Ax­iom Verge

PC, PS4, Vita


The core team be­hind Su­per Metroid was 20 peo­ple in size. Tom Happ has cre­ated Ax­iom Verge on his own. Not with a few pieces of art­work or a sound­track do­nated by de­vel­oper friends, but the en­tire thing. The re­sult shouldn’t hold up to close scru­tiny – by rights, its mu­sic should feel un­der­cooked, its an­i­ma­tion should be a lit­tle clunky; some­thing should land with a thud – and yet it can be rea­son­ably com­pared to Nin­tendo’s 1994 SNES clas­sic, mak­ing it one of mod­ern indie gam­ing’s great achieve­ments.

Dur­ing pro­duc­tion, Ax­iom Verge has been de­scribed as a Metroid­va­nia game, but it’s only the first part of that awk­ward port­man­teau that mat­ters: in truth, this is a Metroid homage, pure and sim­ple. With a vis­ual style pitched some­where be­tween the 8- and 16bit con­sole eras, with a help­ing of mod­ern ef­fects sprin­kled on top with vary­ing de­grees of re­straint, the game feels familiar from the be­gin­ning, as you set out to ex­plore a net­work of mul­ti­tiered, vary­ingly themed en­vi­ron­ments with some old-fash­ioned run­ning, jump­ing and shoot­ing.

Shoot­ing a lot. The em­pha­sis on gun­play is pushed fur­ther by the amount of weapons avail­able to those will­ing to un­pick the lev­els in or­der to un­cover their hid­den re­wards. One gun un­leashes a forked crackle of en­ergy, while an­other projects an elec­tri­cal beam that latches onto nearby enemies to de­liver a con­tin­ual pulse of dam­age. Not all of the op­tions look or feel so dis­tinc­tive, but there are enough kinks to en­cour­age a type of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion that be­comes ab­sorb­ing in it­self.

True to its roots, the game de­mands the ap­pli­ca­tion of var­i­ous ap­proaches to its many chal­lenges – and then more still to un­cover that bub­bling stream of hid­den de­lights. Happ’s ap­proach to cre­at­ing the game’s lev­els sees him of­ten piec­ing to­gether vis­ually dis­crete blocks, which en­cour­ages you to poke around in cor­ners to iden­tify sec­tions that will give way to the grind of your drilling tool and al­low pas­sage be­yond. Play­ing the game to the con­clu­sion of its story doesn’t take too long, but 100-per-cent­ing it feels like an­other mat­ter en­tirely.

Happ treats Metroid like a keen stu­dent, his pas­sion for Nin­tendo’s work, and un­der­stand­ing of what makes it so val­ued, shin­ing through ev­ery pixel il­lu­mi­nated on the screen. Im­por­tantly, though, his one big new idea – a dis­rup­tor-beam weapon that can al­ter the prop­er­ties of your sur­round­ings (see ‘Dis­rup­tive tech­nol­ogy’) – isn’t the gim­mick it threat­ens to be at the out­set.

Ax­iom Verge has its lim­its. Some of its bosses feel dis­ap­point­ingly static, its vin­tage vis­ual stylings don’t al­ways work in its favour, and it is shot through with an ex­cep­tional de­gree of fa­mil­iar­ity. But in terms of reach­ing its clearly de­fined goals, it is a tri­umph.

Though you can usu­ally pick out in­di­vid­ual pix­els eas­ily, the game throws the whole vin­tage mo­tif out of the win­dow when you meet this boss, scal­ing out dramatically to cap­ture the en­tire en­vi­ron­ment on one screen

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