Due to a mixture of age and gaming ignorance, I missed early entries in both the Metroid and Castlevania series, only catching up with each when they entered the 3D-era. Despite this, I have come to appreciate the so-called Metroidvania genre in more recent times, spurred on by releases such as Shadow Complex and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate. Whilst these titles revel in contemporary visuals on recent hardware, Axiom Verge instead harks back to the origins of the genre, with retro visuals and audio and the general feel of a SNES or Mega Drive game.
For what the story is worth, Axiom Verge places players in the shoes of Trace, a scientist whose experiment goes horribly wrong, leaving him a strange, alien world, where a mysterious female voice implores him to explore. There are later instances of fleshing out the world, but much of the enjoyment I found with Axiom Verge came from a feeling that I hadn’t experienced for a long time in gaming: filling in the blanks with my imagination.
Due to the fact that the retro-stylized visuals don’t display environments in as much detail as most of today’s releases, I found that they were more open to interpretation, which in turn led to my imagination taking leaps with regards to how environments ended up this way, or where certain objects and enemies originated. A lot of games today are desperate to rival Hollywood movies, most of which I enjoy, but it’s refreshing to be given a platform to create a back-story yourself rather than having it spoon fed to you.
Axiom Verge plays a lot like typical Metroidvania game, with exploration playing a crucial part in the experience, with initially locked doors being opened by weapons found later in the game, allowing for further exploration. The one issue brought up by this approach is that whilst the map does indicate where you’ve been and where you haven’t, there isn’t really any indication as to which weapon or item can be used to progress through a section, making for a lot of backtracking if you’re unsure of where to go next. Thankfully, navigation through the levels is largely a breeze, with responsive controls and a decent amount of variation in environments and color palettes, which means that you don’t feel as if you’re constantly running through endless, repetitive, corridors.
Aside from exploration, the rest of your time with Axiom Verge will be spent defeating enemies and bosses with a variety of weapons. There’s a good range of enemies on offer, from the basic crawling bug-types, to zombie-like humanoids and even giant spider beings. Boss fights are indicated by a red door, as opposed to the usual white portal, which allows you to take breather before entering if necessary. Boss models and fights are well varied, and usually consist of identifying weak-points and recognizing attack patterns, before hammering them with a whole bunch of ammunition. Most boss fights reward you with a new ability or addition to your weapon, which in turn allows you to explore previously unreachable areas or access previously unobtainable upgrades such as health, ammunition size or weapon damage.
With the current emphasis on HD remasters and retro remakes in videogaming, it’s nice to see a game such as Axiom Verge delighting in bringing back aspects of gaming from over twenty years ago. In fact, Axiom Verge does such a good job of recreating that era that it can feel like you’ve played this game before. However, Axiom Verge does such a good job of this that it’s likely that you won’t even mind. For younger gamers who might not have had the chance to experience genre classics such as the early Metroid or Castlevania titles, Axiom Verge is the perfect chance to experience such a game on modern consoles, and for those who look back fondly on the SNES and Mega Drive era, Axiom Verge will bring back a warm feeling of welcome nostalgia.