Game Reviews

Axiom Verge: Not so ghetto

An indie game review by Steven Long

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Okay, so I did like a big boy and ponied up $20 for Axiom Verge on Steam.

I know, I know. Not so ghetto after all. But I had a few extra bucks from a job I just did and I've been jonesing for a dark and well-rendered Metroidvania experience. Spaceport Hope is pretty good. And well rendered. And ghetto AF. And for a ghetto gaming experience, I would recommend it. But for whatever reason I was in the mood for something darker.

Axiom Verge  stands out in the horde of pixel thrillers. The giant mask-face (Elsenova) drew me in when this game was still just a teaser. The image captures the entire feel of this game. It's brooding and dark. Beautiful and sad. It captures the hugeness of the game world and displays its organicness in a way that makes you sure there is a great story in there.

As of this writing, I have not finished the game. I am about 12 hours in, most of which has been spent backtracking and seeking out hidden items and completing achievements. Please know I do not ordinarily do this. It takes an extraordinarily addictive gaming experience to drive me to it.

One of my criteria for a ghetto game being "worth it" or not is whether I can recoup an hour of play per dollar I spend. So far it looks like Axiom Verge is right on the money. So to speak. My map completion is at 70% and I am a bit stuck at the moment.By the time I find my way out of my current pickle, I should be closing in on 20 hours. This is still difficult for me after I had a similar amount of fun  (22 dark and brooding hours) with Sunless Sea for under a buck. But whatevs.

The Story

At this point, the story is still a mystery. And if I knew it, I wouldn't give it away here anyway. The intro cinematic shows the hero Trace initiating a lab experiment which seems to go horribly right. An explosion happens and Trace wakes up in a robo-egg that restores his life every time he is killed.

Throughout his journey, Trace encounters massive and impressive bosses as well as a few mysterious giant robot allies. The allies offer Trace clues and goals to help restore the planet on which he has found himself. I strongly suspect a meta-twist coming at the end of the game and I'm just hoping like hell it isn't too pretentious. I like a dark story, but let's not get too preachy and - shall we say - Binding of Isaascy? So far the story is mysterious and has me really thirsty to know what's really going on.

The Gameplay

This is a Metroid clone. The style is called Metroidvania but the 'vania may not be justified with this title. If you've played Super Metroid, you pretty much know the look and feel of this game. It feel slick and responsive. Like Metroid. Metroid Metroid.

There are a few improvements over Metroid in Axiom Verge. For example, if you work really hard to get a weapon upgrade, then die on your way back to the save point, you get to keep the upgrade. This means save points still exist and are a good check for telling if you suck at the game or not, but they are not the pain in the butt I usually regard them as.

The music is good. I don't know if it's good enough to justify the limited-edition vinyl release currently being conjured up, but it's good.

Graphically, this game is as pretty as Super Metroid and true to the 16-bit goodness. But a few places (like in the firing of the Address Disruptor) the stronger capabilitites of the modern machine become obvious. These effects are not overdone. They are pretty and really make full use of the palette and theme of the game.

The massive visual elements are impressive and a nice reward for uncovering some epic thing in the game. Bosses are occasionally too big to fit, and the camera must pull back to reveal the true awesomeness of your foe.

Backgrounds use vertical and/or horizontal parallax to full effect. some of the environments feel huge. Some of the writhe with movement or machinery. And the variety of environments is impressive. The game feels fresh every time a new area is discovered. Some of the areas look like something from Castlevania. But they still play like Metroid. Some of the areas remind me of Ninja Gaiden. But Metroid. Very very Metroid. And in the best possible way.

My Take

Like I mentioned, I picked up Axiom Verge on Steam for twenty bucks. I rarely spend $20 on a game. In fact, 20 bucks is pretty much the most I will ever spend. (Which means I'll buy Fallout 4 as soon as Fallout 5 comes out.) So you'd better believe my expectations were sky high for this title.

I have not been disappointed. Like I said, I haven't finished this game yet. It may yet fall apart, but as of now I feel my money was well spent.

Axiom Verge has a polish and consistent quality that few indie titles manage. The world is huge and since it isn't roguelike (thank God), every piece of the map has been placed thoughtfully. The devs seem to have an innate understanding of out abilities to find and figure out. None of the puzzles have been too hard yet and even though I was stuck when I turned off the game last night, I feel like the answer to my problem will be clear today.

I think I remember this game going on sale like, a long-ass time ago. Maybe. But Axiom Verge on Steam is such a runaway hit, with such a huge following, that it doesn't seem to need new publicity. The devs are happy with the numbers they are getting and the fans keep on being impressed. Myself included.

To the Devs

I usually try to add some advice or recommendation as a player. I've never developed games, but I've created other stuff and I know that, as a creator, one has a very different perspective. But as a player, I am drawing a blank of what to recommend. Oh wait! A sequel. To the devs: Make a sequel. And as I recommended on Twitter, make the sequel's hero a cute cosplayable female. Ha! Get it? Like Samus?

Very great game everyone. I give this two big ghetto thumbs up. Even for twenty bucks. It's that good.


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Steven Long

Steve is an IndieWatch O.G. He has long supplied marketing information for the aspiring developer. More recently he has been creating content for retrogaming enthusiasts on his YouTube channel. Find him on Twitter @Longie_long and at Patreon.

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