Just like the last game I nitpicked, Axiom Verge is an exceptionally good game. It’s a platformer heavily inspired by Super Metroid, but with many of its own unique twists and fresh ideas. It’s clear a ton of love and care went into crafting it – but that certainly won’t stop me from complaining!
(WARNING – I’ll be discussing a handful of mechanics, tools, and enemies, so very minor spoilers are ahead.)
- Double-tap to Dash
Double-tapping a direction to dash or run has been a staple of platforming since the very beginning. Classic or not, please, my fellow game devs- LET THIS DIE.
It’s uncomfortable, it’s slow, it’s awkward – it takes an ability that should be freeing and empowering, and turns it into a chore. If dashing or running is a core function of your game, you should always have the option to use a button instead.
In Axiom Verge, the problem is even worse, because you can eventually dash in any direction – and it’s completely essential to traversal and combat. Later levels and enemies are balanced around the player dashing in all directions constantly.
A keybind for dashing is curiously absent, even though Axiom Verge is otherwise very good about letting you rebind things.
2. Unavoidable Attacks
The enemy design in Axiom Verge is usually decent, but certain enemies and bosses have a common flaw – their attacks are nearly (or in some cases, completely) undodgeable.
This is inoffensive during the early game, where taking a hit isn’t usually an issue. At most you might run into trouble in your first encounter against the ghoulish humanoid creatures, who charge you faster than you can possibly kill them.
But later on, this problem starts applying to bosses – in particular, the giant hornet boss and the final boss. Both of these bosses are damage races more than they are tests of timing or strategy.
The nature of these fights forces you to scavenge for hidden damage upgrades and health boosts, possibly dead-ending you if you can’t find them.
A core tenet of action platforming is that the failure should always be on the shoulders of the player, not the game – something that’s not possible if enemy attacks cannot be dodged.
3. Big Attacks without Tells
This is closely tied to unavoidable attacks – failing to provide a tell for a powerful, screen-spanning attack. A ‘tell’ is the part of the attack animation that indicates what’s coming next.
The Hornet boss is only example of this in Axiom Verge, but it’s such a poorly designed boss that I feel the need to hammer on it more.
Its possible attacks are:
- Shoot acid
- Shoot acid, then stab the bottom half of the screen
- Shoot acid, then stab the top half of the screen
- Spawn unavoidable bees
There is NO visual difference in tells between the first 3 attacks, and they are chosen randomly (with some restrictions – it won’t do two stabs in a row, for example).
Because the height of its attack is unpredictable, you can’t jump to avoid it – instead you must use the awkward double-tap dash to dodge. And because the attack is faster than can be reacted to, you must dash away after almost every acid shot – making it harder to damage the boss, prolonging the fight, and forcing you to take more unavoidable damage.
This combination of poor design and the fact that the hornet boss can deal and receive a ton of damage means that you pretty much can’t beat it unless you gather enough powerups first.