I’ve stated a few times that I enjoy a good indie game, especially those inspired by classic 8-bit and 16-bit games. One of my favorites is Axiom Verge, a game which received mostly positive reviews when it game out a couple of years ago on the PS4, and soon after got releases on the PS Vita, Windows, OS X, Linux, and Wii U. I reviewed the Wii U version last year and enjoyed it more than the PC version mainly due to some improvements and additions for the Wii U’s tablet controller. Now the game has been released on the Nintendo Switch and once again I was offered the opportunity to jump back into the world of Sudra to take another journey through Axiom Verge.
The story begins with a scientist named Trace who’s working in a lab when an explosion knocks him out. He awakens on the planet Sudra and meets Elsenova, a giant war machine known as a Rusalki created by the Sudrans long ago. Trace learns about a man named Athetos, a mad scientist who destroyed the Sudrans a long time ago. Trace agrees to help out the Rusalki and get them powered back up to help take down Athetos. As you progress through the game you learn a lot more about Trace, Athetos, and the Rusalkis, and I was actually kind of confused the first couple of times I played it. I knew the beginning of the story, I saw the end of it, but I was confused for a while as to how it ultimately ended the way it did. After a couple more playthroughs I have the basic idea.
The style of gameplay in Axiom Verge is kind of a mix of games like Metroid and Blaster Master where you have multiple areas to explore and certain areas can’t be accessed until later in the game when you gain new powers. These powers are gained naturally throughout the game as you explore the planet. Aside from power-ups such as health, weapon, and range nodes which improve your health and weapons, you’ll also come across a lot of new weapons as you go, each with their own properties, power, range, and abilities. Some are rather useful, such as the Kilver which shoots out a very short-ranged but powerful green ball of energy, while others I tend not to use much. This includes the Firewall which shoots out small bits of fire in an arc that burn upwards when it hits the ground. Sounds good in theory but the arc is pretty small so it’s only really useful when there are a lot of ground enemies. The weapons you end up using pretty much depend on your playstyle.
The powers you come across are actually more than just utility items and can be used offensively and defensively as well. You’ll come across a couple types of lab coats which allow you to pass through walls and teleport short distances, a drill which will let you break certain blocks (normally opening up new paths), an address disruptor to alter certain parts of your surroundings and even enemies, address bombs to clear out enemies and various areas of garbled data, and even a drone which you can send into small areas that Trace can’t fit through himself. One problem people have complained about is that there is a lot of backtracking to get to where you need to use a new ability to get through, ie. getting a new ability or power and having to go all the way back towards the start of the game, and then remembering where you needed to use the ability. However, Axiom Verge has a solution in one of its best mechanics: the map.
If you’re like me you likely got lost a lot when playing the original Metroid due to a lack of an in-game map. While the original Metroid wasn’t really that bad in terms of getting lost (parts of Norfair notwithstanding), the series didn’t introduce a map system until Super Metroid and it was a welcome addition. Axiom Verge’s map system is somewhat similar; you can take a look at where you are in the current area as well as see a pulled-out view of the entire planet that you’ve explored so far. What’s nifty is the ability to place reminders where you are on the map to let you know you might need to come back there at some point. For instance, if you come across a garbled mess that’s blocking your path, you can place a reminder point and go back to that spot later once you’ve acquired an item that might let you through.
There are two limitations to this though. First is that you can only set two reminders at a time. Granted I’m sure the publishers didn’t want the players to plop reminders everywhere and clutter up the map, but given the number of blocked paths you’ll find in the game (or other things to note) at least four or five would have been nice. The second issue with the reminders is that you can put any sort of notation as to what the reminder was for; all you get is a 1 or a 2 depending on which control stick you clicked (clicking the stick again on the same spot on the map will clear the reminder). Now granted there is a simple solution to this: get a pen and paper and write down what the reminder was for.
As stated you’ll pick up a lot of weapons along the way and the game has a couple of ways to select and cycle through them. The easiest way is to just move the right control stick. This will pause the game and open up a selection ring where you can choose from the available weapons (you can also set an option on the main menu to cycle through them in a line as opposed to a ring). The game can also let you set two quick selection weapons by clicking the left or right control stick on the selection ring. When playing you can click either stick to choose that quick select weapon. Pressing the same stick again will revert back to the weapon you were using before. This is a great mechanic if you’re like me and tend to swap between a couple of weapons often. As stated though, the weapons you decide to use all depend on how you like to play the game. I tend to stick to the Kilver and the Voranj.
One thing people liked doing with the original Metroid was using glitches to go through the walls and into areas they called “secret worlds”. Axiom Verge actually has secret worlds built in. Throughout the game there are multiple screens that could have entrances to one of five secret worlds, but the entrances are randomized each game. Inside you’ll mostly find things like health and weapon nodes, but one secret world will have a special weapon, one of a few in fact. The catch is that the weapon is also randomized each time you play. I was very fortunate in my original playthrough of the game on Steam to find the Flamethrower and it’s probably one of the most overpowered weapons in the game and made the final boss rather trivial. Sadly in my run on the Switch I never found the secret world with a special weapon, though I’ve only found two so far so there’s a good chance I’ll get that Flamethrower once again.
In my Wii U review of Axiom Verge I really didn’t have much to nitpick about as the game takes to of my favorite gaming-related things and mashed them together pretty well: classic-style games and Metroid. However, a nitpick I did hear others talk about that I kind of agreed with to a point was the backtracking. The later Metroid games did have a fair amount of backtracking in them and Axiom Verge has that a bit as well, often going from one end of the planet to the other to open up a new area to get a new item to help progress through the game. Thankfully though there is an area near the center of the planet called Indi which basically serves as a long tunnel connecting several other areas, making for quick traversing of the planet. The other nitpick isn’t really a fault of the developers, but rather with the Switch itself.
The Wii U utilized the tablet controller very nicely with you constantly seeing the map instead of having to keep pausing the game to open it up. Sadly the Switch can’t do that since if it’s docked and you’re playing through a TV you’re obviously not holding it as a controller at the same time. However, the nitpick I have is the right Joy-Con. On the Wii U’s tablet controller both control sticks were towards the top of it with the D-Pad and face buttons below them. On the Switch’s right Joy-Con however, the face buttons are towards the top with the control stick below it. No big deal for the most part, but the space between them is small enough to where I’m attempting to quickly fight an enemy or pull out my grappling hook and I accidentally bump the right stick, which opens up the weapon ring and throws off my momentum a bit. Again, this is more of a nitpick of the Switch’s design and not the developer.
With all of that said though, Axiom Verge is an amazing game even after a third playthrough. If I had to pick a version from the ones I own to play, it’d likely be the Wii U version simply due to always having a map available and utilizing the tablet controller’s touch screen. The Switch version though is great for portability and I do recommend anyone with an affinity for retro-styled games to check it out. Just keep in mind where the right control-stick is so you don’t mess yourself up in an intense firefight and you should be good to go.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.