Howdy 2016ers! It’s 2016, and we’ll be 2016ing before we can count to 2016. 

What did you play this holiday season? What are you looking forward to now that we’re in 2016? Did I mention it’s 2016? Weird, because it’s totally 2016.

Wednesday, 9:19 am – Gavin

Depending on when “the holiday season” started, I played two games: Axiom Verge and Yoshi’s Woolly World.  I’ve already spoken at some length about Yoshi’s Woolly World, but I’ll just expand on that briefly: it’s still a lot of fun, it’s still super adorable, but the main challenge appears to be in the retrieval of the collectibles, not in the completion of the levels.  It’s a lot more forgiving than, say, Donkey Kong Country Returns, which was certainly a tougher game.  The collectibles are fairly well obscured in places, so it’s more about knowing where to hunt, rather than platforming skill in their retrieval.

I mentioned in the December 21st weekly post that I started Axiom Verge.  I finished it shortly thereafter, and I was generally quite pleased with it.  It followed a generally Metroid-esque progression, while varying enough to not be a ripoff.  It’s definitely more of a Metroid game than another game that previously invited that comparison, The Swapper (the developers of The Swapper were very open that Super Metroid provided significant atmospheric inspiration).

You play as Trace, a scientist who is transported to another world following an explosion in his laboratory.  You must retrieve items and weapons to help you escape from the world and help its inhabitants from the dangers that present themselves.

I don’t want to get too much into how the game works because discovery is a lot of fun in this game, and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who may be playing it or may want to play it in the future.  If you aren’t a Metroidvania fan, you will definitely not like this game, because it is the Metroidvaniest of them all.  World progression and backtracking is omnipresent, and you uncover weapons, items, and health to improve your abilities and survival chances.  You fight large bosses, and there are obvious visual clues that you’re about to fight a large boss.

I wasn’t too crazy about the boss fights – they’re very conventional and don’t typically require much thought beyond “find weak spot, hit weak spot while avoiding attacks”.  At least in Super Metroid, there’s at least one additional level of depth to each boss fight, be it needing to shoot the enemy in the chest before it will open its mouth to expose its weak spot (Super Kraid), the fact that you can’t use super missiles lest it fight back with a very strong, unavoidable attack (Phantoon), or the fact that the enemy can trap you with its projectiles and cause significant damage, but opening itself in the process to a lethal electrical trap (Draygon).  In AV, it’s very much just “big thing with weak spot, hit here now”.

The final boss fight is cheap garbage, if I’m completely honest.  It’s made substantially easier with a specific weapon, but it’s very important to note that many of the weapons are hidden and are not discovered during normal progress, which speaks to a greater problem: there’s a lot of trial and error, hunting and pecking-type of gameplay here, and that does set the game back.  Not to the point that I didn’t enjoy myself, but enough that it invites stronger criticism of itself considering this game is aping Super Metroid, which has as close to perfect flow and progression as I’ve seen in a game.

To that end, there are 20 weapons hidden throughout the game, and many of them are useless by the time you get them (which is to say, they don’t improve your fighting chances).  That’s entirely too many for this type of game – you’re left guessing as to which weapon would be the best against specific enemies, and constantly stopping and switching (admittedly, that’s made very easy through the use of a the right controller stick) breaks the flow of the game.  In Super Metroid, you switch weapons fairly infrequently, and it can be done on the fly (that is, you can keep moving while switching from your current weapon to missiles, super missiles, etc, and even if you stop moving, you can switch in approximately half a second).

There’s also a “secret world” that the player can enter.  When you enter, you are advised that it’s too dangerous for you and you should turn around.  So, I did, assuming that I’d come back to it once I was stronger.  Unfortunately, that’s not part of the game, so when I realized that I hadn’t been back to the secret world, I couldn’t find the entrance to it again, as it’s not included on your map, and the world is pretty substantial, so checking every wall for that one door is excessively time consuming.

Perhaps I’m being unfair considering I have so much experience with its progenitor.  I don’t want to give the impression that I didn’t love it.  All in all, Axiom Verge is a great game, despite my complaints.  I’m probably unfairly harsh on it because it wants to be Super Metroid very badly, and that’s going to invite a lot of criticism.  It’s an inconsistent game – its highs are very high, but its lows are frustrating.  The saving grace is that the frustration is at least understandable – you can tell what the developer was trying to do, but it just didn’t work out as a gameplay experience.  At its worst, Axiom Verge is an exercise in frustration unmatched by any decent game I played in the last two years.  But at its best, Axiom Verge is arguably the best game I played in 2015.

Where will Axiom Verge fall in our annual GOTY list, considering those two extremes?  Check us out next week!

Monday, 2:04 pm – Ricky

#1 on Google for the term “2016”: In progress