Verging on the insane.

Over two years since its original release, Axiom Verge finally makes it onto Nintendo’s latest console. Upon its release the game earned a lot of praise with its call back to a bygone era of gaming, one that people look back on so fondly. So, how does the Switch version hold up?

Players take control of Trace, a scientist who, after being involved in an explosion in his lab, wakes up to find himself in the dark and creepy world of Sundra. Armed with just a weapon called the Axiom Disruptor, Trace must battle through a maze of strange creatures while trying to piece together how and why he has ended up in this bizarre world. Considering this is a throwback to a time where story didn’t really stand out too much in action platformers, Axiom Verge has quite the deep storyline, with a solid mystery behind it, as well as a few twists and turns. It is certainly not the reason to play this game, but it sure makes a delightful change to see so much thought put into it. The gameplay is what will pull you into this game, the brutal and unforgiving gameplay.

Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PS4, XB1, PC, Vita
Price: $19.99
Multiplayer: No
Price I’d pay: $19.99

Axiom Verge is a Metroidvania game, and it makes no bones about it. Trace must navigate his way through Sundra, with each room filling out a map in the upper right part of the screen. There will be many obstacles in his way, hindering his progression in certain directions. True to the genre, these areas will be locked off until Trace can find a new weapon or ability. Hence the reason why the map is so important, players will be going back to areas several times as they try to find the right tool for the job to help them make it to the next boss. It is also the one area that I felt that the game lets the player down.

While the map highlights save rooms, boss rooms and potential doorways, I still felt lost a lot of the time, trying to remember the whereabouts of rooms I needed to revisit. And even then, I wasn’t sure whether or not my new toy had the means to let me progress. Players can use the L & R sticks to set reminders, but they can only use two and there is no way to categorize them. It’s a small issue to be fair, but one that needs brought up nonetheless.

Throughout the world various power-ups can be found. New weapons and abilities are often only found by defeating bosses, but other bonuses; such as increased health and firepower are scattered around the map, some in areas that can only be reached after players have unlocked other items. These power-ups are going to be essential if players want to succeed, as Axiom Verge not only draws its gameplay and design inspiration from 8-bit games, but also its difficulty. Enemies are plentiful and move fast, and bosses are tough. And although they have their own attack patterns, they still take care and patience to destroy.

Standard enemies also respawn if Trace re-enters a previously cleared room, so there is no room to let their guard down. Save rooms do offer a moment of pause and a refill of the health bar, so it is probably a good idea to seek as many of those out as one can. Both the platforming and combat feel great and authentic to the era. Yes, it can get frustrating at times, especially as I began the adventure, but after a while I started to get into the mindset that the game wanted me to have, and although it never gets ‘easy’, it certainly does become less troublesome.

But the one thing that stood out to me the most was how Axiom Verge looks and sounds. Using some excellent design choices, it manages to make Sundra feel deeply unsettling, even with its retro look. A clever use of colors lends to the feeling that this is truly some kind of alien world, capturing the mood of a 1980’s low budget sci-fi horror movie, while still looking crisp and sharp. While the sound effects and music fit the visuals perfectly, adding to the sense of dread and chaos. It does a fantastic job of making Axiom Verge stand out in the crowd and leaves a lasting impression after playing.

As well as the main game, Axiom Verge also caters to those who like to speedrun, with its own specific mode. Aimed at those who really want a challenge and like to stream, it offers both normal and hard difficulty, as well as an on-screen timer. It even keeps track of your best times. This isn’t a mode for me, but I am sure there are plenty of people out there who are up for it.

Axiom Verge is a real homage to a time gone by. But instead of feeling old and tired, it injects new life into an old genre by coming up with inventive ways to push you forward. It is also the kind of game that works great on the Switch. Its simple design means it plays well on the go and also doesn’t kill the battery. If you are looking for something to dip in and out of during the busy Fall period, then look no further.

Review copy of game provided by publisher.

Written by
News Editor/Reviewer, he also lends his distinct British tones to the N4G Radio Podcast. When not at his PC, he can be found either playing something with the word LEGO in it, or TROPICO!!!