Sunday, September 18, 2016

Modern Classics: Axiom Verge (Wii U)

Day 2

So it's been two days since I last played Axiom Verge (I lost a whole day to fatigue when I stayed up until the early a.m. hours for the purpose of driving my brother somewhere), so I'll have to spend a little bit of time re-familiarizing myself with the controls. I hope that my being distracted by similar real-life goings-on doesn't bog down the experience.

It's funny, though: I find that all of the stresses that were weighing on me instantly evaporate when that entrancingly emotive title-screen music kicks in and absorbs me whole. It's rare when a newer game exercises that kind of power over me.

So where was I? Well, I recall that there was currently no way for me advance past Kur, so I'm thinkin' that it'd be best to head back to previous rooms/areas and explore what I can--maybe pick up a few loose items and power-ups. I can think of a lot of places where my new high-jumping ability will be useful.

My backtracking efforts are rewarded fairly quickly, as a previously inaccessible route in the lower portion of Zi becomes fully navigable and leads me to the Bioflux Accelerator, which is said to cause a mutation when I'm at maximum health; a triggered cut-scene between Trace and Elsenova reveals that its "wirelessly injected" liquid will provide some type of enhancement. Driven by curiosity, I head back to the last save room to replenish my health, at which it's revealed that a fully charged Trace will now grow two claw arms out of his back; the one nearest to his currently favored side spews a projectile--a small red particle--in accessory whenever Trace fires his gun. Oh, so it's like a Gradius-style upgrade! The projectiles don't hit for much damage, no, but having even a little extra firepower is enough of an incentive to stay healthy. At the least, the claw-enhancement allows me to fill the screen with projectiles and overwhelm some of the more-pesky minor enemies.

Time to head back to Zi's entrance, I guess.

Credit to:

And uh oh--I can't exit from here because the ledge from which I dropped into Zi is too high to reach with even the Field Disruptor! I get stuck for a solution, so I wander around aimlessly for a few minutes before I stumble upon the answer: During a return to trip to the boss room, I spy the image of tiny platforms phasing in and out (I swear these weren't here before). I use my Address Disruptor to spray the deceitfully concealed platforms, their arrangement puzzle-like in design, and I navigate across their precarious lot to reach the massive room's eastern exit. Actual progress! (Well, obviously mine was self-imposed hardship, since I obviously already possessed the means to advance past this room. Stupid!)

Here I locate the elusive power filter, the sight of which prompts the telepathic visage of Elsenova. She's finally gained enough strength to fill us in on some of the backstory as explained in another Ninja Gaiden-like cut-scene. There are, she says, two sides to the universe: Worldstream and Breach. Breach is recognized as purely poisonous--so much so that Sudra, the planet we're currently occupying, was designed to counteract its corrosive effect. This Athetos fellow, a powerfully manipulative "PatternMind," came through their divide and infected Sudra with a pathogen, and only our disembodied Rusalki friends (Elsenova and her ilk) survived; however, Athetos used a "Breach Attractor" to imprison them within its poisonous grasp. If left unchecked, Athetos will eventually destroy even them and inevitably find his way into the Worldstream.

Elsenova's request is that we locate her sister Ophelia, who has seen Breach with her own eyes and knows how to circumvent its pathogen. Apparently she can help us along to our next goal. Trace has yet to understand why he's been chosen for this role, and he expects to receive answers if he cooperates with their plan. Elsenova agrees to his demand.

The proceeding room contains a Modified Lab Coat, which will allow me to teleport "across a wall." Now is that any wall or just a specific type of barrier? The description isn't clear on that point. Trace's sprite changes to reflect the donning of this garb.

Oh, I see--my new teleportation powers allow me to pass through any wall or barrier that measures in at one block in width. I recall there being a bunch of items curiously enclosed within certain environmental structures. I snag a few of them before heading back to Kur.

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From Kur's earliest vertical corridor, I'm able to teleport through a wall and reach a new area called Indi, but I don't think I'm ready to go here yet. For now, I turn back and finish exploring Kur.

While continuing to ascend this same corridor, I teleport through more obstructions and soon find myself in a whole new section of Kur--what appears to be the planet's surface. And ... what? I'm in Rygar?!

It's freakin' Rygar! Those are 100% Rygar trees, man. The background visuals, too, are highly reminiscent: There stand majestic mountains, their hue influenced by the beautifully rendered gradience of an encompassing sunset (or "nebulaset," as it were). Everything about the level design, from the environment's structures to how the platforms are positioned, is straight out of Tecmo's 1986 classic. Even the newly introduced enemies, like the gas-spewing turtle-like creatures and those demonic stone-wheel-riding terrors, remind me of Argool's inhabitants. Well, this seals it: Tom Happ is absolutely aware of and is a fan of Rygar! My respect-level for him just went up, like, ten-fold.

Actually, I'd call the visual design more of a mix between Super Metroid's Crateria and Rygar's Gran Mountain, the backdrop identifiable yet at the same time abstract and cosmic-looking. It's an interesting blend.

The outer limits spill into an adjacent cavern where I find the Remote Drone, which appears to be a new buddy. The description states that the launched drone can be detonated at any time and return to Trace. Control shifts to the tiny drone once it's released, at which point I can maneuver it around as I please (a mechanic similar to those we've seen in Tail's Adventure and the more recent Shantae games). It can crawl into narrow spaces, which answers that question (no morph ball or bombs needed). It has its own health meter (it'll return to Trace if destroyed, after which its energy will slowly replenish). And the little bugger even comes equipped with a persistent, short-ranged laser that allows it to clear away destructible blocks. As a bonus, it can kill those obnoxious turtle enemies more efficiently than Trace could! Too, our drone friend is mapped to its own button (X).

I'm going to be getting a lot of use out of this little fella. If anything, it'll serve me well as a bullet sponge whenever I can find a nice, cozy corner into which I can temporarily park Trace.

Nearby is an expansive section that can only be explored with the drone. Successful navigation earns me the Hypo-Atomize, whose projectiles fire their own projectiles at a set frequency; basically the discharge's exhaust trail leaves behind substances that spread out vertically though over a limited range. It still isn't much help against those populous turtles.

Exploring another one of those glitchy "secret worlds"--this one found merely by walking through a nearby wall--nets me some more minor power-ups.

Credit to:

I clear out what I can of Kur and then head into the turquoise-colored Indi. And, well, the game's not ready for me to be here: There's a high clearance blocking my path. I tried to cheat a bit and toss my drone buddy over the clearance, but alas--its jumping ability is too limited, and it soon runs into an impassable roadblock (at least I was able to score some quality map-fill!). Though, the drone proves to be useful in the caverns below, where he's able to burrow into some narrow aperture and grab me an upgrade for the Address Disrupter. Now I should be able to clear away those reinforced glitch-barriers.

Using the drone to explore one of Kur's more expansive--and particularly deadly drone-only sections (the only effective strategy, it seems, is to tank my way through the enemy onslaught)--nets me the Voranj, whose description says something about "bifurcating energy bolts." It's a new gun: A wicked spread-laser that blitzes anything within a one-screen radius. Now we're talkin' (finally the true Contra experience)! It's not a super-powerful weapon, but its range allows the enemy no quarter; its branching beams will even cut around corners to find them!

I suddenly remember that there's a small gap in Veruska's room, beyond which might be the healing item our Rusulka friends needs. Well, there are items there, but they turn out to be the Passcode Tool, which is said to manipulate reality with encoded strings (no idea), and a note. I'm not sure how either will help me advance further into Kur. I guess my only option, now, is to check out what's behind that glitchy barrier back in that long vertical corridor (that's if the Address Disruptor has been upgraded enough to do the job).

It works as advertised, and I advance upward to another part of the planet's surface--an area called Edin. Unfortunately, the path forward is barred by more of that green fuzz, which I haven't seen in a while. Even the upgraded Address Disruptor can't put a dent in it.

I head back and find the correct route on the planet-surface section of Kur. It's there where I run into another boss--a giant scorpion-like creature outfitted with four cannons. It's the usual deal where the cannons fire in an alternating pattern. I beat the boss easily on my third attempt by simply crouching and using the Hypo-Atomizer, whose vertical discharge reliably strikes its vulnerable underbelly (the Voranj, which I'd been using to great effectiveness, failed me here). I can't shake the feeling that using this tactic is tantamount to cheating, but my guilt is allayed somewhat when Trace's externalized reasoning suggests that the creature was reluctant to fight--that I was meant to win without great effort.

Elsenova contacts us and explains that these "soldiers" were originally normal humans, but they've since been transformed by a pathogen. Yet they retain memories from their human days. Trace feels bad about the fact that he's been killing "innocent people" and refuses to reverse himself even after he learns that they were loyal to Athetos and helped him spread the pathogen.

Credit to:

The room beyond the boss chamber is home to another biomechanical cranial structure. It explains that the creature we've just defeated is Katrahaska, which had been weakened by the Rusalka via a drone attack (perhaps a hint about what weapon I should have used against the boss). This is the method using which the Rusalka fought Athetos' allies until he disabled all of them. (I'm a little unclear on some of the story's details, since it can be a little difficult to understand what the inarticulate Rusalka are saying. I get the sense that I'm misinterpreting this recent event--that it was the biomechanical head whose name was actually "Katrahaska," and I wasn't instead speaking to an alternate form of Elsenova.)

Moving up and to the right, I find a switch that releases a small army of repair drones. Elsenova (I think) contacts me again and offers her thanks. She then reiterates that it's important to find Ophelia, who knows a way to bypass the pathogen and access Breach, and kill Athetos before he can wipe out what's left of their species.

The caverns ahead lead me back to the surface, where some tactical use of my drone buddy leads to the procurement of the Grapple, which will allow me to "swing from rocks." And would you look at that: It's the Bionic Arm from Bionic Commando! No, really--it functions almost identically, with all of the same nuance (fire it in all upward directions, swing from left to right, shift heights)and acrobatic flair. I wasn't expecting this at all. In fact, I'm shocked by the Grapple's existence. I mean, it's crazy how Axiom Verge is becoming a full-on NES medley! I didn't think that the game's sources for inspiration would extend so far beyond those I've previously discussed! (The Grapple, too, is mapped to its own button [A], by the way.)

I was expecting that I'd obtain a Space Jump-like upgrade later in the game, when the game had no more need to restrict my movement, but instead this Grapple weapon comes along and completely breaks the game open at what I'd estimate is only about the halfway point. Immediately, it helps me escape from the deep abyss in which I'm currently trapped.

The Grapple allows me to access the snowy section above, where more drone-work nets me two separate weapons: The Reflector--a new gun that fires a rebounding mass of globule--and an enhancement for improving the distance over which I can toss the drone.

And that's enough action for one day. It's getting kind of late, after all, and I have some errands to run. I'll pick it up from here tomorrow night.

Credit to:

Day 3

The game's music really stays with me. It's been playing in my head ever since that first session ended.

I've been having fun messing around with the Grapple weapon. I can tell that Happ went to great lengths to reproduce the Bionic Arm (you can even use it to grab health and item drops from a distance!), though it's not quite a perfect replica. Its operation lacks a bit of polish, I find; that is, it can be a bit finicky when you attempt to grapple onto a ceiling that's close to a wall (he'll begin to jerkily swing in place, his spastic animation causing the controls to become unreliable). Still, points for the effort, Tom.

So all roads lead to Indi, whose entryway obstruction I can now clear with the Grapple. The first room of this cavern is monstrously large, and it takes me about two minutes to run all the way from right to left (maybe this is the game's way of advertising to me the existence of a Speed Booster-like power-up?). Its western exit takes me back to Eribu, the game's starting area. I don't need to be here right now, so I head back to Indi and jump through a chute located in the ceiling near the area's northwest side. I arrive at Ukkin-Na, but I get the feeling that I don't yet belong here. It's better to first finish fleshing out Indi.

I get sidetracked and wind up back in Eribu, where I pick up some loose power-ups, including the Multi-Disruptor--a short-ranged spread weapon that feels obsolete compared to the Voranj. I'm starting to think that I acquired the Vornanj a lot earlier than was intended (I conclude as much because that drone-only area was a whole lot nastier than anything I'd seen to that point).

Another of Indi's branching exits takes me back to Absu, where I use my new abilities to explore at length. I locate the Interial Pulse--a beam that drives its way through multiple enemies. It's a nice weapon, yes, but the Voranj is still more than sufficient.

For now, Indi offers up a whole lot of nothin'--just a bunch of inaccessible passageways and alternate entry points to places I've already been. It looks as though Ukkin-Na is the way to go.

Ukkin-Na looks like more of the same visually (turquoise-color blocks), but it distinguishes itself with a music track that I can best describe as a cosmic-sounding Kraid's Hideout theme, which is to say moody and imbued with alien ambiance. I run into a clone of myself, who quickly flees. Elsenova claims not to have seen him. We decide to give chase anyway.

During the pursuit, Trace begins to feel weary in reaction to the area's intense heat (I assume that it's a heated area, since there's a pronounced sweltering effect). Elsenova surmises that Athetos' pathogen is starting to affect us; locating Ophelia, apparently, will help alleviate the problem. But now Trace starts hallucinating; he exchanges dialogue with a skull head he mistakes for Ophelia. The distorted corridors carry me upward to a boss room. Strangely, its occupant, a giant-squid creature, has our face (a decrepit version of it, at least) embedded into its frame. The boss thinks it is us. No, wait--we are the boss. Huh? This is weird.

I'm in control of the boss while Trace has been commandeered by the game's A.I. I carpet-bomb the hell out of my former self, but it's not enough; Trace overpowers me and then collapses, prompting a repair drone to come to his aid. What follows is a long cut-scene that details a huge plot twist: The lab explosion resulted in us being crippled, but we were competent enough to continue working with the surviving Dr. Hammond, who helped us publish the science-changing "Theory of Everything." It was dubbed "pseudo-science by the scientific community, and Trace was blacklisted.

Long story short: Trace is actually Athetos, which translates to "without place." Trace suspects that Elsenova is aware of this fact and has been keeping it from him. When he regain consciousness, he find himself standing on a pillar below Ophelia; she brought him here because he, like Athetos, is a PatternMind, which is the reason he was able to survive the pathogen. He's also the only one who can use Athetos' weapons. Trace represents their only chance to defeat him.

Basically, the Rusulka searched the breach for Trace, plucked him from Earth, and brought him here to stop Athetos, who they say is nearby. Well, all right.

So now I'm free to explore Ukkin-Na, whose environments are now both tamer and bereft of those spooky ghost-like enemies. I soon obtain a new platinum-colored trenchcoat, using which I can now teleport in all directions! It even functions as an air-dash of sorts, like a third jump if Trace were a Smash Bros. character. Man--there are so many places I can now fully navigate! So many places to which I can return and circumvent barriers that were previously impenetrable! That's another sign that Axiom Verge is a true Metroid-like experience.

I'll get to doing that in a little bit. For now, my travels take me to one of Edin's alternate entrance points.

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A quick trip across its lunar exterior brings me to a boss room that accommodates two of those egg-shaped save pods. I destroy the mutation that's inhabiting the pod on the right and then turn my attention to the one on the left. As I'm shooting it, it suddenly evolves into a hideously deformed creature. Trace is taken aback by this development; the Rusulka contact him and explain that he's been blasting an aborted clone of Athetos. This is how Athetos creates his soldiers, we're told. Trace finishes off the dying specimen, at which point he breaks down and makes known his exasperation; he informs the Rusulka that he knows the facts--that he, himself, is Athetos--and demands answers. They specify that Trace is actually a clone, or, rather, data left over from an older version of Athetos (more Matrix vibes here).

The Rusulka gambled that Trace wouldn't turn out evil like his predecessor, who fell under the influence of Breach corruption. This "rebirth chamber" is the reason why Trace currently exists, yet he has no memory of his past incarnations. Trace has no designs on killing Athetos--he'd rather try to talk some sense into him--and refuses to go along with their plan, no matter the intensity of their insistence ("How are you going to make me do that?" he asks. Without warning, he's struck down where he stands.

Ophelia revives Trace in the previous save room and reveals that Elsenova was his killer; she hates Athetos that much. He gets the inference that only excruciating pain awaits him if he doesn't play along. Though, he's vehement in his stance that he'd rather talk to Athetos than destroy him. The compromising Ophelia concedes to his stance. In a subsequent conversation, initiated in a large room where the Rusulka's bodies are stored, Ophelia informs Trace that she and her sisters can't deactivate the Breach Attractor in their current forms; he's the only one that can switch it off--save them from certain death.

In this very same room we obtain the Address Bomb, which adds an explosive blast to the Address Disruptor. I suspect that this upgrade will finally allow me to clear away that green fuzz. I can't use it quite yet, though, since it requires "bomb ammo," whatever that is. Oh, it's something enemies drop; specifically, the flying plant enemies in the next room leave some behind when I obliterate them. I can only carry three at a time.

The Address Bomb isn't a conventional upgrade, though; it's an entirely separate weapon mapped to the ZL button. And sure enough, its blasts clear away the green fuzz! Back out at the exterior, I use my new weapon to clear away a lengthy mass of fuzz and collect myself the Shards--a gun that fires ice shards in machine-gun-like fashion (it works similarly to Bionic Commando's machine gun, which most people regard as useless). It doesn't have the pure range of the Voranj, but its continuous fire helps me to plow through the area's hordes of annoying flying enemies.

This area's tough, man. I've suffered at least four deaths trying to navigate around its western exit point. It doesn't help that the inner corridors are loaded with those claw enemies who pop up from the ground without warning, guaranteeing damage. Edin's top portion is home to a boss--a giant hornet creature (fully organic, surprisingly--no implanted ordnance or anything). And it's quite obnoxious, too: In addition to releasing difficult-to-avoid swarms of bees, it'll also intermittently stab its legs and stinger, all of which are crippling to touch; the latter attack covers a ridiculous amount of space and is executed with blinding speed. This fight almost drove me insane; it took about eight frustrating attempts, and I achieved victory only by the skin of my teeth. (I would've been really pissed had I blown that last encounter right at the end.)

For my trouble, I'm awarded the Drone Teleport, which allows me to warp to my drone's current position. Great! Now I can use the drone to tank my way past whole rooms and conserve Trace's health. Oh, sure, I can also use it to have Trace breach those narrowly constructed passages and arrive at places that were formerly off-limits, but priorities and all that).

Well, if it wasn't before, Sudra's world is now fully open to me. Now it's all about finding the correct path.

Back in Eribu, I use my new Address Bomb to clear out some green fuzz, beyond which I find the Lightning Gun, which fires a lightning bolt at about half the screen's length. I practice using it on the rebounding enemies in the next room; in doing so, I learn that it, too, exhibits continuous fire, and it even homes in on enemies, eliminating my need to aim. New favorite weapon!

After exhausting all possibilities, I arrive at the unexplored pinnacle of Kur, where I use my new drone-warp ability to access a new area called E-Kur-Man. I want to say that I'm now in a "fiery temple," but, really, I know that it's pointless to try to apply descriptors to Axiom Verge's separate areas; there's no consistent theme to any of them; the majority are different shades of 8-bit Metroid with inconsistent, though nonetheless interesting, background work.

Before Trace can discern as much on his own, Elsenova, who has apparently forgiven him for his earlier act of defiance, points out that he needs a special key to unlock certain barriers. I find my target, the Sudran Key, in a rocky cavern but only after spending minutes of mining through large pools of destructible blocks. It's not the game's most exciting segment, but whatever--I just want those barriers out of the way.

Once I reach E-Kur-Man's depths, I snag the Red Coat, using which I can now teleport through three-block-wide gaps and in accessory damage both enemies and destructible blocks with the teleport's propulsive thrust. I think there are a few rooms near the area's entrance where this ability will probe useful.

Nope--there's nowhere I can use it here. I wind up retreating all the way back to Absu, where it finally comes in handy. I use it to pick up a couple of the items I missed before, including the Data Bomb--a gun whose projectiles explode on impact. Though, I find nothing of great import. More random exploring brings me lands me at the heights of Ukkin-Na, where I run into a mobile Elsenova; she apologizes for her behavior before and advises Trace to continue west, where lies the entrance to Breach. It sounds like an end-of-game scenario, so I figure I'll play until I reach the next save room and then call it a day.

Along the way, I foolishly enter a red door and get decimated by a ceiling-perched spider boss. Well, that was dumb. My mind must've been elsewhere. The next time through I wisely choose a different path and find my desired safety pod. And that's enough for today.

All signs point to this being the endgame, so it's likely that I'll be finishing up Axiom Verge tomorrow.

Day 3

It's a nice night. This is the first time I'm months I've been able to pop open a window without causing the house's temperature to rise up to 78 degrees. There's a cool breeze, the crickets are chirping, and there's a hint of autumn in the air. Why, such an atmosphere is the perfect backdrop for this final session with Axiom Verge, which zealously embraces the tranquil augmentation. Mainly, it's time to head to Mar-Uru, the game's final area, and confront this Athetos fellow. Or ourselves. Or whoever.

My battle with the spider boss is basically a chaotic slugfest--an intense battle of attrition that came down to literally our last slivers of health. A few room later, I run into another boss--this one your basic flying drone. Trace attempts to talk his way out of this battle by claiming to be the true Athetos--in effect the drone's leader--and calling for it to stand down. The drone doesn't buy it. Suddenly, Trace notices that the room's exit isn't barricaded and deduces that there's nothing stopping him from simply skipping the battle entirely. He turns out to be correct; I can waltz right on out of here without having to raise a finger. Though, immediately the guilt kicks in, and that little voice reminds me that there's no use robbing myself of the full experience when I paid real money for this game. Also, I have this fear that acting with cowardice might result in my earning a bad ending.

I engage the drone boss and defeat it on my second attempt by hammering it with the Voranj and dodging its projectiles with liberal use of air-dashes (I would have beaten it the first time had the d-pad correctly read my double-tap inputs). Using the teleport to dash through projectiles seems to be the key to getting through this rough area without taking heavy damage.

And uh oh--I'm hearing the Rygar battle roar already. This, what I assume is the game's last vertical corridor, is filled with irksome floating-orb enemies that fire lasers in all directions; their strength and attack range are so considerable that I resort to planting Trace in a crevice and letting my drone pal, with its small-target frame, do all of the heavy lifting. With little health remaining, I reach the final save room.

A final passage takes me up into Athetos' domain--a giant glass tube. It's here we see our progenitor submerged in a maintenance tank housed within a screen-filling biomechanical contraption. In the triggered cut-scene, Athetos informs us that this machine protects him from the pathogen; he previously owned a much more portable device, but the "Rusalki" destroyed it. (I thought "Rusulki was their world, not their species. Am I confused on this matter?) Athetos reveals to Trace that he indeed intentionally released the pathogen, but he also warns Trace that the Rusulki, to which he refers as "our captors," will kill him if he learns too much about the incident. Instead, he decides to tell us about why we're here.

In summary: After crossing over to Sudra in search of enlightenment, Athetos came to covet the planet's technology but not its obstinate people, who were using the Breach to lock out the greater universe; the Sudrans' superstitious ways were preventing the harvesting of their advanced technology, so he chose to eliminate them. And the Rusalki, which he describes as "masters of war," are the last obstacle in the way of total control. He has no plans to shut off the Breach Attractor, doing which will free them and undue all of his work. He has to destroy them now, and he asks that we provide our assistance. Trace replies with a predictable "Hell no!", and the final battle is on!

Suddenly, a trio of sentinels materialize and surround me. Using my Lightning Gun and some teleport abuse, I spend minutes destroying hordes of the endlessly spawning sentinels before realizing that they're merely functioning as a decoy--a distracting group of damage-sponges; the real target is the turquoise-colored module embedded within the middle portion of the ceiling. When the module is destroyed, a Rusulka sister emerges from the right exterior, in the form of an enormous flying eel (I guess), and assaults the tube by bombarding it with bullets as fired from the tips of her many scales. A destroyed module is soon replaced by another. Unfortunately, I'm eventually overwhelmed by the sentinels during the battle's third phase.

On this second attempt, I'll think I'll try using the Voranj, since the Lightning Gun's lock-on mechanic makes it impossible to effectively target the modules whenever sentinels are flying overhead. No good--I succumb even quicker this time.

This time I'll equip the Inertial Pulse, which is essentially Verge's Wave Beam equivalent, since it travels through enemies and negates their clutter. During the encounter, I learn that I can manipulate the sentinels' movement by jumping approximately every three seconds, impelling them to move away from me and instead convene near the room's middle-top portion. When it works, I'm able to stand safely beneath the capsule and fire upward without fear of being hit by the sentinels' lasers. The Inertial Pulse does its job to cut through the sentinels and strike the module.

Things go smoothly from there. I take out three separate modules, free the trio of Rulsaka sisters, and thwart Athetos' genocidal plan. Trace wishes for Elsenova to share in his celebration, but she isn't interested. "There is one more thing to do," she tells Trace, who correctly guesses that she intends to finish Athetos off, since he's deemed too dangerous to be left alive. He tries to talk her out of it to no avail. Elsenova then proceeds to absolutely obliterate Athetos' tank with her enormous mouth-laser.

When it's over, Trace wonders if Athetos could have been redeemed. He questions the idea of returning home knowing that he's a clone of a murderer. Elsenova advises him not to worry as she reduces him to an unconscious state. He wakes up in the hospital as if nothing had happened. But there is something different: The lab had collapsed, yes, but Trace somehow wasn't injured, and no one found that strange. Trace, who has lost all sense of himself, feels that he can't resume a normal life and decides to use his newfound knowledge to launch a new mission: Return to Sudra and finally get to the bottom of things. This has a bad-ending vibe splashed all over it, though I can't be sure. I mean, indie games do tend to have dark, depressing endings.

Following the credits sequence, the game provides me my Metroid-style final stats: 70% item collection, 89% map-completion, and 24 deaths. And then I'm swiftly returned to the title screen. Not satisfied, I do a quick Google search and learn that there are indeed variations on the ending, but there are no major changes (just a few extra lines of text, and nothing to suggest that the ending I got was a "bad" one). I'll have to earn green tanks in all of the completion-rate categories to witness these endings. Also, the rest of the weapons and secret-world entrances only appear in the Hard Mode (I was wondering why large sections of the inventory's gun section always seemed curiously vacant).

Obviously I'm not going to be seeing any of this on my current mission file. Though, Hard Mode will have to wait a few weeks, as I've got other games in my backlog. But before I move on, I'm going to reload my existing file for the purpose of map-filling, discovering secret-world entrances, and collecting any items I missed.

When I'm done, I'll return with my final thoughts. 

Final Thoughts

And, well, Axiom Verge was quite the remarkable experience. All of the superlatives I've seen thrown its way were on the mark. It accomplished exactly what it set out to do: Weave together a nostalgically charged modern classic using some of the best pieces of gaming history. Axiom Verge's is a world that is new to me, yet I feel like I've known about it forever. Yeah--it shamelessly wears the cloak of Metroid, which might lead some people to dismiss it as a knockoff, but what lies beneath its 8-bit camouflage is a truly inventive game. It lovingly references the old classics (Metroid, Contra, Rygar, Bionic Commando, and so many other 8- and 16-bit classics) at every turn, sure, but it also ventures to introduce novel ideas like debugging glitchy structures with a disruptor, or using old-style passcodes to both alter environments and manipulate the game's systems.

It's easy to see why people are so willing to champion Axiom Verge as a true "Metroid" game. Tom Happ knew what we were starving for.

Like Metroid, its world expands far beyond what you see on its surface--far beyond what you thought you knew at the start. As I continue playing my existing file, I make so many cool discoveries: You can learn passcodes by glitching out wall-crawlers and observing the subsequent letters displayed on their now-distorted animation frames. Certain flying enemies can be glitched into submission, at which point you can manipulate their movements. I don't have to actually run across Indi--there's a giant portable Rusalka head that can speed me across the area (I guess I didn't see it hanging around the background?). And one secret area in particular hides a gun called the Tethered Charge, which is basically an electrified Diskarmor (come on--you know I had to mention that)! 

There are tons of secrets, awesome weapons, and cool special abilities in this game. And that's just counting the stuff I've found in the Normal mode! I can't even imagine what the Hard mode has in store for me.

Still, there are a few negatives that weigh down the experience. While I appreciate how Axiom Verge seeks to capture Metroid's sense of atmosphere by taking cues from its visual and sound design, I can't deny that its sticking so close to the template works as an anchor; for as glorious as it looks and sounds, Verge never really establishes its own personality. Save for its Gran Mountain-inspired planet surfaces, few of its areas break from that craggy, bubbly 8-bit Metroid aesthetic. The emotionally saturated music does a marvelous job of providing texture to the game's world--describing its plight while defining its danger--true, but it, alone, can't make the homogeneous environments feel any more interesting. Oh, the game has plenty of beautifully drawn, subversive background imagery, but it can't do more than merely stretch the mold.

There were times when I had trouble following the story due to a combination of the Rusalkas' unintelligible dialogue and a few abstruse plot points, my usual response to which was disengagement from the minute-to-minute goings-on (but this is a minor quibble, actually, since I'm take-it-or-leave-it when it comes to story in action-adventure games).

Also, Verge is disappointingly not as labyrinthine as your average Metroid game. It feels as much early on, but then eventually you find that every room connects to every other room, and your process for getting from one area to the next is a simple matter of looking at the map and identifying the shortest path--the least-annoying set of rooms. Frankly, I got tired of traversing the same spaces over and over again and dealing with the same hyper-aggressive enemies each time. If ever there was a game that needed Symphony of the Night-style warp rooms, Axiom Verge is it. The fatigue factor that resulted from all of the monotonous backtracking is chiefly the reason why I need a break from the game before I play it a second time. Were the environments' textures more visually appealing, I probably wouldn't have minded doing all of that legwork, since there would have been more opportunity to immerse myself and let my mind run wild.

But I'll certainly be returning to Axiom Verge before long. I wouldn't miss the chance. It is, after all, what I'd consider to be a top-tier Metroidvania game--the best in its genre since Guacamelee! It's not Metroid, no; nothing ever will be. But it's the closest thing we'll probably get to it for a long, long time.

What else can I say? I'm so glad that I got the chance to do this--to document my experience with a new game right out of the starting gate. It's what I wish I would have done for my first experience with Metroid and indeed all of my other childhood favorites. Sadly, I took it all for granted. The only way I can atone for that sin, I feel, is to never again miss such an opportunity. 

In the end, Axiom Verge's grandest achievement is that it was able to evoke this sentiment from me--remind me why it's important to give solid form to my thoughts and feelings and share them all with you.

Really, there's no better way to frame a memory.

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