To say Thomas Happ’s 2015 game Axiom Verge draws its inspiration from the Nintendo ’80s classic Metroid is an understatement. So clear is the inspiration in the visuals, atmosphere, and design of Axiom Verge that I wouldn’t be surprised if Nintendo did some digging to see if the game was a reskin of a canned Metroid entry.
However, as a metroidvania title, Axiom Verge is still experimental enough to feel like a significant evolution over what came before. After all, there is nothing wrong with paying homage to excellent source material, if you can excel at taking the best from it. And for the most part, Axiom Verge understands this philosophy better than most. Axiom Verge takes some of the best qualities from its genre and sprinkles in some creative innovations of its own.
It’s a rough day for Trace the scientist. His laboratory experiences a bizarre explosion that transports him to the alien realm of Sudra. From here, Axiom Verge’s tongue-in-cheek science fiction story takes a backseat to the game’s masterful take on classic 2D metroidvania design. That means exploring a huge intertwining map in order to find useful power-ups that will open up more areas for probing.
Axiom Verge differs in a few key areas from the plethora of contemporary indie games that can be classified within this same genre. It manages to establish its own creative identity through some of these unique variations as a result.
For instance, the game has a very interesting spin on how glitches operate within its world. In other games, unstable pixels would signal a fault in the coding and therefore a failure on the developer’s behalf. However, Axiom Verge deliberately includes these imperfections throughout its world as just another barrier to get across.
Furthermore, you can glitch out enemies and certain objects to augment their capabilities and use them to your advantage. It’s a really clever system that works within the world of Sudra. And after enjoying the manipulation it offers, it will most likely be the mechanic I remember the most.
Outside of this, Axiom Verge plays like any other solidly-designed metroidvania would. In particular, I found the secrets to be really well-hidden in crafty places around the levels. They often required me to think outside the box with my power-ups about how to access them.
Speaking of power-ups, Axiom Verge features some truly imaginative ones that get intelligently implemented in several areas throughout the map. I enjoyed the little robot I could send out to scout areas that were too narrow to enter.
I also loved the weaponry I had at my disposal, as each gun feels truly unique from one another. Each gun also has a practical value in reaching switches that aren’t accessible through other means.
The pitch-perfect presentation of Axiom Verge nails its attempt to bring retro visuals to the modern era. Axiom Verge opts for classic pixel art to give the impression of a game you might have played 25 years ago. However, modern technology allows for the artists to create some truly impressive sprites.
The boss fights serve as a highlight for the game’s visual style. Their towering sprites are not only gorgeously detailed, but thoroughly well-animated. It’s great to see this timeless craft still being implemented by those who are passionate enough to put in the effort. And, Axiom Verge stands as one of the best arguments for the continued existence of pixelated visuals.
That said, the ambitious scope of the game’s size does hinder its aesthetic variety. Classic metroidvanias like Super Metroid have just about every room in their twisting labyrinths display their own visual identity. This makes it much easier to keep a mental map of where to return to after finding the required power-up.
I found myself growing fatigued with the familiar-looking corridors and backgrounds that feature throughout most of Axiom Verge’s map. But, at least I never became tired with the incredible soundtrack. It takes on a thumping psychedelic techno vibe that perfectly matches the alien tone of the game.
Axiom Verge respects the legacy of the games that inspired it, while carving out its own identity with some rich innovations to this classic formula. I spent hours navigating the game’s large map as I drooled over the next desirable power-up and progressed to the next jaw-dropping boss fight. Axiom Verge deserves its place alongside the genre’s finest.