with a new weapon in your arsenal can be fun.
The boss fights, of which there are seven, are cleverly distributed throughout the title and will generally only be reached once the player has acquired the correct weaponry to defeat them. The fights themselves become increasingly difficult, but once their attack pattern has been worked out then there is a vulnerability to exploit, although it might cost a few player deaths to arrive at that point. Fortunately, there is no punishment for dying and the player will simply respawn at the last save point, an egg shaped object, of which there is usually one close to the boss room.
It is the exploration, the discovery of new items, tools, weapons and skills, that makes the game so compelling. It's the discovery of something new that provides a eureka moment for the player, the realisation that a particular item might be the key to a particular puzzle or the opening up of a new area of the map. The pacing throughout the levels, the puzzles, and the location of items keeps the player engaged and challenges them to go further. The level design is clever, too, providing tantalising glimpses of room exits that are just out of reach and are hidden by glitches, thin walls or overly high jumps. You make a note of the point and move on, knowing that the solution is somewhere ahead of you and that you will be able to come back and get past the obstacle. It's the key part of any metroidvania title and Axiom Verge
does it brilliantly.
Inevitably, the graphics also stand out initially. Happ has adopted the artistry from those early days of console gaming, those same days that gave birth to the genre. It's full-on and uncompromising in its artistic direction, not only in the sprites and pixels but also in the colour palette. In some respects it's a brave decision to go so all-out retro. Some players will enjoy the nostalgic feel, although others may not and may well feel that the game looks too aged with its pixelated sprite-based characters. The sound also stays true to the artistic direction of the game and maintains the retro vibe -- it's the perfect compliment to the graphical style. Sound effects are limited to certain soundboards and remain characteristic to the era from which they are supposed to originate. The music is an audible retro experience that adds to the character of the title, too, although after a particularly long session it can become a little too much.
With such simplistic graphics and audio, there are no performance issues and the responses from the game's controls are as quick as the game demands. This is essential for those who feel like trying a speedrun through the game. For those attempting such an endeavour, the game keeps track of the times for the different areas of the map and encourages players to improve on their own performance. This is the only concession to today's gaming -- the title is strictly singleplayer only although there is additional replay value. The game features alternate endings depending on how you play through the campaign. There is also a special speedrun mode that strips back the animations and story, allowing the player to concentrate purely on their times.
Naturally for the explorers in the community, there is always the challenge of finding everything that the game has to offer, including a number of secret rooms. This is no mean feat and will consume quite some time with traversing the map and revisiting a number of locations. There are 29 achievements in the title, most of which are related to progress, completion and an additional one for a speedrun of under 4 hours. The full completion seems to be around 16-17 hours, but that will depend largely on a player's skill and gaming style.
is a brilliant homage to the 'metroidvania' origins back in the 8-bit and 16-bit eras. Whilst the choice to be so uncompromising in its retro style might not suit everyone, the gameplay in the title remains compelling and manages to maintain that fine balance in the level of difficulty for being challenging for all players without becoming frustrating. Given that the title remains true to its roots and maintains all of the classic game elements, it's hard to find an actual fault with it other than its limited appeal and niche market; sadly some of the younger generation of gamers might not appreciate its classic style or nostalgia value. For the rest, it's simply a great metroidvania title. Fans of the genre who are looking for a title on the current generation of consoles need look no further -- Axiom Verge
has it all.
- Brilliantly encapsulates the Metroidvania sub-genre
- Nice nostalgic homage to the original 8- and 16-bit era
- Well balanced challenging gameplay
- No fast travel between locations
The reviewer spent nearly 10 hours glitching everything in sight (and a few things that were not in sight) while exploring the multitude of rooms and locations throughout the title. An Xbox One code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of review.