Happy weekend! I started writing this and it turned into something a little different than the intended Throwback Thursday, sorry I’m a few days late with this blog. Today is going to be a little self serving, and I will try to keep the bias to a minimum, but this game is a modern classic and deserves the attention. Recently, I began my speedrunning career on Axiom Verge. It has been a journey, meeting the community behind it, learning the inner workings of the game, and working with fellow runners to make the game even faster. Huge shout-out to the community behind this game. They constantly push me to be better, not just at the game, but at life.
I want to start by thanking Thomas Happ for this brilliant love letter of a title, he is unbelievably talented and an inspiration for anyone looking to make it as an independent development team. Everything in Axiom Verge was created solely by him, and the attention to detail is superb. This game oozes Metroid-y goodness and yet stands as its own game and not a re-skinned clone.
I suppose I can boil the primary elements of the story down to the morality of scientific discovery gone too far. It’s a decent story, with well defined character development, and very well supported by the extra lore you can find in the form of Notes throughout the world. These Notes aren’t just for lore though, some provide ciphers to read other Notes, while others point you towards hidden paths. There is quite a lot to the story that builds like a murder-mystery and I cant speak on too many specifics without spoilers.
The story is great, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the true excellence that is the art and music. Every single tile and sprite was hand drawn then manually transferred to pixel art. This hand crafting creates a fluidity of motion in every sprite that I have rarely seen in 16 bit art; it doesn’t just look amazing, it feels good too. Coupled with the precision of the art are the tight controls akin to Metroid Fusion. Movement feels precise, there is no nuance to the controls like there is in Super Metroid. This is both a blessing and a curse. Nuanced controls are rewarding to get used to and really show off a player’s talents, however, precision control allows easier learning curves.
I could go on for a while about the things that make the game great casually, such as the attention to detail on secret worlds, but I’m a speedrunner, and there’s quite a bit of brilliance put into the dedicated speedrun mode. The mode removes the story and all UI elements from pickups, reduces the randomness, removes secret worlds, and keeps track of your time with checkpoints at boss kills – accurate to the frame. Plus, on Steam, it supports leaderboards, so you can compare your times with the rest of the steam playerbase. All in all, pretty cool stuff that lets you focus on the gameplay instead of all the extras.
Over the three years since the game was released, a number of breakthroughs in the speed tech have been discovered, dropping times and pushing the community further. We have learned a lot, and recently we have pushed the record down farther than we ever expected. Six months ago, the world record was considered almost impossible to beat, and yet in the last six weeks we have seen a full 50 seconds shaved from that record, with no real expectation of slowing down. The community has banded together to optimize strategies, and reroute the path of the game to make it ever faster. It has been a joy to not just watch, but also assist in, the optimizing of this game.
So I guess that as Axiom Verge was one man’s love letter to Metroid, this is my love letter to the game, the developer, and the community as a whole. Axiom Verge was a fantastic journey through the dark depths of a truly alien planet and its strange past before I picked up the speed techniques for it. Now, its one of my favorite pastimes.