Tag Archives: metroidvania

FGC #639 Castlevania: Curse of Darkness

Welcome to CastletonEven if you bury it under a pile of bad ideas, a good idea can shine through.

Castlevania: Curse of Darkness was the second Castlevania title released on the Playstation 2. Opposite a time when traditional, Symphony of the Night-like 2-D Castlevania titles were annually appearing on the Gameboy Advance and Nintendo DS, Konami attempted a pair of “next gen” Castlevania titles on the Playstation 2 (and Xbox, if you’re nasty). The first, Castlevania: Lament of Innocence, was an effort to stick a conventional Belmont into a 3-D battle castle. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great, either. So the promise of the franchise iterating on that experience two years later with Castlevania: Curse of Darkness was encouraging. This could be more than a simple “Belmont with a whip” game. It could be the “modern” Castlevania, where a super-powered dude (why is it always a dude?) with a host of magical abilities and a seemingly infinite menagerie of esoteric weapons stomps through the Castlevania countryside. And… Oh! What’s this? We all had so much fun with Soma Cruz and his ability to manipulate Dracula’s powers that we are getting a whole new Castlevania concept: A Devil Forgemaster. The protagonist for Castlevania: Curse of Darkness is someone who previously “forged” the armies of Dracula. That sounds interesting!

In fact, the concept of a “Devil Forgemaster” hits all the buttons you need on a Castlevania game. First of all, it is just plain good lore to, after decades of vampire slaying, finally reveal why Dracula has a castle hopping with infinite fleamen. Previously, we were forced to conclude that the Lord of the Night went off and recruited an army of frogmen during some Belmont downtime. Now we know the real story: all those devils were forged by one or two adepts in Dracula’s employ. Dracula is royalty! Of course he subcontracts! But even more important than the story implications are the gameplay possibilities. A Devil Forgemaster should be able to draw on all the powers of those little devils, right? So you can immediately unleash the stony gaze of Medusa? The endurance of Frankenstein? The strangely kung-fu-based abilities of the Werewolf? And a host of special abilities means a number of different ways to keep a new castle appealing. The devil army can do more than double jump and break open walls, so more powers mean more ways to traverse the eponymous Dracula’s castle. When the biggest problem with Lament of Innocence was that the castle was exactly as boring as twenty different hallways sewn together (throw in a bathroom somewhere, guys), the mere mention of a Devil Forgemaster immediately ups the potential ante.

Rip and tearUnfortunately, Castlevania: Curse of Darkness was not to be the (vampire) savior of the franchise. Hector is certainly the Devil Forgemaster that was advertised, but it turns out that such a position does not confer all the abilities that could be imagined. Hector gets a double jump and a host of (forgeable!) weapons, but beyond that, the “Devil Forgemaster” conceit is reserved exclusively for a system that looks a lot like Symphony of the Night’s seven-year-old familiar system. There are five required innocent devils (and a bonus sixth one if you feel like playing with a pumpkin again), and they all come with abilities of varying utility. The bird-type devil helps you to glide over a pit, while the faerie devil opens treasure chests that are (for the first time in the franchise) locked. Unfortunately, aside from the devil’s ability to sink into the floor, none of these abilities are new or even remotely stimulating. What’s more, these innocent devils are maddeningly generic, so whereas “golem” is a Castlevania mainstay, your Magmard companion looks like it could have originated from Final Fantasy as equally as Castlevania. And that is definitely the problem when it comes to the black mage-looking mage-type devil. But even if you are happy with these designs, those abilities are still lackluster, and the environments of the castle match that lack of creativity. So, yes, get ready for another endless series of battles in boring hallways, but with the “upgrade” of now there is a skeleton bird flapping around behind you. And, lamentably, a skeleton bird can carry only so much on its bony wings.

Good rock pileHowever, beneath the muck of a boring Castlevania adventure, there was apparently a story worth saving. When presented in 2005, Castlevania: Curse of Darkness had the most generic Castlevania plot outside of “Belmont slays Dracula”. In the grand tradition of Shaft and his plan to pit two vampire hunters against each other, there are two Devil Forgemasters, and Dracula’s ultimate goal is to possess one of them to return to menace Trevor Belmont. So, in being manipulated into this goal by Death, Hector gathers strength across the area to eventually face Isaac, who thinks he is the puppet master influencing his former comrade. Isaac was responsible for the death of Hector’s wife, at least! Regardless, these two parallel Devil Forgemasters have a simple yin and yang dichotomy, as Hector left Dracula’s employ years earlier in defense of the human race, and Isaac stuck around because he is some kind of sadist (and possibly masochist! Check out that outfit!). In the end, it is an extremely cliched retelling of the same old IGAvania story, complete with a persistent villain that is supposed to be ultimately sympathetic despite a body count climbing up over the hundreds. At least he is not as bad Dracula! That dude eats people!

But the allure of the Devil Forgemaster was just too much…

Up we goThirteen years later, the Castlevania Netflix series premiered its second season. Whereas the first season was little more than an expanded movie meant to introduce the main players of Castlevania 3, the second season of Castlevania is where the animated series became a proper series. A cast of supporting characters appeared in Dracula’s castle, and among them were two vaguely familiar faces. Hector returns looking much the same, and continues his job as a guy who makes monsters for a living while being weirdly fond of the people about to be eaten by his monsters. But Isaac is changed dramatically, shifting from a red-haired friend of Voldo to a solemn African man that holds a quiet grudge against humanity for his childhood enslavement. And while the details of being a Forgemaster are different in this iteration of Castlevania, both men are still filling the same general role of filling Dracula’s ranks only to later strike off on general missions of mayhem/salvation/revenge. In fact, as the show proceeds through another two seasons, these two Forgemasters become prominent characters in their own rights, often overshadowing the more popular heroes’ adventures in punishing priests and participating in twincest.

And Gogglebob.com is not going to officially recognize the Castlevania Animated Series as the best thing since sliced skeletons, but it is an entertaining, original take on the Castlevania franchise. It has its share of problems (not the least of which that every character in a Warren Ellis-based universe must be an asshole at all times or they crumble to dust), but you cannot say it was not unique. And unique is exactly what Hector and the whole concept of Devil Forgemasters deserved. In a franchise that has been languidly heisting mythological and movie monsters since its inception, the distinctive idea of a Devil Forgemaster deserved Lad?a similarly distinctive story. And the tales that are told of Hector and Isaac in Netflix Castlevania are nothing if not exceptional (at least one narrative includes a floating ball of corpses! You don’t see stories like that in dusty old books!). Somebody finally waded through the boring game of Castlevania: Curse of Darkness (or at least its Wikipedia page), and sifted out the best concept that experience had to offer.

Castlevania: Curse of Darkness was a middling Castlevania title, but, over a decade later, it was forged into something worthwhile.

FGC #639 Castlevania: Curse of Darkness

  • System: Playstation 2 globally, and Xbox if you were in the USA. I wonder if Japanese collectors jockey on eBay for that rare “American” version of Curse of Darkness.
  • Number of players: A Trevor mode may be eventually unlocked, but you won’t see the ability to play as two characters during this Castlevania.
  • Say something nice: I am a sucker for monster breeding, so I will admit that I enjoy the whole “evolution” aspect of the Innocent Devils. I like using a spear over and over again to see if that will change my golem into, like, a different golem. It is the little things in life that make castles worth storming.
  • Take what you can get: There is a complete “material/crafting” system here. There are scads of stupid doodads to pick up if you want to forge the more interesting weapons, and there is even a “steal” system so you have the ability to nab even more items from opponents. And it all adds up to a fat lot of nothing, as it is the same endless arsenal as other Castlevania titles, just now with extra steps. Boo.
  • Feeling better?Favorite Innocent Devil: Oh give me a home, where the hulking golem roam, and the skies are not darkened all day.
  • An end: The trigger for Hector’s quest is that Isaac is responsible for executing Hector’s wife. Over the course of the adventure, Hector is aided by Julia, who is eventually revealed to be Isaac’s sister. At the close of the story, Isaac has ultimately been killed (or turned into an innocent devil?… He isn’t Isaac anymore, at least), and Hector is anxious to rest with his forged monster buddies. Julia offers Hector sanctuary, and it appears they are going to have a deeper relationship from there. So, in summary, Isaac killed Hector’s wife, so now Hector is going to bone Isaac’s sister.
  • It’s about time: This is also the Castlevania that introduces Saint Germain. Saint Germain is a time traveler, and seems to be part of that time travel plot that was teased across multiple Castlevania titles. Either because of the reboot and/or because Koji Igarashi never really knew where he was going with all this, all of these random time travelers across the Castlevania franchise never really added up to anything. Maybe they were meant to retcon any continuity errors? Or offer an excuse as to why you can always nab a pocket watch that defies space and time? Whatever. At least Saint Germain has a dapper outfit.
  • Did you know? Appropriate for a guy that looks like he might be a carnival barker, Saint Germain is the only character so far in the Castlevania franchise to break the fourth wall and directly speak to the player. Or the camera just didn’t pan around, and he was actually babbling on to a particularly attentive skeleton warrior…
  • Would I play again: I will be honest, I started playing this game again when I got the Wild Arms 3 Let’s Play going (as I was testing capturing directly from my Playstation 2 with different looking games), and it took me months of playing off and on to actually complete the thing. It is a slog! And not the good kind of slog (that would be Slogra, who does appear in this game). So, no, I am likely to play literally any other Castlevania again before getting back to this one.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Resident Evil 4! Let’s stop by a quaint Spanish village and see how the local populace is dealing with the current economic crisis. Please look forward to it!

It was the best part
Oh! This happened in the show!

FGC #630 Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth, a game released within the last year. It is not really a plot-based game, but if you would like to go into the experience completely untainted by knowing the final (incredibly telegraphed) twist of the adventure, do not read this article. If this does not bother you, go ahead and read on…

Not Wonder LandThere is no other way to say this, so I’m just going to be out with it from the start: Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth, which is maybe the 3,000th indie Metroidvania released in 2021, nearly made me cry.

I am going to talk about why.

Bah… I guess I should talk about the game for a hot second before getting into the details of my own anime-based psychological problems. RoLW:DiWL is, as previously stated, a Metroidvania. It specifically is a Metroidvania in the style of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and by “in the style of” I mean “Konami might need to hire a few more lawyers, but not too many lawyers, because man is it obvious what is happening here”. To say this game feels like Symphony of the Night is an understatement, and the minute-to-minute seems more like that seminal title than some later games made by the exact same guy who made Symphony of the Night in the first place (and, yes, I am talking about Bloodstained here). And, to be clear, this isn’t a bad thing for any franchises that may currently exist, as IGA already made Symphony of the Night, he did not have to do it again. Meanwhile, Team Ladybug clearly wanted to make a game that was “Symphony of the Night, but with an immortal elf instead of an immortal dhampir”, and then they went ahead and did it. And they did it well! RoLLW:DiWL is a phenomenal Metroidvania all on its own, and, if Symphony of the Night inspired much of it (right down to the protagonist’s persistant and unnecessary/radical shadow), then it is simply a testament to how SotN had amazing bones to begin with, and any fleshy homunculus built around it would be astounding.

Is it hot in here?But this is not to say that Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth does not have its own identity. For one thing, there is a surprisingly complex “color system” that influences every piece of gameplay. Deedlit has the ability to switch between wind and fire spirits through nearly the entirety of her adventure. When in wind mode, Deedlit can hover and boost a jump or too, and fire allows her to perform an invincible, flaming slide. This means you are frequently presented with rooms, monsters, and bosses that necessitate using one element or another. Or perhaps you will find that a certain “pattern” is tremendously more surmountable if you stop trying to jump with wind and start sliding with fire. Additionally, as one would expect in this kind of situation, different monsters are vulnerable to different elements, so if that fire dragon is withstanding a dozen fiery slashes, switch over to the windy side and blow that beast away. And everything from basic mooks to giant bosses seems to use at least one attack that is elementally themed, so turning on your fire element when facing down a blaze means you’ll take zero damage and absorb some extra mana to boot. We have seen “switching” mechanics in games before, in everything from Silhouette Mirage to Devil May Cry, but RoLW:DiWL makes it a gameplay feature both welcome and wonderful. And the simple way it is implemented without frequent menu finagling feels a lot better than at least one of its Metroidvania sisters.

So if you are looking for a great Metroidvania, look no further than Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth. If you enjoyed Symphony of the Night, you will enjoy this. If you want to see some marginal improvement on the formula, you will enjoy the switching system involved. If you want most anything else new, you will not find much (the arrows work in fascinating ways… but do feel kind of like a vestigial gimmick, and the “magic spells” are absolutely vestigial), but what is there is solid gold. It is hard to imagine any reason anyone else would be tempted to play this Record of Lodoss War game.

Oh, wait, right. The whole “Record of Lodoss War” thing. That’s where things get… sentimental.

No EarthSo, for those of you that are unaware (which is anyone who is not a giant nerd very specifically between the ages of 35 and 50), Record of Lodoss War was a novel series and Japanese manga published between 1988 and 1993. It was also had an OVA (original video animation: essentially the “limited series event” of anime) that was finished in 1991, and a 27-episode anime in 1998. In its time, it was very popular. But, unfortunately, “its time” was before anime really made a foothold in the West (I personally blame Pokémon for that), and Record of Lodoss War was already looking pretty long in the tooth before Cowboy Bebop and G Gundam offered their stylish alternatives. And, while it is a shame that Record of Lodoss War seems to be forgotten by the nerd populace at large for anything more than being the anime that makes you say “well, you’d probably like Slayers more”, it is not a surprising end. Ultimately, Record of Lodoss War is incredibly dry by practically any epoch’s standards. It is the typical tale of swords and sorcery in a Dungeons and Dragons setting, and very little gives it that essential “twist” that separates it from the myriad of books, comics, and cartoons that have dominated the “fantasy genre” since Tolkien first decided to put hobbit to paper. It is a story of knights, wizards, elves, and dwarves, and if you have seen even one dragon slaying, you have heard it all before.

The good kind of bouncyBut it is hard not to have affection for these knights, wizard, elves, and dwarves. Record of Lodoss War is a banal story, but there is familiarity in the mundane. Parn is every young adventurer who grows to become a gallant knight over the course of his escapades. Etoh is the noble priest and Parn’s steady friend. Slayn the sensible wizard is similarly reliable and often a makeshift mentor figure. Ghim the dwarf is everything you expect from a dwarf willing to die to save another. Woodchuck the rogue is just as trustworthy as his archetype will allow (which isn’t very much). And Deedlit (the titular star of the game that I am pretty sure this article is still about) is the high elf that wants to learn about the “human” world outside of the insular community of elves she has always known. Put it all together, and we are looking at every tabletop roleplaying gang ever played. Yes, you might have had more unique players in your own Dungeons & Dragons or Shadowrun (look, an elf is an elf, dammit) games, but the wizened wizard or the reliable cleric is a trope for a reason: it just works. And if you are into that nonsense, it is hard not to see Slayn being similar to your friend Steve, or Woodchuck bearing more than a passing resemblance to your buddy Fruitbat (example nicknames will not be explained).

And that puts a little bit of a different spin on this adventure when you find out that Deedlit…

FGC #622 Infernax

This article may contain spoilers for Infernax, a title released within the last few months. Mind you, it isn’t exactly a “plot driven” adventure, but, if you’d like to go into this new game fairly clean, please keep it in mind. Additionally, speaking of “clean”, some of the images in today’s article may be on the bloody side. It’s that kind of game. Just letting everyone know!

Here is a fun worldInfernax is a “retro” action platforming title released in 2022. It started as an Adobe Flash game back in the elder days of the internet, and has now been upgraded to the crispest pixels available on Switch, Steam, and other advanced systems. But while the production of Infernax technically traces back twelve years, its origins go even further back than that. Infernax is heavily influenced by two prominent NES titles from 1987: Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest and The Legend of Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link. And that is fascinating to this blogger, because Infernax is my favorite game of 2022 so far, and those two “biggest influences” on the game absolutely suck ass.

What the infernax happened here? What marks the difference between a-bear-to-play actual retro games and surprisingly fun faux retro titles? Well, a significant factor here seems to be…

Infernax has direct documentation

Now I get itPop quiz, hot shot: what do all the spells in The Legend of Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link actually do? You likely remember how Shield could cut damage, or Reflect is necessary for bouncing magic spells back and forth, but what about the fire spell? Does it simply hurl fireballs from Link’s sword, or do you actually need it somewhere? The Thunder spell is very similar: is it just a screen-clear, or something you need for defeating an appropriately named bird boss? And the Spell spell? Get the hell out of here, no one has ever remembered how and where that works without a FAQ. And, since we are looking at two games with very similar, confusing systems, go ahead and look up all the dead ends that require garlic in Castlevania 2. Do it, I’ll wait and get the article going again as soon as I hear the screaming stop.

But you know what Infernax has? Spell descriptions. Answers as to what exactly happens when you level up. Clean, immediate justifications as to what happens when you agree to make a choice that could either be deemed “good” or “evil” (the usual indicator is whether or not someone is bleeding/twitching on the floor). Yes, it diminishes the fun of discovering “secrets” for yourself, but should “what does the shield spell even do” be a secret in the first place? You want to play a game where you have to sus out the answers to difficult mysteries, you can play Phoenix Wright; I am playing a game where I hit monsters in the face with a blunt object, and I want to keep doing that without worry that I am doing something wrong.

And it is not just about plain English explanations for what stuff does…

FGC #616 Axiom Verge & Axiom Verge 2

This article contains spoilers for Axiom Verge and Axiom Verge 2. We go hard on Axiom Verge, but Axiom Verge 2 spoilers are considered to be “light”. That said, if you want to go into either game “clean”, you have been warned…

Very moodyFear. Isolation. Losing your very sense of self. Learning that you may be becoming a threat to yourself and others. Having an unstoppable magic gun that allows you to function as a God.

Which one of these doesn’t fit?

Axiom Verge is easily one of the best metroidvania titles of the last decade. For that matter, it is one of the best games, period, of all time. But its place in time is important, as much of Axiom Verge relies on an understanding from both the author and the audience of many games that have come before. Metroid was amazing and arguably kicked off the metroidvania (hey, it’s right there in the title) genre, but it was also a glitchy mess. Mario had one minus world, Metroid had an entire planet’s worth of areas that could be discovered if you jumped off of a doorway the “wrong” way. Axiom Verge uses this concept to create “intended glitches” in the form of breach blocks, unique areas, and even enemies that all rely on the visual shorthand of “oh, this area is fudged”. It takes what was already a pretty great planet explore ‘em up and transforms it into something simultaneously new and nostalgic. Axiom Verge is not the only game to utilize “glitches” and the shorthand of the medium itself to create memorable moments, but it might be the game that does so the most seamlessly and wittily. If Axiom Verge was just a dedicated metroidvania, it would be excellent, but its own unique flavor elevates it to something extraordinary.

Aim away from faceAnd, hey, as a special bonus, Axiom Verge has an interesting plot, too. You are Trace, a friendly scientist that was crippled in a lab accident a few years back. But he’s fine now! Because he was revived on an alien planet for the express purpose of committing the most complicated suicide known to man. “Your” Trace is a clone of a young man that would eventually become an interdimensional despot that conquered an entire planet and is at least partially responsible for releasing a plague that is wholly responsible for a genocide or two. Young Trace must now find and stop Old Trace, aka Athetos, and learn along the way that his own allies, the Rusalki, are maybe not the most reliable giant mechanoids in the omniverse. It creates tension from all sides of this tale, and the fact that the Rusalki are fond of reminding you that they can literally kill you at any time with a thought does not exactly engender a trust that you are on the right side of this conflict. Like many of the best metroidvania titles available, Axiom Verge has created a world where you feel alone not just because you’re stuck with only jumpy bugs for company, but because anything that can communicate in something other than screams is likely trying to kill you, too.

Except it is a little undercut by the fact that Axiom Verge seems to transform Trace into a friggin’ god.

Look, maybe I’m confused, and that is the point here. Trace is destined to become an unstoppable monster of a man, and maybe it was the Axiom Disrupter that got him there. Maybe that is the purpose of the exercise for Trace: absolute power corrupts, and absolute gun grants absolute power. But… that does not seem to be reinforced by Trace’s circumstances. When Trace wins the day, he is immediately betrayed by his Rusalki friend, and can only helplessly watch as promises are broken. Throughout the adventure, Trace attempts to show autonomy by resisting the violent nature of being a videogame protagonist, but, save one boss that forgot to lock the doors, Trace is forced to murder every mutant between his pod and freedom. There is even one “boss” that is just a soggy mess of altruistic protoplasm, but it’s gotta go, because it is in the way of a powerup. Over and over again, it is reinforced that Trace has no control over his own existence.

Drill away, tooBut Trace has seemingly unlimited control over everything else in his life. Trace starts with a basic peashooter, but it quickly graduates to something that can fire “bullets” that handle any situation. Somewhere in there, he acquires a drone that allows for nigh-invincible exploration (drones can die, but Trace doesn’t suffer any consequences), a grappling hook that improves traversal immensely, and something that could best be described as a “glitch gun”. That final item is particularly amazing, as even the most powerful enemy can be blasted through a wall until it has been glitched into a state of extreme vulnerability. And just when that glitch gun loses its luster, Trace acquires screen-impacting glitch bombs. And that is right about when Trace gains the ability to teleport to his own drones, so he can toss a lil’ buddy down a corridor, dodge every monster in the area, and then teleport to safety. Want to be the pacifist Trace always claims to be? Just drone around town and have a fun time!

And, ultimately, that is the problem. The reason Axiom Verge is great is, ultimately, because it is fun. And you don’t get to be fun by having a severely limited protagonist. It is fun to screw attack Zebes as Samus Aran, and it is fun to glitch, trick, and obliterate your mindless opponents in Axiom Verge. It is a blast to see a final area that initially seems daunting, but then gradually discover how to use your myriad of abilities to navigate the dangers without a single scratch. There is nothing more enjoyable than solving a series of logic puzzles, earning a flame thrower for your efforts, and then barbequing every problem you could ever encounter. Solving problems through variable violence might not be Trace’s bag, but it is irrefutably the most fun to be had on Sudra.

So is it even possible to have fun in a metroidvania without becoming ridiculously empowered and/or presenting a series of challenges that tax those ridiculous powers? Can the protagonist of a fun metroidvania be anything but a killing machine?

Gee, pretty convenient Axiom Verge 2 is right there.

This is a terrible placeIn a lot of ways, Axiom Verge 2 repeats Axiom Verge beats. Indra is a scientist-CEO that knows a thing or two about computer equipment, but not necessarily how to defeat a mecha-bug. She will get there, though, with the help of a number of powerups that upgrade her offensive and acrobatic abilities. And the ability to summon and/or be a drone, which is apparently a recurring thing! Dimension hopping will be involved, subduing someone that is maybe yourself is certainly on the menu, and, in the end, our heroine is going to toe the line between life and death as something wholly “other” from her original self. Every Axiom Verge protagonist dies at least once, apparently. If you took Trace through his metroidvania world, you’ll be perfectly comfortable with Indra bumping around a dimension or two in Axiom Verge 2. It’s a sequel! You’re back for more of the same, so there is a lot of “the same” here.

But where Axiom Verge 2 deviates wildly from its predecessor makes all the difference. Indra does not receive a magical gun at the start of her journey, she obtains something little more fantastical than a pickaxe. When Indra inevitably gains her first sufficiently-advanced-technology-is-indistinguishable-from-magic upgrade shortly thereafter, she gains exactly zero additional offensive options. From there, she gets… a boomerang. It worked for Link, right? Well, it barely works here, and, while Indra gains greater and greater abilities as her quest proceeds, she never comes close to gaining the same destructive strength as Trace. The shock droids of the first area are still just as likely to incapacitate Indra at the end of her adventure as the beginning, and the upgraded “boss” monsters… Well… probably best if you just keep walking, Indra. Ain’t nothin’ you can do to that mobile tank…

But, much more than in Axiom Verge, in Axiom Verge 2, that seems to be the whole point.

Big ol' boyThere is not a single boss in Axiom Verge that must be permanently killed. There are (by my count) two bosses you must actively/temporarily incapacitate, but every other opponent can be ignored. In fact, were it not for the generally claustrophobic halls of the Breach Dimension, it would likely be tremendously easier to beat Axiom Verge 2 by not attacking a single soul. Do you get rewards for smashing robots or felling alien fauna? A health power up here or there is your only prize, as any form of “leveling” is almost entirely based on exploration (there are, like, four upgrades out of a hundred you get from actual violence). Beyond that, you are never chastised for running, and a number of the biggest, scariest monsters will be content to lumber around the same room for eternity if you do not fell them. And why would you? For outright attacks, you have, at best, a cool sword. Ever try to take down a tree with a machete? And the tree is also trying to eat you? Well, it’s like that, so why would you put yourself in such danger? Just walk away, Indra!

Trace may have claimed to be something like a peacemaker, but he literally could not leave his first room without letting his weapon rip. Indra, meanwhile, may gain the (limited) power to be a thinking bomb, but she lives in a world where it is possible to only use that ability to open passageways. She gains similar glitch/hacking tech, but can use it exclusively to have enemies drop health powerups. Indra never becomes godlike in her abilities, and that is a good thing, because, in an exploration-based world, she actually has incentive to explore. Find those passageways! Discover all the ways a breach-attractor can get you out of trouble! Do it all for the possibility of not getting destroyed by a leering space head. You’ll thank me later!

And… that feels weird.

KABAMIn fact, it repeatedly feels wrong. I want to be gameplay-Trace, not plot-Trace. I want to roll around the planet with enough power to conquer said planet. I want the local rabble to fear my strength, because, dammit it feels good to be wholly in power. Hey, droid jet that is trying to kill me? I will hack you, embarrass you, and then kill you! Because I’m the best! But Indra can’t be the best. No matter how many upgrades you find on her world, she will never come close to being half as strong as Nintendo’s intergalactic bounty hunter. Indra is never going to be able to solve her problems with weaponry, because she will never find the weapons that would allow that. So, as a player, I am disappointed in her lack of laser boomerangs.

Yet, Axiom Verge 2 still winds up being one of the best games I have ever played. Axiom Verge 2 may actually be one of the best examples of gameplay-plot synergy out there. I genuinely believe Samus Aran is capable of being vulnerable around the space dragon that ate her parents… but it is harder to believe after I have seen her explode entire planets. Meanwhile, Indra is a mother, scientist, and CEO, and I believe this is how someone from those circumstances would become a powerful robot lady. Is she vastly changed by the end of her quest? Of course. But she also is not vaporizing space monsters with a cannon capable of melting mountains. She might be able to morph into a drone, but that doesn’t give her a leg up on swinging a sword. While this author doesn’t know anyone that became a cyborg while exploring another dimension, that progression seems right. Axiom Verge 2 might turn the typical Metroid paradigm on its head, but it feels like it gets there by an honest path.

But this is a videogame website, so we have to ask the question: which is better? We have two vaguely mundane protagonists, but only one wielding a god-gun. And which makes for a better game? Well, I am a wiener, so I am going to claim both. I want Axiom Verge, because I like mowing down monsters. But Axiom Verge 2 felt more genuine and thoughtful, so I suppose I can give up raw power for authenticity. Axiom Verge 2 initially disappointed me by not being Axiom Verge, but it seems like a game I might think back on more often than its progenitor.

… Or I’ll just grab a new weapon that doubles as a grappling hook, and forget those “feelings” things ever happened…

FGC #616 Axiom Verge & Axiom Verge 2

  • Zipping AroundSystem: Axiom Verge was released on everything relevant at its release (PS4, PC, WiiU, Xbox One, the friggen’ Vita), and a few extra systems since (Nintendo Switch). Axiom Verge 2 is currently on Switch, PC, and PS4, and I think a Playstation 5 version is incoming. Or it is just the PS4 version? Who the heck knows.
  • Number of players: Speed running against other players is kind of like competitive multiplayer, but it is primarily single player.
  • Just play the gig, man: The music in both games is incredible. And so is the pixel art, level design, and general plotting. But the music is really good! … Like everything else. Dammit.
  • Alone in the Dark: Okay, maybe my main “disappointment” with Axiom Verge 2 is that it uses dynamic lighting to create “dark” areas in early parts of the game. While it makes for an excellent, moody setting, I abhor any malady in a videogame that hampers the player’s sight. This also applies to status effects in Kingdom Hearts PSP titles, and any time Mario encounters a “dark” ghost house. I am having flashbacks to my college, tic-tac-sized TV screen. It’s traumatic!
  • A matter of skill: Also, I do not care for allocating “skill points” in Axiom Verge 2. This is a great way to take hold of your unique playstyle or something, but it mostly just gives me choice paralysis, and I never upgrade anything, because I assume I am going to get some awesome ability later in the game, and not have the scratch to buy its cooler version. And that happens! When you get a flying powerup super late in the game! Please go back to just dropping missile containers, please.
  • Just hanging outStory Time (super-duper spoilers): It is possible and very probable that the big connection between Axiom Verge and Axiom Verge 2 is that Indra of AV2 eventually becomes Ophelia the giant robot lady of Axiom Verge, thus making AV2 a prequel to Trace’s adventures. And there are a lot of little lore bits, too, like how your breach buddy can accidentally infect humans, and transform them into Axiom Verge bosses. Or it is all a bunch of coincidences in an infinite multiverse, and we should really just relax.
  • Favorite boss (first game): Never going to forget that Kraid wannabe that was peaking out of an acid pool in Axiom Verge. He might not have moved much, but he certainly was tall. And, sometimes, tall is all you need.
  • Favorite boss (second game): The “always revive every time” boss battle with yourself seemed to initially tease that you were both invincible, but having a respawn point right there added a special level of futility to the proceedings. Violence is not the answer! When everyone is immortal, at least…
  • Did you know? Okay, nothing in Axiom Verge 2 comes close to the hallucination sequence in Axiom Verge, so it is hard to admit that one game isn’t better than the other.
  • Would I play again: Yes. Duh. I was excited to have an excuse to play Axiom Verge again in time for Axiom Verge 2, and I will likely still think the same in five years when Axiom Verge 3 rolls around. Good stuff!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Astro Boy: Omega Factor for the Gameboy Advance! Get ready for the other little metal boy on the block! Please look forward to it!

Here it comes
Just go ahead and utilize that doomsday weapon for funsies