Here at Thumb Culture, we’re reviewing more indie games than ever before. The hightened focus on helping small developers has brought in lots of titles and can I just say, keep them coming! But, in the gigantic ocean of software, it’s rare that an indie is as well-designed as Axiom Verge. Developed and published by Thomas Happ games LLC who has worked on many different “triple-A” games for both PC and consoles, such as Grey Goo, Tiger Woods, and NFL Street, to name a few. I would just like to mention that BadLand Games is donating 75 percent of its share of sales of Axiom Verge to a special fund dedicated to the ongoing healthcare costs of Tom Happ’s son, Alastair, who suffers from Kernicterus, a bilirubin-induced brain dysfunction which is caused when new-born jaundice isn’t treated in a timely manner.
A failed scientist dies in an accident, only to awaken in a mysterious, alien world. Where is he? How did he get here? And why do the fundamental laws of reality appear broken?
So, here I find myself on a cold, icy day in Ireland and I could think of nothing better than getting my trusty Nintendo Switch out to play a nostalgia-fuelled endeavour that is Axiom Verge. You are Trace, a scientist who finds himself on a strange, alien planet. You don’t know how or why you got here, but you’re determined to figure it out. Unfortunately, though, it seems that most of the natives want you dead, which makes uncovering the planet’s secrets and sorting out your own problems a bit of a struggle. It’s Metroidvania gameplay in its purest form: find item, use said item to get past obstacle, find new item, repeat. For instance, Metroidvania back-tracking and map-making are key to your play through, but there is also multi-directional shooting and the ability to lock your character while aiming (like Contra), and other little touches that will remind you of a host of classics.
As with games in the Metroid franchise, Axiom Verge is all about finding new weapons and upgrades to help you reach previously inaccessible areas. The sense of progression is one of the high points for Axiom Verge, and after collecting over ten different weapons and upgrades, I felt like an unstoppable force of nature.
The boss fights, of which there are seven, are cleverly distributed throughout the title and will generally only be reached once the player has acquired the correct weaponry to defeat them. The fights themselves become increasingly difficult, but once their attack pattern has been worked out then there is a vulnerability to exploit, although it might cost a few player deaths to arrive at that point.
Axiom Verge has two difficulty settings, normal and hard. There is also a Speed run mode for experts. This mode can be used to challenge players looking to beat their best time and also It can even be used for competitive streaming. It eliminates anything that can disrupt gameplay, such as cut scenes, dialogue, and randomised content. It also has an on-screen timer, which appears in the top left corner under the health bar. Pretty cool huh?
If you’re an 8-bit gamer who just drools over their visual content, then you are in for a delight with Axiom Verge. Its everything you’d come to expect and love in this type of game. Bosses are especially stunning with dozens of moving parts and patterns that must be exploited, preventing the player from brute-forcing any encounters. It looks strikingly beautiful in handheld mode. Happ has adopted the artistry from those early days of console gaming, those same days that gave birth to the genre. It’s full-on and uncompromising in its artistic direction, not only in the sprites and pixels but also in the colour palette.
The music is an audible retro experience that adds to the character of the title, although after a particularly long session it can become a little too much (the volume button is a great feature, where would we be without it?). A good soundtrack is one that blends in well with a game, setting the mood and atmosphere and it does that but, I’m afraid the repetitive tones did start to grind my gears and at times quite jarring. I think the problem with Axiom Verge’s music is that it’s a bit too on the atmospheric side and not melodic enough. If you think of the Metroid series, especially Super Metroid which is the clear inspiration for this game, the music was actually more melodic than atmospheric.
Axiom Verge is fun, simply put, and when you are having fun you want it to last. Good news gamers because this is a game you can most certainly play for around 12 hours at least; or more if you explore everything the game has to offer. As mentioned before Axiom Verge has difficulty settings so, when you complete the game on one setting, you can go back and choose another setting to show what a bloody beast you are at this game! Also not forgetting that speed run feature to truly engage with your inner competitiveness.
Axiom Verge is dripping with that “Oh so good nostalgia” that many gamers, not just the older ones, ache for. The chilling sci-fi setting, mysterious plot, and a seemingly endless number of abilities keep your mind busy, and your curiosity at fever pitch. Axiom Verge seems content to be a homage, rather than a revival or reinvention and it feels right at home on the Nintendo Switch, it deserves all the praise it has already received. Thumb Culture gives this ‘Beautifully nostalgic’ game the Thumb Culture Gold Award.
Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.