RPG Analysis

Posted on Apr 14th 2015 at 08:41:28 AM by (Fleach)
Posted under Review, Axiom Verge, Tom Happ, PS4, Vita, PC, Metroid, Metroidvania, Blaster Master, Bionic Commando, Retro

Trends come and go in cycles, but video games seem to continually push forward toward better, visual fidelity, narrative design, and the most important buzz word, "immersion." This means that games are becoming like film, and while that's not a bad thing, it makes some games feel like something to be experienced as opposed to a medium that is meant to be played.

I've said it myself when referring to David Cage's games, they tend to come across as interactive movies by putting the player in the director's chair and giving them the opportunity to create their own interpretation of the events happening on-screen. They offer the player a chance to make an account of an experience that is completely their own. Ultimately, they don't feel like video games; Cage's attempts at accessibility and laser focus on interactive narratives result in games that are meant for the gamer and non-gamer alike. However, Axiom Verge, "the PS4's very own Metroid", is very much a gamer's game.

Created solely by Tom Happ over five years, Axiom Verge is a game that caters heavily to those nostalgic for the 8-bit era. On the surface, it is very similar to the games it plays homage to. It oozes Metroid-style ambiance and plays like the former with a dollop of Bionic Commando due to its grapple mechanic. But beneath this retro aesthetic, lies a truly old school game.

Remember when your NES games glitched? Flickering sprites or bugged walls would be tragic to someone playing Super Mario Bros., but in the case of Axiom Verge a glitch presents an opportunity to access new areas or circumvent otherwise troublesome enemies. You even gain the ability to glitch your character through walls. Everything you didn't want in an 8-bit game is transformed into an exciting feature in Axiom Verge.

This game showcases everything that was great about the 8 and 16 bit eras. You will explore labyrinthine worlds that are designed to show the player the history of the environments. The plot in Axiom Verge is richly steeped in pseudo-science, but it’s what’s depicted in the levels that add intrigue and wonder to the story. Older games typically didn't rely heavily on cutscenes because they couldn't, or at least didn't want to have to force players to sit through excruciatingly long text boxes. You were given just what you needed to know and it was your job to fill in the rest. Here, a decrepit bio-mechanical being hints at a civilization that once was.

In older games, and in Axiom Verge, the worlds we play in existed before we guided our characters through them. We learn of what they once were, see what they are now, and are told what is to become of them should we fail to achieve our goals. There are cutscenes, but unlike modern games, they don't support the game.  The formulaic clear-this-area-watch-a-cutscene approach common in today's games tell a story which only exists in the moment. If you return to that area later, it's likely to be empty because you're being told a story and being pushed forward. In essence, you are told the story of a character who’s in a world that will become irrelevant once you're instructed to move on. In contrast, older games showed players the impact the plot had on the game worlds. The story was never about its main hero, it was bigger; these stories were about the effect the player has on their worlds.

Axiom Verge gives the player total control of his/her world. Not surprisingly, your role is to save it, but you can do anything to it. In fact, you need to manipulate the environment in order to complete the game.  It's the emphasis on design and gameplay mechanics that make this game feel as though it would be right at home on an NES cartridge (it even has cheat codes).

In some regards it's as if Axiom Verge was released twenty years too late, but it's exactly the kind of game we need right now. No doubt, Happ made this game to pay tribute to his childhood favorites, but he also made a video game time machine. This game is definitely a modern recreation of those halcyon days of gaming.

C'mon! Who wouldn't want this!

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In a fitting bit of irony, if this were on a physical copy I'd have pre-ordered, bought, and played through it by now; sadly, with my bias on such, it ratcheted down (but not far) on my 'must play' list. Being a one-man outfit, I totally respect the many reasons it is download only though.

I do intend on picking this up to support the mam's admirable work, as well as to play what sounds like an excellent game. Sadly, I've had so many instances over the years where I buy a digital copy and then, by the time I get around to playing it, it goes on a huge sale or free with PS+/GwG... Tongue

Thanks for the great write-up, Fleach!
With so many PS3's still out there, it's a shame they didn't make it available on that format. Looks like a really great game, so I'll have to keep it in the ole mental Rolodex when I get a PS4 in about 20 years. Wink  Good review Floyd!
I caught quite a bit about it on twitter.
It sounds phenomenal but i've got my fingers crossed for release(s) on platform(s) i already own/intend to own.

At worst i'll just have to visit someone who owns a PS4 to check it out. Wink
Dev said hopefully on the One and/or 360 next year Cheesy
@Izret101: That's pretty sweet! I think it was originally intended for 360/PC until Sony picked it up via its Pub Fund.
Oh, man.  Axiom Verge has an entry up on Steam.  Granted, the release date is "COMING SOON" but at least it is there.  Enough for me to Follow it and add it to my Wishlist, so good enough.

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Role Playing games are my favourite genre of the gaming library. I feel it is appropriate to take a look at the games that have touched me in my time as a gamer and collector and share them with the community. Feel free to discuss your thoughts, ideas, and challenge my opinions. The conversation is welcomed.
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