Axiom Verge: Haunted by its Influences

At what point does a videogame, so unabashedly influenced and clearly defined by what’s come before it, cease to be a homage and simply become a derivative work? That’s the line Axiom Verge cautiously treads and occasionally teeters on. To be perfectly candid, this isn’t just another metroidvania looking to ride the resurgent popularity of the genre following in the footsteps of Guacamelee and Shadow Complex it is Metroid incarnate. Or, at least, it’s trying its damnedest to be.

Impressively, nearly all of the genre boxes are checked off the list by lone wolf developer Thomas Happ. Alien-inspired 8-bit pixel art, (check); challenging but fair combat, (check); thundering chip-tune soundtrack, (check); wonderfully gruesome bosses, (check); and a lead character who appears to be nothing more than Samus Aran with a Y chromosome,(check). But in desperately seeking to create a design-by-expectation metroidvania, Happ has failed to instil any real sense of personality or identity into Axiom Verge, which Metroid has in spades.

It’s certainly possible to take a dormant concept and approach it with everything the industry has learned and perhaps more importantly, forgotten about game design over the last three decades and make it work. Shovel Knight and Rogue Legacy are the proof here, but Axiom Verge’s non-linear game world doesn’t feel cohesive nor convincing. Exploring the connected corridors, overcoming the design puzzles and locating the immensely well-hidden power-ups and weapons quickly becomes a bit of a chore. The science fiction world lacks any depth, while areas and enemy design seem too random to forge a cohesive environmental-led narrative. It makes your strange journey surprisingly uncompelling, which a great shame.

Thankfully, the core combat is pretty on-point. The Address Disrupter, for instance, lets you take advantage of the glitchy sci-fi world and hack certain enemies into sprite blocks which happen to make rather fantastic floating platforms. A drill attachment helps you blast through otherwise inaccessible areas of the map and weapons such as the Nova gun unleashes a ball of energy that can be triggered to explode helpful when facing multiple enemies or bosses that can only be damaged from behind.

Some impressive innovation towards the second half of he game lifts Axiom Verge considerably, but if you’re after a genuine and whole-hearted twist on the tried-and-tested formula, it will disappoint.

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