Axiom Verge - Multiverse Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Badland Games
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (9th December 2017).
The Film

"Axiom Verge" (2015)

Trace is a scientist working at a laboratory in New Mexico where an explosion blasts him to a world called Sudra. He is awakened by Elsenova, a Rusalki - a sentient war machine who explains that a mad scientist names Athetos destroyed their civilization and trapped the surviving Rusalki leaving them immobile. Elsenova guides Trace through the dark and mysterious world where he must battle other alien beings, find additional weapons and upgrades to restore power back to the Rusalki and to find Athetos and stop his madness. But as Trace traverses further into the alien world, he finds not all is as it seems to be...

"Axiom Verge" was a truly independent video game. Developed over a five year period by sole game programmer Tom Happ, he wrote the story, created the environments, drew the characters, composed the music, and programmed the game all on his own with his spare time while working as a game programmer at the game company Petroglyth. Inspired by NES sidescrolling adventures such as "Metroid" (1986), "Rygar" (1987), and "Blaster Master" (1988), the game also feels like one of them as the graphics were closer to 8-bit titles from the NES library, using limited pixel graphics and a limited color palate. And like the earlier titles, the game takes place in a two dimensional plane. Controls for the game are fairly simple. Trace is controlled by walking to various areas, he has a multi-purpose weapon that can be upgraded and equipped with new weapons encountered along the way, and various powerups are scattered throughout the world to strengthen his and to give him new abilities such as higher jumps and dashing. Unlike the sidescrollers of "Megaman" (1987) or "Ninja Gaiden" (1988), this is a non-linear game with a lot of backtracking, as Trace must traverse back and forth in areas previously traveled to get to further areas. Upgrades to weapons and gear can let him go to places inaccessible prior, and so there will be a lot of time going back and forth during gameplay.

Besides the usual obstacles of high platforms and dangerous ground, there are tons of enemies encountered. Some are small and simple while others can be fast and annoying. While the game progresses, the enemies will become harder and harder, with life draining hits and maddening moves, although once the patterns are memorized, there should not be problems. If Trace loses all his energy, his consciousness is revived by Elsenova at the last save point, which are also doubled as a health restoring pod. A thankful design is that if Trace is killed, he will be able to keep whatever items or upgrades were received before his death with no penalty. And some of the items are extremely necessary. The spider-like drone that Trace acquires becomes an extremely useful item, as well as the drill which can uncover secret areas and items. One of the most ingenious designs in the game is what most gamers would think of as flaws. At various portions in the game there are glitchy looking points, where walls or enemies seem buggy and flickering, but this was programmed in particular as an homage to the older games where they were prevalent due to the limited hardware. In addition to that when Trace acquires the Axiom Disruptor, this becomes the most unique item in the game and one of the most creatively useful - a wave of beams that start to glitch things or unglitch things all over the game intentionally. Trace is able to glitch the enemies to his advantage, he is also able to unglitch the areas that were previously blocked, making pathways and upgrades accessible. The game is fully aware that it is a retro inspired game and rather than correcting those things that broke the games, they were amazingly incorporated into this one. "Axiom Verge" is a retro game lover's paradise, made by a person who loved the games of the past and understood the mechanics very well.



The controls of "Axiom Verge" are very simple. The directional buttons control Trace in eight directions. The jump controls are very fluid with the ability to change direction during jumps for better control on platforms. The learning curve for the game is also well designed with obstacles being fair and not too cryptic. But not to say there are some flaws with the game. The difficulty in some sections rise very suddenly leading to near instant deaths. As there is not a "warp" function, traversing from area to area in long stretches can be cumbersome. There is the central hub with the head of Oracca to travel between a few of the areas but it is still a long road to many areas. This leads to many frustrating backtracking and confusion along the way. The map system is mostly useful by recording the areas Trace has been and locating where save points and passages are, but if there were clues on where items were, that may have made things a little easier to be guided. Regardless, the difficulties are not impossible and once the player remembers basic enemy patterns and master Trace's movements, things do run very smoothly.

As stated before the soundtrack to the game was also done solely by Tom Happ, which was an homage to the 8 bit era plus added techno beats to the rhythm. Other stages feature Indian inspired music, industrial rock, and all sound a little creepy, like what a modern take on a John Carpenter score would be like. The effects are also inspired by the 8 bit generation from the sounds of the guns to the explosions and cries of the enemies. Very fitting and very creepy.

"Axiom Verge" was very hyped prior to the release with developer Tom Happ frequently blogging about the progress, providing screenshots, and some gameplay footage throughout the years. Happ was able to get the help of former Nintendo indie program head Dan Adelman to help with marketing and distribution of the game, which was completely self funded without crowdfunding. After years of waiting from the fans, the game was finally released on March 31st 2015 on the PlayStation 4 PSN in the United States and a month later in Europe. A Steam port was released in May of the same year and in October the PC version was released in a limited edition physical edition from Indiebox games. The highly acclaimed retro throwback game was nominated for Best Independent Game at the 2015 Game Awards, and placed in many best of the year lists from gaming magazines and websites worldwide. The popularity continued to grow with ports on the PlayStation Vita and the Nintendo Wii-U in 2016. Over time the game received some updates including some fine turning patches and also a "Speedrun Mode" which cut all the cutscenes out, added a timer, and made things ideal for speedrunning gamers. While the average gamer may take between 10 to 13 hours of play to complete the game, there have been speedrunners that have completed the game in under 40 minutes which is insane, but entirely possible.



Tom Happ may have struck gold both critically by game critics and fans with very respectable sales figures, but not everything was shining brightly in his personal life. By his side the entire time during the development was his labrador Max, which unfortunately died just days before the game's release date. In addition to that, his son Alistair who was born a few months later was diagnosed with Kernicterus - a rare form of brain damage that affects motor skills. Alistair is expected never to walk on his own, let alone be able to play his father's much loved video game creation. The irony of the tragic happenings are extremely unfortunate as all would want the best for the people who create these works. While Happ has expressed wanting to continue to make another independent work, it's been difficult due to the circumstances and the constant care for his child.

In 2017, it was announced that Badland Games would be releasing a physical edition of "Axiom Verge" for PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Nintendo Wii-U, and Nintendo Switch in a standard edition and a special "Multiverse Edition". The "Axiom Verge: Multiverse Edition" would include a physical copy of the game, an artbook, a double sided poster and map, a Blu-ray with 5 hours of content, and exclusively for the Switch would be the soundtrack CD. Originally it was announced for August of 2017 but it was delayed to October 2017. It was later revealed that the "Multiverse Edition" would not meet the deadline but they did have permission from Nintendo to release a digital version of the game on the Nintendo eShop. Happ asked fans if it was fine to release the digital version a month ahead of the physical which the overwhelming majority said "yes" to. People who didn't need a physical copy could download it early for $19.99, while people who wanted the "Multiverse Edition" would have to wait until November 21st 2017. The PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, and Nintendo Switch versions were released on the newly scheduled date in America while the European release has been delayed to January 2018. The aformentioned Wii-U version has strangely disappeared, but as support for the Wii-U has drastically gone away with the rise of the Nintendo Switch, the Wii-U may have been cancelled altogether, even though the images remain on Badland Games' site.



Upadte: Badland Games has stated that the Wii-U "Multiverse Edition" has been delayed due to a few bugs in porting but it is in fact still on the way.

Badland Games has stated that 75% of profits of "Axiom Verge" will be going to the healthcare costs for Tom Happ's son. It was not advertised as such on the packaging as a request from Happ not to draw attention to it and having the game speak for itself, but the generosity of Badland Games to do this for the Happ family should be highly commended. There currently is no cure for his son's condition but one day hopes that a cure could be found. More information and updates on the research can be found at The Children's Mercy of Kansas City, the leading researchers of Kernicterus and Happ urges fans to donate to the research fund rather than to his family directly, as there are many other sufferers that equally need the help.

"Axiom Verge" is already a bonafide gaming classic, by respecting the older works as well as catering to the fans of retro gaming. It's an amazing amount of fun with a dark science fiction story that is mysterious and intriguing plus addictive gameplay that makes you want to find every secret there is. And there is a lot!

Note the Nintendo Switch game is region free and can be played on any Nintendo Switch console worldwide, and the Blu-ray is region ALL which can be played on any Blu-ray player worldwide.

Video

Badland Games presents the game in 1080p in docked mode and 720p in handheld mode, in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio at 30 frames per second. As the game's graphical design is fairly on the simple side, there are no issues of framerate drops or a drop in resolution in gameplay with a smooth running image. Colors are limited to somewhere between 8 bit and 16 bit and each pixel looks great. It's a particularly well designed game though note most of it is dark with the black background eras being pitch black. Once Trace gets to the overworld things start looking much brighter.

The following are screenshots taken directly from the Nintendo Switch version:













As for the Blu-ray the video content is presented in 1080p in the AVC MPEG-4 codec in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The interview segments were shot in high definition and look very good for the most part. There is a warning with the gameplay footage having some corrupted data so for the playthrough videos the picture does occasionally get choppy and unbalanced. The interviews also include some vintage footage like commercials from the 1980s and they do look particularly terrible, like VHS to YouTube uploads. Overall the interviews look good, the gameplay is fair for the most part.

Audio

The game features a lossless track.

LPCM 5.1
The Nintendo Switch outputs a lossless LPCM 5.1 track, though in this game only the front left and right channels are used. Stereo separation of the music and effects are great, and some of the compositions are extremely memorable with the 8 bit styles mixed with modern techno sounds. There are no audio issues such as dropouts or errors to say on the game.

The game includes English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish language options and can be switched in the game's menu settings at any time.



As for the Blu-ray disc, there is one audio track for the features:

English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo
All content on the disc is with a Dolby Digital 2.0 track. The interviews were done indoors at Tom Happ's home and there were a few points that the microphones caught distortion, and there were other times when the people offscreen didn't have a microphone so their questions come in as subtitled because it is hard to hear for the audience at home. Thankfully there are no choppy moments or dropouts in audio in the soundtrack.

There are no subtitles for any of the content on the Blu-ray.

Extras

The Nintendo Switch "Multiverse Edition" includes the following in the box:

- Standard keep case for the game
- Separate paper slip sleeves for the Blu-ray and CD.
- Double sided poster and map.
- 28 page "The Art of Axiom Verge" book.


This is the content offered on the Blu-ray disc:

"Axiom Verge" documentary (25:54)
This new documentary features interviews with Tom Happ, Dan Adelman, and Happ's wife as they recall the development of the game. Tom Happ talks about his childhood love for Mario games, working at Electronic arts and Petroglyph, the genesis of developing the game by himself, and the tragedies that took a toll in his personal life. Adelman gives insight into the marketing process and his expertise with his nine year run at Nintendo that helped move the game along. There is also some time given to the struggles that Happ has with raising his son Alister with irreversible brain damage and how people can help to support the research in finding a cure for the condition.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"A Conversation with Tom Happ" (114:15)
This lengthy interview with Tom Happ includes a lot of information, from his childhood to his rise to computer programmer. Family details are talked about, his influences, how he made some unusual decisions, even to how he met his wife online and decided to go to Singapore to meet her. The death of his dog Max is also discussed as well as the struggles his son is facing now. There are many vintage clips in this including 1980s commercials for games and more, photos from the personal archives. Portions of this interview was used to edit the above documentary so some of the stories are repeated here.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"Tom Happ & Dan Adelman Play Axiom Verge" (159:01)
Happ plays through the game as Adelman moderates questions in this pseudo audio commentary. It is picture in picture, with the gameplay footage on the larger screen with the two subjects in the smaller one. Happ discusses the inspirations for the designs, the creation of the intentional glitches, performs some tricks most people don't know about and even spills some details on some things fans were always speculating. As for why the wheelchair is there... that is one thing he said he will not answer. The start of this extra states that there were some problems in the recording so there are times the video does get choppy. The audio is fine with no gaps in the sound.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Axiom Verge Speedrun with commentary by Tom Happ & Dan Adelman (37:46)
Speedrunner GVirus made a special video of a 36 minute "Axiom Verge" speedrun for Happ and Adelman to watch as they comment on some of the techniques by speedrunners. They both admit they are not good enough to beat the game in such a short period of time.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles


The Nintendo Switch release also includes the soundtrack CD with the following tracks:

1. The Axiom (3:25)
2. Intro (1:37)
3. Trace Awakens (4:04)
4. Trace Rising (3:33)
5. Otherworld (3:29)
6. Rusalka (3:13)
7. Vital Tide (4:58)
8. Inexorable (4:54)
9. Apocalypse (4:38)
10. Cellular Skies (3:22)
11. Amnesia (3:05)
12. The Dream (3:12)
13. Phosphene (3:16)
14. Occlusion (3:13)
15. Occlusion Lens (3:13)
16. Without Place (4:19)
17. Trace Reborn (4:00)
18. Primordial Shores (bonus track) (2:58)


Double sided poster and map
This is a nice addition to something missing from the main game, as the map has information on where items are and where the bosses are, in case you miss anything.

28 page "The Art of Axiom Verge" book
This full color book has messages from Happ with sketches, preliminary art, notes, fan artwork, and more, with some text descriptions to give additional detail.

Packaging

The contents are housed in a thin cardboad box. This is a quite flimsy box that can easily get fingerprints on it, so it is best to handle with care.
The Blu-ray and CD come in paper slipsleeves so they could be prone to scratches if not handled properly.
When opening the Nintendo Switch plastic case, there is quite a surprise with the inside artwork, with an "Axiom Verge" meets "Super Mario Brothers" shot which is unfortunately not part of the actual game.

Overall

"Axiom Verge" was a passion project by one man that came to full life and the accolades it received were highly deserved. A "Metroidvania" throwback to the 8 bit generation while also keeping its own identity in the dark science fiction world, the game is insanely fun and even a bit thoughtprovoking, with fan theories online being unresolved. While it was tragic that sole creator Tom Happ has to face with his son's brain damage, it's incredible that Badland Games is stepping up to help by donating 75% of the profits to the son's healthcare fund. And that means purchases by fans will contribute for the better. The accompanying Blu-ray for the "Multiverse Edition" has 5 hours of great content with a real insight to the making of, plus footage of tips and tricks galore. Plus the Nintendo Switch edition also includes the amazing soundtrack CD. Absolutely highly recommended.

The Film: A- Video: A- Audio: B+ Extras: A Overall: A-

 


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