My experience with the “Metroidvania” genre are still fairly new, having only really played a bunch of Metroid a few years ago in my first Game A Week project. It didn’t click until Metroid Prime- the 3D Metroid, funnily enough. But since I played and finished that, I’ve been itching for more, going through most of the series in the following weeks.
Then Axiom Verge popped up on my radar. “It’s the closest thing we have to a new Metroid right now” a lot of people told me. It’s always been on my mind to play, but I never really had the chance to pick it up… until it came out on Switch. I bought it on a whim, it was then put on the pile of games that “I’ll get around to one day”. But then it came up on the poll, and I had no excuse.
So yeah, Metroidvania. If you’re not familiar with the term, let’s quickly run through that! Metroid and Castlevania pushed forward this sub-genre, characterised by platforming, exploring, and upgrading. Areas are locked off to you if you don’t have the required item to either remove an obstacle, or move around it. A lot of games treat it differently, but Axiom Verge feels very much like a Metroid game.
What blew me away, was just how many weapons and upgrades there are. I didn’t find them all, but if the status screen is anything to go by, there may be up to 24 different weapons? Not including things like your drill, your address disruptor (hacking gun) and your grappling hook, among many others. And even some of those tools have upgrades as well.
The one thing I wanted to mention- the backtracking isn’t nearly as bad as it has been in some Metroid games, due to a ‘zone’ dedicated to being a travel hub. There’s no quick-travel between save points, however, but having this zone that’s connected to every other zone, with a speedy, uh, thing in it- makes the whole thing feel smoother.
I think the story is where Axiom Verge fell short for me. It’s not a bad story, but it is convoluted and a bit confusing. It’ll be hard to describe it without spoilers, so read on if you’re okay with spoilers, otherwise skip to the Art Style section…
You play as Chase, a scientist who was in a lab explosion and wakes up on an alien world. These giant alien things- Rusalki as they’re known- ask you to help them take down Athetos, another mad scientist who has wiped out most of the Rusalki population.
A bit into the game, Chase remembers more- he was a scientist who had some wacky ideas on physics to the point he was ostracised from the scientific community and given the unlikely nickname Athetos, which is Greek for “without place”. It turns out you’re just a clone of the actual bad guy before he turned bad. Interestingly, the clone is explained in-game as being a result of the save points in the game- you die, you get regenerated in a mechanical egg.
One thing leads to another, and you kill Athetos and Chase is sent back to the point in time of the lab explosion, where it doesn’t cripple him. It’s not a bad story, it just didn’t have a natural flow for me, and the twists felt like they were meant to have much more weight than they actually did. They weren’t “OH MY GOD” moments, just “ah okay then” moments.
It’s really hard to not compare this game to the Metroid series, especially when the game itself is designed to look just like a Metroid game. The tiled worlds are very familiar, but the larger Rusalki (if you skipped spoilers, they’re the giant alien head things) are gorgeously designed.
Each zone has a very unique feel to them, too. Most of it is below ground, some are above ground, one is in a temple area… you get the point. The screenshot above is a long corridor that connects all the zones, and each exit/entry point blends the two zone styles in interesting ways. Basically, it’s a pretty game and moving between zone is actually exciting and cool!
This is the one part of the game I was familiar with beforehand, thanks to Spotify recommending songs from the soundtrack every now and then. And holy crap, the music is amazing. It’s all chiptune, 8bit style stuff, as you’d expect. But the gloomy nature is reflected so well! Have a listen below:
Overall, the game took me just shy of 9 hours to complete, with soooo many deaths. I didn’t hunt for items too much, but I was definitely feeling capable by the end of it.
I loved Axiom Verge. If we’re talking from a pure gameplay perspective, it’s incredible. The only downside I see is the story, which is still pretty interesting! It just felt like it could have been told better, that the ideas were bigger than the game itself could accommodate. I would love to see a sequel to this, now that the world building is already done.
Is it worth the money? ($27 AUD)
Is it worth your time?