Axiom Verge

Even the most cursory of glances at Axiom Verge leads to some confident conclusions about the games that inspired it. Classics like Bionic Commando, Mega Man, Castlevania, and Contra might come to mind, but more than anything, the original Metroid and Super Metroid seem built into the DNA of Tom Happ’s impressive one-man project. From the background tilesets to the disquieting tone of the music, Happ has generously drawn from the classic formula and that’s fine with us, as Nintendo has left the Metroid franchise to lie fallow.

I played a lengthy chunk of Axiom Verge, and while the roots of Metroid and other action platforming classics run deep, it has an identity all its own. You play a scientist named Trace, who after a devastating lab experiment wakes in a hostile world of strange biological nightmares and ancient machines. A strange woman’s voice begins to guide him on his way, and later revives him from death at egglike save stations after particularly nasty encounters. Within minutes, Trace already has some impressive armaments at his disposal artifacts left behind in the hostile horizontal and vertical corridors through which he runs and jumps.

The many weapons and items at Trace’s disposal help set the game apart from its inspirations. The nova gun lets loose a glimmering ball of energy, while a second button tap disperses the ball to send it flying in multiple directions perfect for nailing a switch behind an inaccessible corner. The laser drill lets the scientist dig down into previously inaccessible areas through weak blocks. The reflector sends out bouncing bullets, while the firewall spews flame that arcs down to the ground and then explodes upward into a superheated column. Another fascinating tool is called the address disruptor, which sends out pulses of energy that can transform glitched-out blocks into solid platforms.

Trace’s varied arsenal is used to confront the Giger-esque creatures that populate the alien world. I love all the unique enemy movement and attack patterns on display in the section of the game I played, from foes that dive toward you in swarms to floating monsters that eject laser beams in your direction. The most original creature designs are reserved for the bosses, which are hulking monstrosities that shout cryptic phrases at Trace before trying to kill him.

Axiom Verge manages the impressive feat of instilling both nostalgia and a sense of innovation and creativity. With plenty of time remaining before the planned release, I’m hopeful that Happ has the time he needs to tweak and polish the already impressive levels he’s crafted into something magical.

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