Axiom Verge Preview
Just say the word "Metroidvania" and I'm on board. The 2D action/adventure style that combines classic gameplay from the Metroid and Castlevania franchises has been abandoned in favor of open 3D worlds. But that doesn't mean it isn't a perfectly viable form of interactive entertainment; just ask anyone who grew up during the 8-bit era. And ask developer Thomas Happ, who has developed Axiom Verge all by his lonesome and thanks to the PlayStation Pub Fund - a program that offers financial support for independent designers in exchange for PlayStation exclusivity - PS4 and Vita owners get the game on March 31.
Happ started making the title back in 2010 when he was working at Petroglyph Games. In recent interviews, he isn't shy about disclosing his primary inspirations behind the game and the trailers make it plain: Old-school Metroid lovers are gonna adore this one. At the start of our sci-fi quest, a scientist wakes up in an alien world after perishing in a laboratory catastrophe. But as everyone knows, such games always thrived on the gameplay; the story plays second fiddle to the exploration-oriented, RPG-esque style. The last examples I can think of were the 2D Castlevanias developed for PlayStation and GameBoy Advance; Symphony of the Night remains one of my all-time favorites.
You go along, exploring fresh areas, taking on fearsome enemies and bosses, and locating better equipment. The role-playing elements are definitely part of the experience but the action is also clear. One minute, you're blasting away at nasty baddies with a cool lightning gun; the next, you're working your way into a previously unexplored portion of the map thanks to a recently found tool. All of these things are in Axiom Verge but don't think it's an exact carbon copy of an 8-bit adventure. There's more depth involved, especially in regards to the weaponry and types of foes you'll face. For instance, many of the weapons you find are specifically designed for certain opponents or situations.
Happ is having some fun with the concept, too. The Address Disruptor turns enemies into glitched-out sprite blobs, which can then be used as stepping stones. Then there's the Glitch Ray, which causes an intentional "glitch" when fired at oncoming baddies. Who knows what they'll transform into when hit with the Glitch Ray? The results might not be favorable, either, so perhaps it's best to use the thing sparingly. It's not just about goofy nostalgia, though, because this weapon is also a tool; using it on certain squares turns them into stone, for example. Then, if you've got the laser drill, you can bust through. As you can see, the diversity of your weaponry will require a fair amount of experimentation, and it adds to the variety of the straightforward gameplay.
The protagonist, Trace, will also earn new abilities as he progresses. He'll be able to slip through especially thin walls, for instance, which will make exploration that much easier. The combination of character advancement and an inventory that serves multiple purposes has always turned such games into "more than meets the eye" productions. In a lot of ways, the first Metroid offerings had the earmarks of early role-playing games, as they demanded both dexterity and brain activity. It wasn't Contra and it wasn't exactly Phantasy Star, but it was a really intoxicating, addicting blend of the two. If Happ remains faithful to the structure and style in question, I think we'll all be in for a very pleasant, whimsical treat.
Axiom Verge is scheduled to release at the end of the month for PS4 and Vita, and it's a must-try for gamers of a certain age. For those who weren't around during the early days of gaming, you can try it...just try to keep an open mind.
3/2/2015 Ben Dutka