Axiom Verge may be a bigger game than I was originally expecting. This is great though because, while I love Metroidvanias, most of them these days come from small indie devs and end up on the lean side. In the several hours I've played so far, I've realized a couple of things: First, I really miss Metroid. Secondly, Axiom Verge feels more inspired by the original NES classic, than the later, more streamlined games in the genre. And that's really exciting.
I've played my fair share of indie developed Metroidvanias in the past decade. I love Shadow Complex for so faithfully capturing nearly ever great design hook from Super Metroid. I love Guacamelee for its finely tuned platforming and combat, and how it so confidently struts around in its unique style. I think these games rank up there with the best of the genre's namesake. But these games are also very familiar. Rarely did I feel uncomfortable trying to parse out their giant worlds.
Axiom Verge is a different beast. While a lot of the more recent indie efforts in the genre seem inspired by the love of Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, this game captures the sense of aimless discovery of the best 8 bit classics. Think more NES era Metroid, Zelda, and Castlevania - and less of the more streamlined and polished followups on the SNES and PS1. Every time I pick up a new weapon, find a new power up, or encounter a new enemy, I'm challenged with figuring out how it all works. New weapons I find don't always seem useful at first. In fact, some appear quite terrible. But then I stumble into a particularly frustrating wall, and I find myself experimenting with weapons and abilities I had previously written off as "useless".
Here's an example. I encountered a pretty terrifying enemy that runs at you like a madman whenever it takes damage. You can kill the enemy if you can get the jump on it from far away, but in an enclosed space, the best option is to run. Later I stumbled into a secret (very well hidden) weapon that shot pillars of fire that were (shockingly) weak. It really did seem like trash at first and I never used it. But in a moment of brilliance, I decided to whip out this weapon while being chased by one of these annoyingly fast enemies, and sure enough, the pillars of fire I laid down while on the run set a path of destruction behind me. Through experimentation, I discovered an effective means of dispatching a particularly annoying road block.
But nothing better reminds me of old NES discovery than one of Axiom Verge's more unique items, the Glitch Gun. It blasts a ray of glitchy energy (for lack of a better term), and it well... it does things. Different things. Like really different things! Shoot it at one enemy and it might slow it down and change the type of projectile it shoots. Shoot it at another enemy and it might turn it into a floating block they takes you up to previously unreachable areas. Shoot it at a creature that shoots a particularly nasty laser, and now that laser shoots through walls, revealing secrets. Shoot it at a bouncing object in the environment, and now that object can break through previously unbreakable bricks. There is no consistency to what happens when you use this weapon. You just kind of have to try it on different things and see what happens. This type of organic discovery has me both wide eyed and scratching my head as I explore the seemingly massive world of Axiom Verge.
I went in expecting this game to remind be of Metroid, and while it certainly has the obvious call backs to that series; I'm surprised by how much this game is reminding me of Fez. Something tells me the community of players will have to work together to unravel all the games' many secrets. For this reason, I can't wait till more people get their hands on Axiom Verge. I still feel I'm early in the game, but I definitely expect to be streaming the game after release. I've recorded everything I've played of the game so far, and I'll be uploading those sessions to Youtube soon.
Look for more impressions on an upcoming podcast and expect a final review of the game once I wrap it up!