December 25, 2019 at 2:10 PM #1240
Rating: 3.5 – Good
Metroidvania, emphasis on the Metroid
One of my favorite subgenres is Metroidvania. I love exploring the huge stages these games often present, collecting abilities and powerups, and squaring off against creative bosses and enemies. Considering this, one might imagine that I was very excited for Axiom Verge prior to the game’s release, and that’s true, though it’s not quite as good as other Metroidvania games available on Xbox One.
Most Metroidvania games use a theme far different from Castlevania and Metroid in order to set itself apart. For instance, Guacamelee! uses Mexican professional wrestling as its theme, whereas Shadow Complex embodies an intense action spy thriller. Axiom Verge, meanwhile, feels way too much like Metroid, and it doesn’t feel quite as special as a result.
Axiom Verge purposefully uses graphics that are nearly identical to the early Metroid games. Beyond that, the level design is almost identical to some areas of Metroid as well, which makes Axiom Verge feel more like a ripoff in some respects than an homage. The way it tries to set itself apart is by offering a darker take on Metroid, with more grotesque creatures and grittier aesthetics.
Axiom Verge also sets itself apart with the weapons and abilities players earn throughout the game. There are some really unique guns that can be used in clever ways to defeat enemies or solve puzzles, as well as abilities like phasing through walls. Keeping track of all these abilities is part of the game’s challenge, as some areas that may seem impassable can actually be progressed through with previously acquired gear.
Beyond exploration and puzzle solving, this gear also plays a key role in battles. Fighting against the game’s regular enemies isn’t very thrilling and feels exactly like Metroid, but the bosses are impressive and fun. Each boss requires a different strategy, and their horrific aesthetics will remind one of H.P. Lovecraft.
It would be nice if these horrible monsters had a compelling reason to be, but unfortunately, the story is not very engaging most of the time. There’s just enough sci-fi mystery to keep players interested until the end, but don’t expect a big payoff or a story that will grip you from start to finish.
As for the rest of the game, the music and visuals are fine, though I would argue Axiom Verge’s graphics are retro to a fault. The game purposefully adds glitches and technical defects that were common in the early Metroid games and NES-era games in general, which is interesting, but it has the downside of making the game look uglier, even if it is on purpose.
As far as Metroidvania games go, Axiom Verge is decent, but there are far better ones available on the Xbox One. The game leans too heavily on Metroid, to the point that it often feels derivative of that franchise, but Metroid fanatics should fine plenty to love about it.
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