Out of the way up front: Super Metroid > Axiom Verge. Metroid Prime games > Axiom Verge. A great many other Metroid games > Axiom Verge.
I was a late Metroid bloomer so I’m not exactly the biggest fan to the series in the world. Still, I can spot an hommage as easily as the next person since the design is so admirably apparent. Level exploration is simply in its most satisfying state when you have to be engaged with every nook and cranny to unearth all secrets therein.
Axiom Verge, unlike a lot of Metroid-likes, sticks with the visual style that hearkens back to the gameplay loop’s roots. For that, it can be seen as exemplary as the artwork, while simple and mostly of one or two colors, nonetheless retains a certain haunting charm.
The story is also surprisingly engaging as it shys away from the purely minimalist ways of the past. You’re an amnesiac in a lab coat dropped into a strange world where various robots, large and small, lay dormant or dead with a mysterious Athetos named as the culprit. The text-based interactions with Ophelia and Elsenova, as these large guards of this strange world, give context and guidance to what you’re seeing in an overbearing way. You feel small just by their presence and attention, which is a sensation unique to Axiom Verge.
Protagonist Doctor Curly Locks (a.k.a. Trace) is not the most mobile of creatures to step into an action platformer. He has a very compact range of motion that doesn’t include wall jumps or double jumps, but you’re still able to hit a fairly good stride once you get all of the lab coat upgrades. You’ll be able to glitch walls, pass through thin beams, drill and more with all of them feeling solid and well-placed within the stride of the gameplay.
What I don’t like is how little these additions affect gunplay. The drill is nice for a single enemy type with an exposed backside, but the glitch gun and phasing offer no real advantages or useful abilities. There’s never a character that you have to phase through in order to deliver a one-hit kill or something that falls instantly to the glitch gun. I’m not looking for an instant-out so much as integrated design between one gameplay aspect and another.
The bosses in Axiom Verge are fine and don’t have many actual design flaws, but I’m just so tired of seeing the same types of bosses in these settings. You have a floating pendulum, one too big to fit on the screen, another that phases in and out, and so on ad nauseum. There just isn’t enough there to really grab me as unique when I know the bosses pattern before I enter the room.
One design aspect that I do like is a small addition with a robotic ferry in the middle of the connected environments. You can basically flush yourself down certain areas to land upon a ferry that will walk you to another portal for quicker travel. It’s not something you’ll use a lot, but it is present and feels fresh enough for a shoutout. Another fresh-seeming idea is the amount of weapons and their varying uses. Instead of stacking beam weapons, you’re given many projectile options with pluses and minuses that you can switch through freely. Cluster shots are great for crowded rooms while seeking missiles can save you serious headaches in one particular boss. This is what I’m looking for with integration, glitch gun!
The world of Axiom Verge feels ultimately too sutured together from old meat to be considered new. As an homage, I suppose it’s tough to argue that it’s a success in design and presentation. What I’m ready to see is something new that doesn’t feel content with the shadow of that which has come before and left a larger impression. That being said, not being as beloved as your source material doesn’t make you a bad experience at all.
Axiom Verge Score: