Thursday, November 10, 2016

[REVIEW] Axiom Verge (Wii U)

Axiom Verge
Played on: Wii U
Genre: Action-adventure / 2D "Metroidvania" Platformer
Developer / Publisher: Thomas Happ Games

It's ironic that Axiom Verge was released on Wii U on the same day Metroid Prime: Federation Force hit the 3DS. That's because, while Nintendo's own portable title largely failed to entice those clamoring for more Metroid, Thomas Happ's indie homage to Samus Aran's adventures is nothing short of a masterpiece.

The game begins with a quick story introduction: you're a scientist who went through a mysterious lab explosion and, instead of dying, woke up on a very strange world. You start pretty much helpless, but soon, with the help of a mysterious voice in your head, manage to get a weapon to start things up.

The basic gameplay is all classic 2D Metroid: you'll explore the many interconnected sections of the world, all the while looking for power ups to attack and energy, as well as new weapons and abilities that open up previously closed paths.

What makes Axiom Verge something truly special, aside from its sheer mastery of the metroidvania formula, is how it differentiates itself with some honest-to-goodness innovative gameplay elements. Almost all of the new abilities you come across refuse to follow the tried-and-true foundations of the genre; instead, they're exciting new solutions to the same gameplay challenges, making the whole thing few extremely fresh.

The best idea on display is the Axiom Disruptor, a weapon which allows you to "bug" (or "debug") certain enemies and structures. Whenever an enemy gets hit with a strong enough blast of the weapon, they will get all glitchy, reminiscent of actual 8-bit glitches from back in the day, and this will change their properties and behavior. This is used in incredibly clever ways, allowing you to solve puzzles, open secret pathways and find collectibles all over the game world.

To make everything even more enjoyable, the story manages to be a real highlight (and given how I'm generally quite unimpressed with video game stories, that's really saying something). This is a tale of strange phenomena in a very peculiar reality, and how a scientific mind might react and adapt to them. There are some genuinely touching moments here, with a healthy dose of goosebump-inducing macabre details.

If there's something that might elicit complaints about Axiom Verge it's how the game requires absolute dedication if you want to see everything. Some of the more obtuse secrets can be kind of a pain to track down, especially given how the game lacks a quick-travel device. This is kind of a bummer to completionists such as myself, especially since it's impossible to actually get every last weapon in a single playthrough.

Lastly, there's one big plus to the Wii U version, and that's the gamepad. Being able to check the map and change weapons without pausing is a godsend, as it allows the game's excellent sense of immersion to remain intact at all times.

Axiom Verge is pretty much everything I could ever hope for in a new Metroid game, with the added perk that it manages to absolutely be its own thing. Come to think of it, as a big fan of innovation in games, that makes it even more memorable than a brand new Super Metroid could probably be to me. It's one of the best games of recent memory, and definitely one of the crowning jewels of this generation.

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