It’s retro, it’s fun, and it’s made by a single developer. If there’s one Metroidvania I want to tell people about, it’s Tom Happ‘s brilliant Axiom Verge.
I first played Axiom Verge on the Switch and was hooked immediately. The opening cinematic reminded me of when I first played Super Metroid (SM) on the Super Nintendo all those years ago.
The story is one of the main ways that Axiom Verge differentiates itself from SM. Rather than being a bounty hunter on a mission, you play as Trace, a scientist who awakens on the alien planet of Sudra following an accident in the lab. Think Half-Life‘s Gordon Freeman rather than Metroid‘s Samus Aran.
The storytelling’s more involved than SM and has a combination of direct exposition and optional world-building lore that’s revealed during gameplay.
While the show-don’t-tell approach to storytelling was a huge plus for SM, I’m not sure how Happ could have told the story he wanted to in another way.
The gameplay doesn’t have the speed or excitement of SM since Trace runs more slowly and doesn’t feel to have as much weight or momentum. For what Trace lacks in movement, however, he makes up in gadgets, guns, and tools. There are plenty of power-ups that change the way you play and they’re not all required to complete the game, either.
Like other Metroidvanias, you’re expected to explore, reach dead ends, find a new ability or power, and backtrack to an area that was previously inaccessible to try out your new skills.
The visuals are reminiscent of the 16-bit fourth generation consoles (Super Nintendo, Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, etc.). Personally, I love pixels and the graphics in this game look phenomenal.
There are also some great moments when the camera zooms out to reveal an absolute behemoth of a boss. This would have been great for the fight with Kraid in SM but was probably impossible due to the hardware limitations of the Super Nintendo.
The areas across the game have distinct aesthetics which can help a lot when exploring but there are areas where noisy visual design can make it tricky to know exactly what you’re supposed to be doing, especially given that there are visuals effects designed to look exactly like graphical glitches found in computer games in the 80s and 90s.
The audio and sound design is exactly what you’d expect for the game’s aesthetic and setting. You’ll be treated chiptunes, beeps and bloops, and a lo-fi aural landscape.
This is a great game for anyone who’s obsessed over Super Metroid for the last 25 years and it wears its inspiration on its sleeve. While other indie Metroidvania’s have sought to reinvent the genre, Axiom Verge has opted to refine it. It’s not flawless, but it’s pretty damn close.