As a fan of Super Metroid, I was really excited leading up to the release of Axiom Verge. Everything I had seen on it screamed that it was an effort to recapture the joy of playing that beloved SNES classic.
It took only minutes within booting up the game to see that they knocked it out of the park in regards to the graphics. They felt like a glorious version of a 16 bit game but with added details and a smooth framerate that could only be achieved with a higher processor. That’s not to say that there wasn’t the occasional misstep, sometimes I would come across an enemy that was just a color swap from a previous one, but nothing is perfect. These blemishes however, were all but forgiven once I dug deeper and realized that every weapon and power up had a unique animation, bosses were larger than life and well detailed and the backgrounds themselves possessed imagery that not only contributed to the fantastic alien atmosphere but on occasion served a purpose by hinting at the larger narrative.
I only wish that the sound design could have been as successful. That’s not to say that it didn’t replicate the midi era but it just felt flat overall. Sure, enemies and weapons had their own sound effects and even the music differentiated between geographical regions or even boss fights but all of them were just there and rather uninspired. I couldn’t be blamed for throwing on my own soundtrack and to be honest if I was playing this game for the music, I would have been better served to just look into another type of game all together.
This genre is in actuality all about the gameplay and while not perfect, Axiom Verge did some things very well. To be clear, I am not referring to the controls in this statement. Right from the onset and throughout, the game handled just as I expected and Trace (the main protagonist) did not suffer from having his actions rebel against my actual button presses. What I was referring to, is the fine balancing act that this genre has to maintain between progressing through levels and backtracking for alternate paths or collectibles once new powers have been obtained.
I had a blast while I was working through the linear portions of the game. Shooting aliens, making jumps and figuring out boss patterns in order to eventually best them was spot on. On the other hand, finding a new power up was a bit of a polarizing feeling as I liked the prospect of testing out its capabilities but hated that it meant more backtracking. Let me put it simply, backtracking was not fun. The levels were designed in a way that a new discoverable was placed seemingly as far away as possible from the actual power up it required. This meant that I would have to push my memorization to the limit or as was usually the case, plod around endlessly until I happened upon the one area that would allow me to progress. By the time I stumbled upon my destination any potential feeling of discovery had been replaced by a relief that the tedium was over. At least it meant that I would then be back to the fun linear part.
The story in Axiom Verge is actually one of the better ones within the genre, if it can be found. It begins with an intro showing us that Trace is a scientist and working on some sort of experiment when things go terribly wrong and an explosion collapses the building that he is in. Rather than perishing, he awakens in an alien pod and hears a strange voice in his head telling him to grab the gun in the next room. From this point on the story telling relies heavily on the player exploring for collectible journals in order to fill in the gaps and I have already expressed how much fun backtracking is in this game. To rely only on the events Trace experiences and his limited interactions with the denizens of this alien world would leave an incomplete narrative begging for further interpretation. As I did not do a playthrough of the game where I found all of the collectibles, I had to resort to reading an online story synopsis and that’s a real shame as the narrative itself is wonderfully crafted, with great twists and turns and is only doing itself a disservice through its chosen delivery process.
There are obviously people who have a bit more patience for exploration or a computer like memory that will not see any problems with the game and should pick it up as soon as possible on one of the many consoles it’s available on. Anyone else might want to ask themselves first if they have any other games in the genre to play and exhaust those options first. Super Metroid it is not. However, even with its shortcomings, I can’t see regret being a word associated with a purchase of this title.