Axiom Verge Review

xandermartin98 AXIOM VERGE REVIEW

"Best (indie) game ever" is a very slippery thing to specifically aim for when designing (indie) games, since you KNOW for a fact that there will always be new things that come along and effectively render them obsolete by comparison. However, rest assured that Axiom Verge, to say the LEAST, is going to be INCREDIBLY difficult to beat as far as independently developed imitations of Metroid are concerned. In fact, it’s really not even that much of a stretch to consider this game the Ultra Metroid to Super Metroid itself, let alone the Super Metroid Fusion to Cave Story’s NES-troid Fusion (which it most DEFINITELY is, by the way).

IN A WORLD (more specifically DURING A TIME PERIOD) where (and in which) Nintendo could not figure out how to properly treat the actual legit Metroid series to save its own rapidly-dwindling life (not to mention that Cave Story STILL hadn’t gotten its long-awaited sequel OR its arguably equally long-awaited Smash Bros representation alongside Shovel Knight and Undertale), you can only imagine how secretly enamored I was, despite my initial disgust at how much of a blatant Metroid copy-and-paste the game was, just to hear that someone was working on something with considerably MORE than the potential to make all of my aforementioned dreams come true while also paying glorious homage to its source material in the process. And believe me, the finished product (for the most part) lives up to its nostalgic hype and most DEFINITELY deserves more than a goddamned 7.9/10 from IGN, especially considering that Undertale, a solid 9/10 game in my BEST of moods, got a perfect 10/10 score from them.

(Seriously, how much do you want to bet that those IGN-orant morons weren’t even judging by the game’s actual quality and were basically just deliberately beachcombing for as many excuses as possible to call it a “shameless Metroid ripoff” despite the fact that it’s hardly any more blatantly copied from the Metroid formula than Undertale was from that of Earthbound?)

Anyway, let’s get going and review this incredibly bizarre creature of a game, shall we?

STORY (SPOILER WARNING): Being downright eerily reminiscent of Half-Life right from the get-go (if Half-Life abruptly skipped the entire lab-escaping and military-evading segments and just immediately teleported you straight into its infamous Xen finale), Axiom Verge begins with the rather suspiciously everyday-looking scientist Trace seemingly dying in an unnamed but apparently disastrous experiment, at which point he suddenly wakes up in a horrifyingly bizarre alien world called Sudra, which in and of itself looks like a giant post-apocalyptic biomechanical eldritch abomination pulled straight from the deepest depths of HR Gieger folklore, and has to kill all of its local denizens with his newfound laser rifle so that he can escape.
Okay, let’s just cut to the chase here; this world is completely fracked beyond both belief AND repair. MANY of its internal organs are exposed, it’s been overrun by giant mechanical female counterparts to the Seamen from that one Sega Dreamcast game that no one wants to be reminded of, literally ALL of its former citizens have been either zombified or mutated completely beyond reasonable recognition, nearly every living thing in it is actively trying to kill you, and just to add the icing to the game’s exceptionally delicious nightmare-fuel cake, even Sudra’s literal GRAPHICS (due to it being essentially a giant hallucinogenic virtual-reality simulation) are more-than-visibly glitching up all OVER the place, to the point where the game actually uses this as its main gimmick mechanic (more on THAT later).

That, and also, it’s later revealed that literally every boss in the game (leading up to Athetos, who Trace is actually yet another clone OF) is a grotesquely, horrifically deformed clone of Trace and in turn Athetos himself, modified so heavily that they outright became entirely different species and were pretty much no longer even remotely sentient. Have fun sleeping after playing THIS giant acid trip, because once you finally beat the game, even Trace himself quickly realizes that it was all just a demonic pathogen-induced nightmare and wakes up to do some of the greatest scientific things ever recorded in the history of mankind.

(Oh, and there are also text forms of Bioshock’s “trademark” apocalyptic-origin data logs scattered throughout the game’s impressively expansive world, so have fun hunting all of those down.)

GRAPHICS: Since AV is basically running on a mixture of the EXACT same graphical engines from NES-troid and Super Metroid (both of which I’ve already reviewed, the latter quite extensively in fact), you’d think it’d be pretty fracking hard for be to come up with anything really new to say about its graphics...but holy COW is this game’s art style brilliantly executed. As great of a cinematic experience as Undertale may have been storytelling-wise, THIS right here is exactly the type of visual quality it SHOULD have had.

Right from the get-go, the game’s environmental design is both spine-tinglingly unsettling and fascinatingly exotic/colorful at the same time; the sheer amount of detail put into its pixel art puts even Super Metroid itself (at quite a few times, even Zero Mission and Fusion) to shame, the special effects on Trace’s weapon fire are so ridiculously cool that they make those of Samus’ from the Metroid series look like child’s play by comparison...and last but not least, best of all in my opinion, the game even had the courtesy to actually SOUND (almost) how it LOOKED (casts yet another piercingly evil glare at Undertale). Speaking of which…

SOUND:Honestly, the game is a mixed bag in this regard; while I do personally adore the classic-1980s-style synth-wave atmosphere that AV’s music goes for, and quite honestly believe that it fits the game’s environment WAY more perfectly than it should, its actual soundtrack is overall quite repetitive and has remarkably few genuine standouts (cough, Vital Tide is WAY too existential-crisis-inducingly epic, brilliantly composed and just generally memorable to be in a soundtrack like AV’s, cough), and the sound effects themselves are also decidedly lame and cheesy overall. With all of that being said however, basically all of the game’s music (not even re-mentioning VT) is incredibly fitting and atmospheric for the areas that it appears in; making it a bit more melodic would have been an extremely nice touch for sure, though. Overall, this point definitely goes to Undertale, but AV’s soundtrack (I must say) is still pretty shockingly underrated for what it’s worth; seriously, just give it a listen sometime, I sincerely assure you that you won’t regret it in the slightest.

GAMEPLAY: Now THIS right here is where I REALLY start to have a difficult time deciding whether this game shines or just completely falls apart. Either way, I absolutely love it for what it is, if nothing else. Basically a more exploration-oriented Metroid Fusion (read: Super Metroid) mixed with Dig Dug, AV has Trace performing the decidedly mundane tasks of jumping and teleporting around shooting aliens and drilling holes through walls in search of whatever/wherever the next power-up, boss and/or area-transition just so happens to be at the moment.You might THINK that there’s more to it, but overall, there really isn’t.

As tediously formulaic and derivative as it may admittedly be, however, Axiom Verge (I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, but TO ITS CREDIT) actually does genuinely add plenty enough to the Metroid formula, at least in my opinion, to where it can almost, ALMOST stand out as its own unique thing. And that in and of itself is quite an accomplishment.

By the end of the game, you’ll be straight-up SCANNING holes through walls, fixing and unfixing graphical glitches in and out of the game’s local space-time at will, manipulating enemy AI behaviors to your own willing, reading an entire miniature novel’s worth of lore (in a SIDE-SCROLLING game, no less), teleport-spamming every which way as far as the eye can see, shooting remote-controlled spider drones from your gun and then psycho-kinetically swapping your character’s body with them, glitching/cheat-coding your way into a whole plethora of secret challenge rooms...and perhaps less favorably, you’ll also have up to a solid 23 different weapons, most of which are completely superficial and useless outside of making the game LOOK flashier.

Also, as much as I hate to say it, the game’s boss fights, although pretty intimidatingly impressive visually, are an absolute DISGRACE mechanically; seriously, the farther you travel into the game, the WORSE they get. By the time you reach the final boss fight against Athetos, it’s a straight-up damage-per-second RACE in the most literal way imaginable.

OVERALL, however, the game (much like Cave Story) is EXTREMELY faster-paced and more challenging (and in the case of 2D Metroid, longer and more substantial) than its iconic Nintendo flagship-franchise counterpart and actually manages to somehow SURPASS it by several light-years in terms of raw environmental atmosphere. It is immensely strong in mostly every aspect where it counts (even though I still personally felt that Undertale, whether you personally liked it or not, was overall much BETTER-executed for what it was, not to mention actually innovative) and, again, is an absolute must-have for every self-respecting Metroid fan’s collection.

9.75/10 for how well it handles its source material and 8.5/10 on its own merits as a game

In laymen’s terms, yet another extremely solid and underappreciated albeit quite overhyped 9.1/10