Just a couple of weeks ago the 3DS was graced with Metroid: Samus Returns, a top-notch new entry in the long standing franchise that gave the Metroidvania genre its name. Some were no doubt a little miffed that the game didn't come to the shiny new Switch, but another game has now come along that will fill in that gap quite nicely. Last year, Nintendo gamers were graced with the opportunity to play Axiom Verge - one of the finest Metroidvanias we’ve played in many years - on the Wii U. The game managed to near perfectly hit that blend of old-school elements clearly inspired by the likes of action platformers that have come before, while adding in new touches and surprises to keep the player engaged and guessing. In short, we were blown away, and now the game has been ported to the Switch. The question is this: is Axiom Verge just as good now as it was then? The answer is yes, absolutely.
Now, let’s first discuss the differences that exist between this version and the Wii U equivalent. Seeing as how the Switch doesn’t have the second screen capability of the Wii U, there is no longer an instantly accessible map or inventory screen; those are now accessed by the tap of a button, just like in other versions of the game. While it is true that this may be more inconvenient than just glancing down at a screen in your lap, it’s only a very minor change and doesn’t actually detract from the gameplay in any notable way.
The biggest change here, and the one that makes this version the most worthwhile, is the simple fact that it can be played both at home and on the go. As Axiom Verge is not a very visually intensive game to begin with, performance is the same whether or not you’re playing with it in the dock. This extra convenience of portability really does enhance the overall experience; in the review process, there were numerous times where life obligations saw us having to cut sessions on the couch short and bring the portable unit along, but we were utterly delighted that the game could be continued with no drawbacks when away from home. Obviously, this isn’t a feature that’s exclusive to Axiom Verge, but the versatility of the experience is no less satisfying here, and it’s nice to see that the game doesn’t lose anything in the process of moving from TV to portable.
If you’re looking for a more in-depth review of Axiom Verge, you can find the original here, but we’ll still regather some thoughts here. Axiom Verge follows the story of Trace, an ambitious scientist who supposedly dies in an explosion when an experiment goes wrong. He quickly wakes up on a dark and lonely world overrun by strange creatures, guided only by a weak, disembodied voice begging for his help. There’s a bit more focus on story here than your typical Metroid title, but it never loses its sense of isolation and mystery. The more you learn about the story, the more questions you have and you feel as though you somehow know even less. It’s quite compelling in that sense, and serves to add a good sense of purpose to gameplay.
Naturally, as a Metroidvania, this is a 2D action platformer with lots of exploration. The basic gameplay flow consists of exploring a sprawling, weird world in search of new guns and abilities that will allow you to explore new parts that couldn’t be reached before. Along the way you’ll blast your way through all manner of horrors and find new upgrades that will see Trace able to both give and receive more damage. You’re in a constant state of improvement in this game, and that feeling of gradual empowerment is satisfying to experience.
The angle that sets Axiom Verge apart from the rest of its genre peers is its focus on glitches as part of its fundamental game design, both narratively and from a gameplay perspective. Relatively early on you’re given access to a sort of glitch gun, which allows you to mess with enemies and the environment in unexpected ways. It can be as much of a hindrance as it can be a help — such as how enemies are occasionally harder to defeat after they’ve been impacted by the gun — so experimentation is encouraged. The beauty of this wrinkle to gameplay is found in the sensation of being somewhere that you’re not ‘supposed’ to be. You may find yourself in an area or using a gun that you probably shouldn’t have at that point in the game, but savvy usage of the glitch gun allowed you to reach those milestones early. It’s that ever-present question of “Should I really be here?” that so brilliantly feeds back into the mystery of the game itself. You don’t know the answer to that question and the game certainly won’t answer it for you, so you press on to learn more.
From a presentation standpoint, Axiom Verge delivers in a meaningful way, presenting you with an unfriendly and alluring world that you just can’t help but explore. The world is broken up into a series of themed, interconnected sub-worlds, each with a unique colour scheme, design, enemy types, music, and so on. Just when you feel that one place is getting a little repetitive, you’ll stumble into a new world and be wowed all over again. The worlds look and sound as creepy and lonely as would be expected from a game of this sort, expertly nailing that dark sci-fi aesthetic that catapulted Metroid to fame all those years ago.
Metroid: Samus Returns may not be on the Switch, but Axiom Verge does a fine job of filling in that genre gap on the eShop; this is truly an outstanding port of an outstanding game, no more and no less. We would strongly urge those of you that missed this game on other platforms to pick it up here; this is the full Axiom Verge experience and it's available in a format that supports both handheld and home play. For those of you who have played it before on other platforms, it’s ultimately a question of just how much you love this game. This is the exact same, excellent game that you’ve played before, so whether or not you want to buy it again is personal choice. Regardless of which side you fall on, Axiom Verge is a fantastic example of how to do a Metroidvania right, and we couldn’t be more pleased with it.