Axiom Verge: An Unintended Switch Masterpiece
The Metroidvania genre has been explored quite thoroughly across the years, with new games being released at a near constant pace, all fighting to be the Metroidvania game of the moment. We’ve had exceptional examples of Metroidvania done right, like Hollow Knight, Guacamelee 1 & 2, Steamworld Dig 1 & 2, the list goes on and on as the titles stack up. But Axiom Verge stands head and shoulders above its kin, the first among equals so to speak.
Developed by the fantastic Tom Happ, Axiom Verge is a finely crafted Metroidvania experience with a unique aesthetic, an intriguing narrative, and gameplay that flows as smooth as butter. And the soundtrack! Axiom Verge has a soundtrack that pulses out of your speakers in a way that evokes the original Metroid experience with its own flare while delivering what I can only describe as an electronic/synth vibe.
Everything in Axiom Verge is crafted by Mr. Happ. From making the art assets to composing the soundtrack, Happ single-handedly battled his way through a five year development cycle to eventually bring Axiom Verge to a point at which it was ready for release.
Axiom Verge first arrived on PlayStation 4 in North America on March 31st of 2015, following up in PAL regions a month lather where it was received with universally positive feedback, and rightfully so. It would eventually cross almost every possible bridge in gaming, making its way to Windows, macOS, Linux, PS Vita, Xbox One, Wii U and finally, in 2017, Axiom Verge would make its way to Nintendo Switch.
Given the secretive nature of Nintendo’s most recent piece of hardware, the time at which Axiom Verge began development and its eventual release, it goes without saying that there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that the game was being developed with the Switch in mind. It’s just not possible. Perhaps that’s why I’m still fascinated with it.
Not too long ago, I spoke about how the Switch that I keep at my work desk represents a very real threat to my workflow because of how pick-up-and-play it is. Previously, I had specifically mentioned Mario Kart as being the number one threat, but in reality there are a few games that are the enemy of my workflow. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Dragon Quest Builders, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Axiom Verge.
There’s a strange developmental coincidence involved in how Axiom Verge works as a Metroidvania game that makes the Nintendo Switch feel like its natural home. The pacing is perfect in every way, shape and form.
I’m going to keep this spoiler free, but when you wake in a mysterious location and receive your vague instructions to retrieve a weapon, if you explore further to the left, you’ll get your first your first Health Node, giving you a tiny bit more health. From here, you’ll set out on the path to your right and encounter some enemies. You’ll familiarize yourself with the platforming, gunplay, and the ability to aim in all directions. It’s all fairly standard for a Metroidvania game’s “learn by doing” approach to tutorials.
But as you start to encounter new rooms, you’ll find that everything flows together perfectly. You’re never far from a save station; you’re never far from an upgrade, and you’re never far from the correct path forwards. There’s nothing quite as pleasant as loading up your save, blasting your way through a chamber of enemies, and taking in the macabre sights and sounds while the music drenches you in atmosphere. After this brief excursion into the game, you come across the next save station. Your health regenerates, you put the Switch to sleep, and you get on with whatever else you may be doing.
Were it not for the impossibility of the developer not having information on the Switch, you would almost think this game had been designed specifically for it. The rate at which the upgrades roll in, the perfectly spaced distances between save stations, the level design, the control scheme, everything about it just fits so perfectly with the pick-up-and-play nature of the Switch that I haven’t touched the PC version of the game since I picked up my physical Switch copy. Which, by the way, is cheaper than most retail games and many times more fun.
If you’ve got $20 burning a hole in your pocket and you’re looking for a pure Metroidvania experience but you somehow haven’t played Axiom Verge yet, then this is the game for you. As far as I’m concerned, the Switch version is the Definitive Edition of the game. You owe it to yourself to experience it.