When a game like Tom Happ’s Axiom Verge draws so much inspiration from a beloved title like Super Metroid it also brings on a whole pile of expectations. Tom Happ was up to the challenge and I think he managed to live up to most of the expectations. The game plays wonderfully and there’s a creativity to the weapons and hidden secrets that outdid anything Nintendo ever concocted with their bounty hunter. However, there was one tiny issue that bothered me more than it should have, the main character sprite.
I don’t like how Trace was rendered. There’s a small but noticeable difference between him and his surroundings. Trace looked like an enhanced 8-bit sprite from the original Metroid while the world around him invoked the detailed 16-bit landscapes of Super Metroid. I also found his muted color scheme allowed disappear into backgrounds leaving the clearer silhouette of his giant gun in his place. There was simply nothing about him that I found interesting.
The world around Trace was a whole other story. It was alien in many ways. There was a clash of video artifacts and pixel art that reminded me of video card issues. There were the strange creatures who were familiar to the genre but all yelped in the same manner regardless of species. And then there was Trace’s remote control drone which looked an awful lot like the Alien face hugger sans tail. Oh, did I mention the giant robotic statues that he converses with? Those were eerie.
Trace fell into a strange place and it didn’t get much clearer by the end of it. I wasn’t bothered with the lack of clarity though. I was content solving the world he was in without context and would have preferred fewer cutscenes to interrupt the flow.
Backtracking was to be expected and so were a few moments of uncertainty but Axiom Verge was one of the few games which I actually found myself getting lost or stuck in. A lot of it stemmed from the fact that progress wasn’t gated by power up types but also the strength (or level) of a power up as well. I simply forgot that I was able to teleport through thicker walls for a while. It’s my fault but I think some kind of clear reminder in the inventory would have been helpful. I believe I lost two hours exploring old areas because of my oversight.
If you’re looking to revisit Super Metroid without actually playing Super Metroid, Axiom Verge will fill that purpose nicely. It didn’t always gel with me but every time I made my way into a new area, I still felt that tinge of wonder like I did with other games like this. And that’s what makes these games interesting. What dangers lie in these areas and what power ups will I find to combat them and the other obstacles that I encountered before. If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, at least check out the rad soundtrack.
I like it