Axiom Verge Review (PlayStation 4)
The indie game scene is filled with titles that revert back to the way video games used to be, where graphics were simple, gameplay was straightforward, and the soundtracks weren't composed by a full symphony orchestra. Most of these titles are developed in homage to the best retro games of the era, like how Shovel Knight follows the Mega Man formula, but a few venture precariously close to the "rip-off" line, for lack of a better term.
Axiom Verge is one such game, as it plays so closely to the original Metroid game that I'm wondering if it was meant to be a tribute or an imitation. I play as Trace, a scientist who is transported into a disturbing alien dimension and guided by the voice of a giant robot in order to survive. I must take Trace through a massive map lined with enemies, gathering power-ups and weapons to become stronger and defeat giant bosses, while sporadically saving and predetermined save points. There are vertical corridors that test my jumping skills. There are long hallways filled with enemies I can defeat in a straight line. The only thing I don't have to do here is shoot doors to open them.
While Axiom Verge borrows from Samus Aran and her world quite a lot, it does so very efficiently. The platforming is tight and challenging, especially in the vertical corridors with sporadic platforms. There's a variety of weapons found via power-ups strewn about the world, including a weapon that shoots three bullets at a time and a bomb that can be directed to explode with a second button press. Trace does acquire one unique tool in the Drill, which allows him to bore right through certain parts of the terrain and continue on his quest instead of, say, rolling into a ball and placing a bomb.
I do enjoy battling these enemies and exploring this big and mysterious world, even with its creepy overtones and disturbing imagery. I did not expect a retro game like this to send me into a room with a pile of human skeletons ten times larger than my character, and yet there I was jumping on platforms just above the bones. Seeing that and other elements like it gave the game a sort of mystery and intrigue that made me want to keep playing, even if I'd felt like I'd been down this road before. I never knew what to expect every time I went through a door, and that's what a good adventure game is supposed to do.
For all that classic Metroid is, part of what made it so wonderful is that it rarely if ever stopped to tell me a story. All I needed to know was that I was a bad-ass bounty hunter on a hostile planet trying to eradicate a parasitic alien menace. Axiom Verge constantly stops me in the middle of my exploring and makes me read lines of text to implement a story. I don't mind some storytelling, and I do find this game's narrative interesting, but why do I have to stop everything I'm doing and cycle through Super NES-era text windows?
Can't I keep walking along and fighting some simple enemies while the words pop up? Most of the dialogue is telepathic, meaning only my character is on-screen, so why not put those conversations on one part of the screen while I continue on my quest on another? The times where I'm standing next to who I'm talking to don't need movement, so I'm okay with taking a short break there, but I'm not a fan of being stopped for no reason other than "help me, please hurry" or some other arbitrary text.
Axiom Verge is a clear love letter to the Metroids and Super Metroids of the world, playing just like those classic exploration platformers and doing the genre justice. Shooting through enemies, finding hidden pathways to explore, and battling giant bosses are incredibly fun, and retro fans will feel right at home. It is an ungraceful tribute however, dumping in frequent dialogue interruptions that constantly break concentration in frustrating ways. If the game had listened to the one and only Elvis Presley and given me a little less conversation and a little more action please, this would have been one of the best tributes to classic games available. Instead that immortality is lost in a sea of words submerging the fun.
This review was completed with a purchased digital copy of Axiom Verge for the PlayStation 4.