Graphics:
8.5
Gameplay:
9.3
Sound:
9.2
Control:
8.7
Replay Value:
9.0
Overall Rating:
9.0
Online Gameplay:
Not Rated
Publisher:
Tom Happ
Developer:
Tom Happ
Number Of Players:
1
Genre:
Action/Adventure
Release Date:
March 31, 2015


If you remember the days of 8-bit sidescrolling goodness with a particular fondness, you’ll love Axiom Verge . Dubbed a “Metroidvania” title for its combination of old-school elements from the classic Metroid and Castlevania franchises, this one-man feat of development proves that excellent gameplay never goes out of style. Tom Happ, an industry veteran who started Axiom Verge as a hobby in his spare time, has created a game that faithfully captures the essence of those wondrous 2D adventures. From the full-on retro visuals and awesome audio to the intoxicating blend of action, platforming, and exploration, this one is the current holder of my 2015 Retro Award.

I freely admit that from a graphical standpoint, nostalgia is the driving force behind one’s enjoyment of such a presentation. If you’re a young teen and the oldest game you can remember is on the PS2, you have no emotional attachment to these archaic graphics. If, on the other hand, you grew up in a time when such visuals were the norm, you’re destined to smile. Just don’t forget one thing: Happ doesn’t rely entirely on the ol’ heartstrings because this is still an exceedingly well-designed and well-paced game, which is critical regardless of the graphical display. Plus, the whole experience is just so spot-on; it’s like stepping back in time. It’s vintage through and through, with a few subtle yet important gameplay refinements.

The audio is especially impressive because while it captures the essence of old-school sound, it also takes a subtle yet distinctly modern step. The effects are totally retro but the soundtrack has a certain variety we didn’t have in the old days. What strikes me is just how well composed each track is, and how well it fits the style and tone of the game. There are a few exceptions (one has a bizarre vocal accompaniment that I just find off-putting) but really, the music is surprisingly special for this retro production. Combine this with some great old-fashioned graphics – a lot of the bosses are sweet – and you’ve got an instant throwback gem.

While it is called a “Metroidvania” title, the game feels a lot closer to Metroid . In fact, it reminds me very much of Metroid II: Return of Samus , my all-time favorite GameBoy title. The only difference is that it’s a little denser; the action is faster and more robust, and the challenge is stiffer. But make no mistake: The game isn’t as brutally difficult as certain 2D sidescrollers from yesteryear. It can be tough but there is some much-appreciated leniency. For example, your health is fully restored at save points, and enemies are more likely to drop health when you’re low. However, there’s still a Dark Souls vibe sometimes; i.e., how far should I press forward without returning to save…?

As for the basic gameplay, it’s appropriately straightforward: You can jump with the X button and fire with the Square button. As you progress, you gain access to a few tools – such as the drill and the nifty disruptor – which are easily used with the R1 and R2 buttons respectively. The control feels just about right; at first, I thought it was a little loose, but then I remembered how these games always controlled, and this is darn close. Besides, there’s one added implement that makes the experience that much easier and in fact, that much more strategic. You can lock the angle of your selected gun with the L1 button, which is great because aiming and movement are tied to the left analog stick. By locking your gun, you can stand still and shoot at an angle, and that’s a godsend if you wish to be careful.

As one might anticipate, you earn a variety of power-ups and weapons as you press forward through the sci-fi maze. There’s the standard blaster-type weapon, and then you unlock guns like the Nova (fire once to unleash the bullet; press Fire again to blow up the projectile) and one that discharges a powerful electrical attack. My only issue with the earlier weapons is that they lack range, which I kinda want. That aside, the diversity of the guns and the timing of their discovery is excellent. You can also find power-ups that permanently increase your health and the effectiveness of your items and ammo. You’re not a superhero and your fragility demands caution, but at least you feel prepared.