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Axiom Verge Reviewed by Cyril Lachel on . In a generation bursting with neo-retro action games, Axiom Verge stands out as one of the best. This could have been a simple one-note love letter to the cartridge games of yesteryear, but instead it exceeds expectations and even manages to bring a few new ideas to the mix. Axiom Verge is a stunner that is every bit as good as the games that inspired it. Rating: 92%
Axiom Verge
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Before I spend the next few hundred words gushing over Axiom Verge, it's important to recognize how far the PlayStation has come in the past two decades. It wasn't that long ago when Sony would seemingly go out of their way to keep traditional 2D games off their platform, instead shining a light on the technologically more impressive 3D titles. But all that seems to have changed, and the PlayStation 4's 16-bit lineup is starting to rival the Super NES and Sega Genesis.

While most of these modern throwbacks attempt to mix genres or add roguelike elements, Axiom Verge plays it straight. This is a loving tribute to some of the 20th century's most influential action games. It doesn't set out to reinvent the genre, and instead chooses to stoke that sense of nostalgia you get every time you see great pixel art.

You play Trace, a scientist whose life is cut short when he accidentally triggers a massive explosion at his laboratory. But instead of ending the game there, our hero wakes up in an unusual new world full of strange monsters and futuristic power-ups. A mysterious voice sends Trace on an adventure that will take him all over this alien world, where he'll slowly uncover a sinister plot and the truth behind his existence.

Axiom Verge wears its inspiration on its sleeve. The game makes no attempt to hide the obvious winks and nods to the classic 2D action games of the 1990s, especially when it comes to Super Metroid. The alien world looks suspiciously similar to Zebes and the labyrinthine levels are full of the types of enemies Samus faced twenty years ago. This is the kind of game where the hero explores an interconnecting world looking for items that will send him deeper into the maze.

This PlayStation 4 game does a good job of hitting the same notes without sounding like a cover band. Instead of rolling up into a tiny ball, Trace befriends an alien that is able to fit into cramped areas. Instead of using the space jump, Axiom Verge has a grappling hook that has been lifted directly from Bionic Commando. Every items and power-ups seem like the kind of thing you might actually find in Nintendo's seminal science fiction game, all without feeling like a giant rip-off.

One of the most compelling items is the Address Disruptor, which can be used to exploit glitches found in the sprite-based world. What makes this beam especially unique is how it can be used to scramble the enemy's coding. The disruptor will affect each creature differently, sometimes in wonderfully bizarre ways. It's fun to see how the world and its many inhabitants react to this power-up, and I like that the disruptor is used to solve many of the game's more challenging puzzles. But it's important to keep in mind that this is not a weapon, and sometimes the mutations are worse than original enemy.

Axiom Verge (PlayStation 4)Click For the Full Picture Archive

It's the emphasis on action that keeps this from becoming just another Metroid clone, and Axiom Verge absolutely nails the shooting mechanics. Beyond the impressive variety of alien creatures to gun down, the game is smart about giving players control over the hero. This guy does more than simply run-and-gun; he is also able to stand still while shooting (something you don't see in enough shoot-em-ups). Couple this with the power-ups he finds throughout his travels and Trace is practically unstoppable. Not that this is going to keep the enemies from putting up a good fight.

Even by action game standards, Axiom Verge offers a remarkable arsenal. In fact, the game has so many guns that I was still unearthing new weapons long after the credits rolled. Trace start out with a standard pea shooter, but it won't take long before he is blasting homing lasers, fireballs, beams of energy and the most devastating yoyo since StarTropics. My favorite weapon ended up being the Kilver, an overwhelmingly powerful close-range weapon that fires bursts of electricity through floors and walls. But even if this shotgun analog isn't right for you, there's enough variety to cater to every type of shooter fan.

It's no secret that a lot of games have used Super Metroid as a template; it's a tried and true formula. Axiom Verge knows this. It toys with your expectations and creates an experience that is not only better than the competition, but also smarter. Instead of relying on the 16-bit graphics and Metroidvania trappings, creator Tom Happ has used this as a jumping off point for a much deeper adventure. And it all manages to come together thanks to a captivating story full of fun twists and turns.

It doesn't hurt that the throwback graphics look stunning on the PlayStation 4. Axiom Verge uses sprite flickers and visual glitches to its advantage, sometimes in really clever ways. Each of the nine interconnected stages has a unique look and tone, and I'm a big fan of the alien designs. Speaking of which, the hideous boss monsters have to be seen to be believed. They range in size and difficulty, but each one is gorgeously constructed and dripping with personality. They have a frightening look, and a few of them will haunt my nightmares for years to come.

Axiom Verge (PlayStation 4)Click For the Full Picture Archive

Even as somebody experienced in this style of action game, Axiom Verge took a long time to get through. There's a ton of content to unearth, and it will take you dozens of hours to locate everything. That said, gamers looking for a challenge can try out the Speed Run Mode, which adds a clock and cuts the story elements. I doubt I'll ever spend enough time to get good at this mode, but I can't wait to see how quickly the game can be conquered.

Axiom Verge is a triumph on every level. This is not just another love letter to 8- and 16-bit action games, but rather a fully-realized masterpiece in its own right. Instead of coming across as yet another imitator, Tom Happ has reinvigorated the sub-genre with a number of fresh ideas. I'm not here to say whether or not Axiom Verge is better than Super Metroid, but what I can say is that it's definitely not worse.
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