Throbbing bass music sets the tone to the story of Axiom Verge, and you soon find yourself waking up in a scenario where you’re told little else apart from that there is a gun in the next room, and you need to get it. Independence defines this game, and thus begins the quest of an interesting love letter to one of the greatest video game series of all time. An intriguing story, driving music, solid gameplay, interesting weapons and abilities, and a gorgeous world begging for exploration make Axiom Verge one of the best games of 2015.
In fitting fashion for the style, and genre, and game that this most pays tribute to, you begin your story by venturing to the left to find an item that will allow you to travel to the right. Like its inspiration, Metroid, Verge does a great job of teaching you that you need an item, explaining how to use it, and gently pushing you in the right direction while requiring loads of exploration.
Music starts flowing once you pick up your first weapon, and the pulsating rhythm creates tension befitting of your strange situation. A faceless narrator guides you, giving you rudimentary instructions that you need to move…before HE find you.
Make no mistake: This is a Metroid clone. But a damn good one, and one that does just enough to differentiate itself from its inspiration. Verge features block design for level structure, and enemy styles that start out similar to Metroid but occasionally evolve. You’re tasked with acquiring new weapons or skills to progress, as you often see areas that you can you can’t quite get to with your current toolset but which you will eventually be able to reach once you have more skills. This means lots of backtracking and using new powers to explore new areas…sound familiar?
Where Axiom takes the Metroid formula to the next level is through some of the innovative tools that it eventually introduces. Yes, you occasionally procure familiar gadgets like the grappling hook, but you also utilize a gun that helps “fix” glitchy areas. In a clever nod to issues of early gaming consoles, Verge has areas that are restricted, walled off behind a “glitch” of messy pixels. Enter the Address Distrupter, a device that fixes these glitches and allows you to proceed.
Fixing another issue that would occur in older pixel games in this style, Verge thankfully features plentiful save locations throughout the game, and always right before a boss area. This is a welcome addition, despite the presence of save backups somewhat diminishing the pressure and tension of having to perform well your first time.
Verge features a fairly unremarkable main character, and to-be-expected strange foreign names for different zones. Despite being a solid title, it feels a little flat overall. As if something is missing, it almost feels too formulaic for what it is. Metroid games succeed because they lead you but still feel fresh; something about Verge feels old and tired at times.
Throughout the game, you are continually acquiring new weapons and abilities. However, these continual additions to your arsenal occur almost too frequently, and start to feel more formulaic than they should. While it does introduce neat, fresh ideas for abilities like being able to pass through a thin wall, it almost feels like you have too many options for a world this size. Additionally, some of the weapons are almost useless, and it becomes easy to quickly reply on just a few favorites as there aren’t occasions that demand the use of each option. There are times where less is more, and Verge could have benefitted from investing more in each weapon instead of cramming as many options as possible into the game.
Bosses are pretty aesthetically, but also pretty repetitive. Like many games it’s a matter of looking for patterns and planning accordingly, but again for some reason it feels stale here. Bosses seem pretty similar in style of appearance, and every fight feels formulaic. They just aren’t interesting. Shoot a bullet, jump behind platform, repeat ad nauseum. It quickly becomes frustrating and boring to simply go through the motions and complete the same pattern time and time again. Yes, many games require you to learn boss patterns and then exploit them, but Verge’s bosses lack depth and variation and quickly become monotonous.
Axiom Verge doesn’t succeed on every level, but it shines as an outstanding achievement as a whole. Made almost entirely by a one-man development team (Tom Happ), Verge offers solid core gameplay with hours upon hours of additional exploration for those who are interested everything the game has to offer. While not feeling like the freshest experience, it’s rare that a game can so authentically craft a love letter to an established series, and Verge nails the feel of classic Metroid in 2015.