It took around 16 hours of game time, but I'm finally done with Axiom Verge
. Kind of. There's still several glitch worlds to find, but I really didn't have any success in tracking down more than one of them. Anyway, I think it's time for a postmortem. Axiom Verge is what you get when a single developer can implement their uncompromised vision. It is both a love letter to Super Metroid and an attempt to drive the genre forwards, in particular with environmental storytelling and upgrade mechanics.
The game has a vast backstory, and only a part of it is revealed during the game. Trace, the protagonist, finds himself in a strange alien world, where everything is either dead, horribly mutated or downright corrupted. And the connecting factor between the worst of the monsters is a human face, barely recognizable. And while some explanations are given or can be found, not all of them are trustworthy, and the underlying reason for the entire conflict is as mysterious in the end as it is in the beginning.
Where Axiom Verge really shines is the game mechanics. It would have been possible to just copy powerups from Metroid or Castlevania, the upgrades that you do get have their own distinctive flair. For example, instead of an ice beam you get a glitch gun which can be used to freeze certain enemies, make others less dangerous and even turn some of them into allies. Instead of a morph ball, you get a launchable, remote-controlled drone that can fit into tight spaces, dig around and even go through doors. It can also serve as a scouting tool if you launch the drone into a deep pit or something else you don't want to jump into just yet. Likewise, you don't get a speed booster, but you gain the ability to phase through walls. Instead of super bombs, you can glitch everything on the screen. All of these play with your ability to read the terrain and notice which sections can be bypassed with your new powers and which ones you need to revisit later. And of course, some secret items require you to use multiple powers properly to reach them.
There's also a shitload of weapons to be found, from the glorified puzzle-solving tools to situationally useful curiosities to general-purpose screen-clearers. Seriously, the lightning gun and the flame thrower might be among the most mundane of weapons, but their ability to cause high damage without aiming makes them pretty unbalanced. But before you get them the game is actually pretty challenging. Health pickups are infrequent, so having to find a proper firing angle to kill an enemy without getting hit can be tricky. And you really can die from a thousand minor cuts if you don't learn how the enemies move and attack. And the game will not stop you from wandering deeper and deeper into the planet and facing increasingly difficult monsters. There are damage, spread and shot size upgrades, but their effects really don't become noticeable until very late in the game. If there is an Axiom Verge 2 in the making, I wish the developer would spend some time balancing the weapons. Each should have a good reason for existing.
All in all, Axiom Verge was mostly an enjoyable game, even it wasn't as big of a step forwards for the Metroidvania genre as Freedom Planet was for Sonic platformers. I admit I got a bit tired in tracking down the last items. The game does tell you when you have collected everything in a section of the map, but I wish it also left a marker for items that you have already collected. And because there's no X-Ray scope, finding the proper place and
tool to bust through a wall can take a lot of time. Environmental hints like the faint item ambient sound from Metroid would have been helpful. #axiomverge