Axiom Verge

I couldn’t think of anything clever to write for the subhead so just pretend something witty is written here.

I was in the mood for something different the other day and so I decided to try out a game in the Metroidvania genre. The only Metroidvania type of game I’ve ever played is Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and, seeing as that game is in 3D, I figured I had better try out a game of the 2D variety. The game I decided to start my Metroidvania journey with was Axiom Verge.

A Metroidvania game, for those who don’t know, is a type of game which features a large and often sprawling map which encourages exploration. This exploration is usually done in a nonlinear fashion with certain points in the map blocked off. In order to proceed, you must explore the map and find an item or unlock a new ability to open up new pathways to explore. That’s a simplistic explanation of the genre but I think it will do for now.

Axiom Verge came out in 2015 and although I was aware of it at the time, I really didn’t pay too much attention to it since I wasn’t into Metroidvania games. I had heard of it mostly because it had been developed solely by one man named Thomas Happ which is quite a feat. I therefore decided to give Axiom Verge a try because it was an indie game and voila here we are today.

I was unsure at first about playing a Metroidvania game but, having now finished Axiom Verge, I have to say that it was right up my alley. I absolutely tore through this game. I adored the moment-to-moment gameplay of exploring different rooms and paths while jumping and shooting at new enemies which were around every corner. This rapid-fire switching of gameplay elements really suited me.

You play as Trace, a scientist whose lab exploded after he finished an experiment. He wakes up in a foreign and colorful world where a disembodied voice urges him to grab the weapon in the next room. I won’t say any more about the story since it’s best to experience it for oneself. I enjoyed the story for what it was but I think it could have been told better. Though I guess that’s true of any piece of media, isn’t it? Anyways, back to this review.

As I said earlier, the heart of a Metroidvania game is the discovery of new weapons and items and, let me tell you, Axiom Verge has plenty of them, especially weapons. There are a ton of weapons in this game and I do mean a ton. It felt like I was constantly unlocking new weapons. This may be true but I must confess that I mostly only used one of the weapons throughout the whole game.

The best part of the game for me personally was the map progression which is, as I’ve said, a big requirement of the Metroidvania genre. It was a lot of fun finding new items which opened up new areas of the map to explore. Alongside the weapons, you are constantly finding new items which provide new ways to move around the map which was nice. Opening up new areas of the map which led to the discovery of new secrets was really great.

A few of the color schemes are really pretty.

Oh, did I say secrets? Why, yes I did. There are secrets aplenty in Axiom Verge. Weapons, health upgrades, damage upgrades, and even more items are tucked away in nearly every corner of the game. They’re all just waiting to be found. I was always so proud of myself whenever I saw an item that was just out of reach and I discovered how to get to it. I never got tired of the thrill of discovery.

I also enjoyed the boss fights in Axiom Verge. Each of the bosses were fairly large and required a little bit of awareness to beat. By that I mean you have to pay attention to where their weak spots are and attack accordingly. It took me a couple tries to beat a few of them. I should mention that difficulty is another hallmark of a Metroidvania game and Axiom Verge has a few areas and bosses that fit the bill.

My favorite moment came when I fought the second boss. I discovered, quite by accident mind you, that you could simply walk behind him (taking a little damage on the way) and start shooting him from behind without being worried about taking any more damage. There’s your pro strat for the day. You’re welcome.

Just get behind him and you’ve won.

I should also mention that I enjoyed the soundtrack as well. A few were great while others were less so as would be expected. My favorite track is called “Trace Rising” which is otherwise known as the boss theme. That one was always a good time.

I really enjoyed my time with Axiom Verge. I’m glad I decided to branch out and try a new genre. The map, the weapons, and the items were all a joy to discover. I blasted through this game in just a few days and I also had a blast with it.

All that I have written above is true for the first half of Axiom Verge. The second half not so much. For you see, I discovered another aspect of Metroidvanias, and Axiom Verge in particular, that was less enjoyable for me. And that aspect, ladies and gentlemen, is the frustration that comes from getting lost in the map.

The frustration began just before I faced off against the boss known as Gir-Tab. I had gotten lost and for the life of me I did not know how to proceed. After about an hour of being lost, I finally looked up a walkthrough which told me where to go. I must tell you all that I feel no shame in looking up the way forward because if I didn’t, I would have never finished the game.

Anyways, I had gotten lost for a bit and had looked up the way forward. No harm, no foul, right? Well, that was true until I faced off against Mr. (or Mrs.?) Gir-Tab. I probably died about a dozen times fighting this boss because I couldn’t figure out its weak point. Again, to avoid becoming overly frustrated with the game, I looked up how to beat Gir-Tab. Even after looking up how to beat him, it still took me several tries to kill him because he can apparently take a million hits to die. No matter, I finally beat him and was excited to go back to what I like best about Axiom Verge: exploring the map.

Whereupon I got hopelessly lost yet again. I spent another hour or so walking around the map to no avail. I am a stubborn fool and didn’t want to look up how to proceed for a second time so I stuck it out and kept on exploring the map. I was chatting with a friend of mine on Steam at the time and I mentioned being lost and he said, “Well, that’s part of playing a Metroidvania, isn’t it? Exploring the map?” And, I have to admit it, he was not wrong. That didn’t make me getting lost any better though.

The problem for me comes from the Law of Diminishing Returns. What I mean by that is I got less and less enjoyment out of exploring the map as time went on since I was moving through areas I had already been to and was not finding many new things while doing it. It had become a game of discovering inches instead of miles. Does that make sense? I hope it does.

Not only that but it also became tedious because I was fighting the same enemies over and over and over again as I traversed the map multiple times. I had to do this because there is no fast travel in Axiom Verge. That means that, if you happen to get lost like little old me, you have to go back and forth through the same areas multiple times looking for the way forward. This became really tiresome because there are some annoying enemies in Axiom Verge.

And when I say annoying, I mean really annoying. I absolutely hated going up against some of the enemies in Axiom Verge because they took way too many shots to kill in my opinion. Also, a bunch of them would get right up in my grill which made it hard to shoot them. I really wish there was a melee option for those sorts of enemies. This means you either have to hop around like a madman while trying to shoot them or just take a hit in order to get a few shots in.

Words cannot express how much I hate this enemy type in Axiom Verge.

Anyways, I was talking about being lost, wasn’t I? After that little conversation I had with my friend about exploring maps, I decided to go to bed. I returned to Axiom Verge the next day to continue my hitherto fruitless exploration. The problem, as it turned out, was that I hadn’t believed that the way forward would be placed all the way back at the beginning of the game. To my chagrin, that is exactly where the next part of the map was hidden. When I found it, I exclaimed something along the lines of “Son of a bitch, of course they would expect you to come all the way back here.” With that problem solved, I continued on my journey.

From there until the end of Axiom Verge, I had much less fun than I had at the beginning of the game. The flying boss in particular was not fun at all. I nearly smashed my controller while trying to beat that boss. Additionally, I found the final few sections of the game to be particularly atrocious. The enemies were at their most annoying and I admit I had some trouble fighting the final boss. I looked up a way to cheese the last boss and I have no shame whatsoever admitting that fact. I just wanted the game to be over at that point.

Also, on the subject of annoying, I ran into a glitch (at least I think it’s a glitch because that would be God-awful if it wasn’t) where a few enemies would follow me into the next room in the last few areas of the map. This really pissed me off since I was practically just running through rooms to get past them at that point.

That’s not to say I didn’t have any fun at all in the final hours of Axiom Verge. I still enjoyed getting new weapons and gadgets and using them to my advantage. I also liked some of the platforming challenges near the end of the game too. I had a lot of fun figuring how to get to platforms that appeared to be out of reach.

On the subject of platforming, I have to mention that I became very annoyed with some of the controls later on in the game. This is kind of a spoiler but I have to reveal this item in order to explain my point adequately. You get a lab coat late in the game which allows you to teleport in midair. This is all fine and dandy except for the fact that its use is mapped to both the left stick and the D-Pad. You use the lab coat’s abilities by pressing the appropriate button twice in any direction.

This got me into trouble several times since I would jump or move in a certain direction and then try to correct myself which activated the aforementioned teleportation power. The consequence of that would be Trace flying in an unexpected direction which pissed me off. Especially when it was in a section of the game which required precision. This was a pet peeve of mine and I was left wondering if I was the only person who had this problem. Let me know down below!

I had a lot of fun playing through the first half of Axiom Verge but not so much the second. I enjoyed the exploration and new item aspects of the game the whole way through. However, I neither enjoyed the enemies nor a few of the later bosses. Couple that with getting lost more than a few times and that leads me to say that I didn’t enjoy the second half of the game which is a shame since I loved the first half. With all that said, however, I can’t wait to play Axiom Verge 2!

That is where this review should end but something happened after I had finished playing Axiom Verge that changed the way I viewed the game, particularly the last half. What happened was that I needed footage for my YouTube review so I decided to go back and record the first hour or so in order to avoid spoiling the last half of the game. What I discovered is that I think I may have been playing the game incorrectly. Which, if I am correct in my assumption, would inevitably change the way I view the game as a whole.

If you can recall, I said that I mostly just used one weapon the whole time. That weapon was the Axiom Disruptor and it’s the very first gun you get. This should tell you that I’m not very imaginative when it comes to using weapons in video games. While playing and recording the first hour of Axiom Verge, I discovered that a few of the enemies which I considered annoying could be killed in a quicker fashion with weapons other than the Axiom Disruptor. This led me to conclude that maybe, just maybe, enemies in the later sections of the game could be killed in an easier fashion as well.

This thought prompted me to look up walkthroughs and strategies for the later stages of the game and my theory was correct. There were more weapons I could have found which would have made it easier. I missed out on these weapons because I was sick of wandering around the map looking for secrets and because I never really used any of the weapons other than the Axiom Disruptor.

Not only that but I also discovered that I had forgotten a key function of one of the first weapons I found as well. I won’t mention which one it was but let’s just say it’s the one which can open those laser beam doors you find all over the game. If I had remembered that it opened these doors, it probably would made certain sections of Axiom Verge a lot easier and more fun.

I haven’t played through the rest of Axiom Verge a second time to fully test my theory but I think it is mostly correct. I played through the game in the wrong fashion which negatively colored my view of the game. I wrote my review to reflect my changing perceptions over time and I hope I conveyed my thoughts in a coherent fashion. I don’t think I’ve ever had this happen with a game before. It was a unique experience having to change my outlook on a game so many times in such a short period, I’ll tell you that much. After all of that, I have to say that I do recommend the game despite all of the negative things I’ve said about it here today.

Thanks for reading! Have you ever had to reevaluate your opinion of a game? Whether it was good or bad? Let me know down below!

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