A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Axiom Verge is a downloadable side-scrolling action game with frequent gun-based battles against aliens and robots. However, its old-school 16-bit presentation means combat is pretty mild; blood sprayed from defeated foes is depicted as chunky squares. The science-fiction story contains some interesting ideas, such as the notion of an ancient sentient artificial intelligence, that could help ignite the imagination of the right player. There's some mature language in the text-based dialogue, but it's infrequent and never gets stronger than "damn."
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What's it about?
AXIOM VERGE is an ode to classic side-scrolling action games such as Metroid and Castlevania. It stars a human scientist who dies in a lab explosion on Earth and wakes up on an ancient alien planet. A unknown intelligence guides him as he begins to explore this new maze-like world. He regularly encounters a variety of seemingly insurmountable barriers, including walls, locked doors, and energy fields. As the game progresses, he earns new gadgets and weapons that give him the ability to get past previously encountered obstacles, such as a drill that can be used to smash through weakened rocks, an energy gun that can flick switches on the other side of certain barriers, and a time- and space-shifting lab coat that lets him pass through thinner walls. As he works his way through his strange new environment and slowly grows more powerful, he also makes some shocking discoveries about the world in which he finds himself, its history, and how he came to be there.
Is it any good?
You'll find plenty to like about Axiom Verge, especially is you're a fan of retro gaming. Its 16-bit style is beautiful and authentic without being wholly chained to the past, as evidenced by a cool, decidedly modern explosion effect that occurs when boss enemies are defeated. The range of weapons and gadgets is impressively diverse, including a mini-drone you can control remotely to explore large swaths of areas away from the hero. Even earning a power as seemingly simple as the ability to jump higher can open up many new exploration possibilities. Plus, the action feels great. Movement is natural and intuitive, and once you get the hang of aiming (you need to press a button to lock your position to target enemies below your hero), combat becomes quite compelling.
However, certain elements of the game's old-school design occasionally get in the way of the fun. There's no teleportation system, for example, which means if you want to go back to an area you visited a while back you could be faced with a 15- or 20-minute journey through spaces you've already explored, many of which will have regenerated enemies. Plus, trying to find Axiom Verge's countless hidden locations and secrets requires the patience to do things such as repeatedly fire off your drill and defragmentor in each new place you visit to see if either is capable of revealing anything. It's a terrific bit of retro gaming, but it may not be for all tastes.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about putting healthy limits on screen time. Axiom Verge, with its sprawling, labyrinthine, deeply interconnected world, could tempt players to devote hours at a time, so how can you ensure you don't get carried away with your gaming sessions?
Discuss aliens and artificial intelligence. Do you think either is possible? Would it be fun to search for extraterrestrial life or try to build artificial intelligence? What sort of schooling would you need for these careers?
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