»29th April 2019

You Won't Believe Why Axiom Verge Is Such A Cool Game In 2019

-or-

Seriously, Axiom Verge Is Great

I have wrote about Axiom Verge already. I gave it a very short review in my 'I'm an Indie Cindy, look at how cool I am' post from last month. Axiom Verge is my favourite game from 2018. Here's why.

2018? But it was released in 2015

I really don't care, I discovered it in 2018 and had never heard of it before. Look it's less than five years old, that's pretty good going for me, who's usually spaffing on about some game from twenty fucking years ago.


The intro sequence is a nod a series of emphatic nods to Another World's famous intro.

whatis.info

Developed by one man, Thomas Happ. That's solely developed. The music, the graphics, the programming; everything. It's really impressive. Next time you're playing a mediocre game, just think how many people it took to make it, then forget that number and just do yourself a favour and play Axiom Verge. He used to work for Westwood or something, so he knows his shit, these things don't just fall out of trees, don't get too excited. Still. Props.


Great pixel art.

Axiom Verge is a Metroidvania (hang on, what's a Metroi an action platformer with a large, relatively open world. Progressing through the game unlocks new ways for your character to move around, like jumping higher or teleporting through walls, and new powers that unlock previously blocked off areas of the game. The first upgrade you get lets you fire shots around corners which lets you open some doors that you initially have to bypass. Thus, exploration and revisiting areas is a big, fun part of the game.

If you like this you might also like: Metroid series, Castlevania series, anything tagged 'Metroidvania', maybe even Castletroids, who knows?

The graphics are 8-bit/16-bit styled homages to Metroid. The whole game is a massive homage to Metroid. I only recently discovered Metroid and I was left feeling like I had a deprived childhood and early-adulthood. You need Metroid in your life. Metroid.


I'm always happy to be reminded of the Xen landscapes from Half-Life.

Basically, the graphics are stylish and colourful. Can we have more style and colour in games' graphics, please?

If you like this you might also like: There's literally thousands of indie games dwelling firmly in 8-bit/16-bit nostalgia at the moment. Like just click on the 'indie' tag on Steam: it will not take you long to find something.


'What the hell's that?' A save point.

The music is pumping chiptune/synth stuff. It's very evocative of... you guessed it, Metroid. The game was on sale when I bought it, and the soundtrack came bundled as DLC. I've listened to the soundtrack a lot. This is significant because I do not otherwise make a habit of listening to game soundtracks in the car.

If you like this you might also like: Hotline Miami.

The setting and story is a slice of pure Science Fantasy, which is a genre I apparently love but didn't know the name of until recently. The setting and story could easily have been lifted from a Moebius-illustrated issue of Heavy Metal from the early eighties. Failing that, it was probably a Frank Herbert short story in the Seventies.

If you like this you might also like: The Panzer Dragoon series, Moebius comics, Another World


The secret levels are glitched-out with mis-matched tiles and dead ends. It's like using the level select cheat to poke around the half-finished levels of a game.

Unique Mechanics

Okay so maybe you've played loads of Metroidvanias. What's the point of this one?

Speedrunning

Thomas Happ is a big fan of speedrunning and built speedrunning functions into the game and probably designed the levels in such a way to appeal to speedrunners. This is one of the few games I've had a serious go at speedrunning--it's pretty fun.


'What the hell's that?' One of the Rusalka: Massive, ancient machine-beings.

Glitching

As a tribute to things like the Game Genie, debug modes in games and general glitchy weirdness of games, you have a weapon which can 'glitch' enemies. This garbles their graphics and changes their behaviour. Usually this makes them a bit easier to kill or renders them harmless, other times it turns them into temporary platforms, health fountains, and terrain destroyers to unlock secrets. It's a really neat idea.

Lots of weapons

There's like, twenty or so weapons. They vary in effectiveness and there are two or three which will be your mainstays, but it's still cool to have all that variety and some of the particularly weird weapons do have niche applications.


No big deal, just riding a huge mecha-organic head. Check those colours!

No double jumping or needlessly fiddly controls

Loads of these kinds of games have an unlockable double jump. This game does not. There's an unlockable 'increased' jump, and there are other ways to reach much higher places, but there's no classic double jump. I like that because I think double jumps are a nuisance.

The movement controls are fairly limited in general. The fiddliest thing is a grappling hook (as seen in Bionic Commando) which you don't need to use all that often anyway. I can't stand jump-nightmare platformers. Is that a thing? You know how there are 'bullet hell' shoot-em-ups, well I'm inventing 'jump-nightmare' to describe the platformer equivalent of that. Yeah, this doesn't have that. Good.


World building: Background details like this hint at the back-story to the game.

I'm not really getting this, what's the big deal?

I probably wouldn't be so psyched about this if I had entered the game with any sort of expectations or hype. I was initally unimpressed with the corny indie graphics ('oh look, another love letter to the SNES') but something clicked and I ended up playing the game pretty much solidly for the first few days of 2018 after New Year's. Maybe it was the cycle of finding some inaccessible door or path and then later finding the key piece of equipment or skill that gave me that 'aha' moment and excited back-tracking to find that one location and finding two or three others along the way.


There are some beautiful paralax scrolling backgrounds. If only I knew how to make this as a .gif.

The world-building and story-telling is understated. There's not that much text in the game, a few dialogue boxes after a boss fight or cut scene every now and then. There are few collectible books that give a few more sentences-worth of exposition. Some of these books are written in alien language and need to be decoded later in the game (again, a nice touch). These fragments or story are enough to make the world feel a lot bigger than it is. Can we have a graphic novel of this now, please?

The gameplay itself is pure Metroid, and is solidly done. The controls and animation are crisp; the player's power and evasiveness is balanced nicely against the enemy difficulty--it rarely feels unfair or too easy, which is a problem I've observed in other Metroid clones.

The boss fights can be very difficult, but they all have a trick to defeating them. This does let the game down a bit, there were a couple of bosses where I was just completely stuck, frustrated and had to resort to the old GAMENAME-Wikia approach to problem-solving in games. Still, the bosses aren't that numerous, and if they are too difficult, it's often a good opportunity to back-track, collect more power-ups and weapons and then return stronger for another attempt.


So...

Don't read this. Just give the game a go with no expectations like I did. Failing that, get hold of the OST and feel like you're in Tron.



Extar, over, out.

Extar

TCP/IP, it's fucking me off. Other protocols doing little more. Definitely got worse. Now making me curse. Removing IPX. Will it ever work? Never!