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Video Game / Axiom Verge

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Axiom Verge is a 2D indie retro-style Metroidvania game developed by Thomas Happ. Initial development began in March 2010 as a hobby and was announced in 2012 for commercial release. The game was released in Spring 2015 initially for the PlayStation 4 and Steam, with a PlayStation Vita version planned that was finally released in April 2016. Just before that, it was announced that the game would also be released for the Xbox One and Wii U, and it also received a Nintendo Switch port.

The game serves as a loving homage to several games of the NES, 8-bit and 16-bit era, drawing inspiration from classics such as Metroid, Contra and Blaster Master, among many others. It also adds its own unique touch by utilizing the glitches and bugs found in games of that period as a game mechanic, allowing players to uncover new areas, the ability to "hack" and change enemy behavior and bypass obstacles. The entire game (including art, code, game and sound design) was developed solely by Happ over a period of four years.

In the game, the player controls a scientist named Trace who awakens in a bizarre alien world after a lab accident. With a mysterious female voice guiding him, Trace explores the alien world in a fight for survival as well as the truth behind his presence there.

During Nintendo's 2019 Indie World presentation, Thomas Happ revealed Axiom Verge 2, a Non-Linear Sequel within the same setting, featuring a new protagonist in a new world. It is currently set to be released on the Nintendo Switch in 2021.


This work provides examples of:

  • 100% Completion: The player is awarded various trophies/achievements for finding all of the tools and utilities, health upgrades, notes, weapons, and uncovering each tile on the map. There's another trophy/achievement for getting everything in the game, although it's possible to obtain more through the secret areas.
  • Affably Evil: Athetos shows absolutely no malice towards Trace once they meet face-to-face, even after Trace rejects his offer to join him. And even after his defeat, he reassures Trace not to blame himself for Athetos' sins.
  • Airborne Mook: A few. One of the most prominent examples are fly-like enemies who will rapidly dive at the player to attack then retreating away from their line of fire, before doing it all again.
  • Alien Sky: The skies of Sudra have weird, giant spiky spheres in the air.
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  • All Just a Dream: It's implied that, after killing Athetos, the Rusalki trap Trace in a dream. He believes he's back on Earth, but the journey there would basically be impossible at this point.
  • All There in the Manual: Some of the backstory for the bosses and Rusalki can be found in the Steam trading card descriptions.
    • Telal's card implies that he was originally a clone of Athetos who was infected by the pathogen and corrupted into his boss form.
    • Daraga (the small ship flying around in upper Ukkin-Na) is actually a minor Rusalka, implying there are more kinds of Rusalki than the giant woman robots.
    • Athetos's card hints at the Rusalki hiding things from Trace.
    • Oracca's (the Rusalka that carries Trace around in Indi) reveals that she was imprisoned in Indi and driven insane because of the long years in isolation. She is mute, which is why she doesn't talk to Trace at all during the game.
  • Ambiguous Ending: The Stinger found in two of the Multiple Endings. While Trace attempts to find a way back to Sudra, Athetos confronts him and tells him he cannot escape his fate. One ending has Athetos also shoot Trace, telling him to wake up. The background of the credits shows Trace collapsed in front of what appears to be one of the Rusalki, Veruska. Veruska's title is "The Dreamer", which taken into account makes you wonder if the ending is real at all.
  • And the Adventure Continues: In the end, Trace continues his research, determined to return to Sudra.
  • Antepiece: Generally speaking, the first use for any new weapon or coat power-up you find is to escape the area you found it in, thus teaching you how it works.
  • Apocalypse How: Sudra suffered a Planetary Species Extinction because Athetos released a pathogen that wiped out most of the Sudrans and made whoever survived crazy.
  • Appropriated Appelation: Athetos' name was originally a mocking nickname given to him by the scientific community for his apparently pseudoscientific theories. He clearly decided to embrace it.
  • Attack Its Weak Point: Most bosses can only be damaged this way.
  • Badass Longcoat: Trace first obtains a lab coat and later a leather coat, both of which are embedded with technology that allows him to glitch through walls.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Metroid fans will be on the receiving end of this for pretty much the whole game: you will see pretty much every single obstacle you would find in a Metroid game (breakable walls, small gaps, ledges unreachable by jumping) but when you come to an item and think "This must be when I get the power bomb/morph ball/space jump", the game will provide an entirely new solution to those problems.
  • Beast with a Human Face: Dialogue against the bosses reveal that most of them actually have human faces. They were once human clones of Athetos that transformed after being exposed to the pathogen.
  • BFG: The Axiom Disruptor is the primary weapon in the game, and there is a variety of add-ons for it that change the shape and effects of its projectiles.
  • Big Bad: Athetos. The original Trace.
  • Big Good: Ophelia appears to be this among Rusalki, as she demonstrates a benevolent, supportive personality towards Trace, compared to Elsenova who kills him the moment he hesitates to help them.There are some hints, however, that she's not as benevolent as she presents herself to be.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Finishing the game with 100% Completion (Or just beating the game normally on the Wii U version) presents you with a few extra scenes after the credits, showing that Athetos somehow appears on Earth, healthy and hale but still aged, and shoots Trace with a pistol after telling him to "wake up". It can come up as a cliché, dramatic cliffhanger to most players, but when you consider this, combined with the fact that the whole game is set in circa 2105 in an hidden corner of the galaxy where "going back" or even "going to" was being purposefully impossible to do, shows that returning to Earth was a false promise by the Rusalki. And the scenes during the credits that show Trace still on Sudra, in a comatose state, make much more sense when you remember some of the notes scattered around and the conversations between the Rusalki stating Veruska's ability to induce "dream algorithms" on others... That's when things get scarier to think about.
  • Body Horror: Many of the bosses, being clones of Athetos, all show extensive and horrific mutations and alterations.
  • Bullet Hell: Downplayed with the first boss, Xedur, whose bullets can easily be avoided. Played more straight with the Sentinel and the improved Xedur in the final area.
  • Chain Reaction Destruction: Bosses usually go out in one of these, followed by their sprite breaking apart and smearing in a paintlike fashion.
  • The Chosen One: Trace was brought to Sudra because he was discovered to be the only "PatternMind" in existence other than Athetos. As no one else has the ability to wield Athetos' weapons and technology, along with the PatternMind's ability to manipulate reality, this makes Trace the sole person capable of stopping Athetos. This is because Trace is actually Athetos, or a younger and more idealistic version that would be more willing to help the Rusalki stop him.
  • Cloning Blues: When Trace is about to be sent back to earth after Athetos' death, he wonders what life there is for him as the clone of a mass murderer. Additionally, all of the bosses you've been killing, with the exception of Sentinel and maybe Ukhu, are all but stated to be clones of Athetos, which in turn makes them clones of Trace.
  • Combat Tentacles: The Bioflux Accelerator upgrades cause either 2 or 4 tentacles that fire shots whenever Trace does to pop out from Trace's back whenever he's at full health.
  • Critical Annoyance: Present, but adjusted to be less annoying than usual. The game beeps when Trace is about to die, but it beeps in time with the background music, and the beeping gets quieter as it goes on.
  • Death Is a Slap on the Wrist: Dying only causes Trace to be sent back to the nearest rebirth chamber, with item collection and exploration progress saved. This is used as a plot point later when Trace says he doesn't want to kill any more of Athetos' clones and wishes to try and talk to Athetos to figure out what's going on. When he refuses to cooperate, Elsenova kills him, quite painfully, and Ophelia says she will keep reviving and killing him unless he continues to help them against Athetos.
  • Easter Egg: On the password menu, entering JUSTIN BAILEY puts Trace in a bodysuit, in homage to Metroid.
  • Evil vs. Evil: As you progress through the game and discover more about Sudrans' history, they became a xenophobic, Evil Luddite race that halted all scientific progress and as result, their civilization fell into ruin long before Athetos showed up, it really makes the player wonder if the Rusalki are as innocent as they claim to be. The fact that Elsenova threatens you into cooperating with them to take down Athetos, then lying to you that she will spare him if you defeat him (only to go back on her word and blast him) doesn't help them much either. It's actually debatable if they even returned Trace to Earth, as promised, or just left him in a comatose state, considering that Veruska's specialty is "inducing dream algorhytms"... And then there is this line from Athetos: "If I tell you too much, your captors will have to kill you."
  • Face–Heel Turn: Athetos is the original Trace, who committed genocide on an entire race for denying the outside world access to their technology. The ending also hints at Trace's own Start of Darkness and succumbing to his fate of becoming Athetos, determined to return to Sudra to find the truth behind what he encountered there.
  • Fairytale Motifs: The giant AI heads Trace meets are called Rusalki referring to Rusalka, water nymphs born from the spirits of drowned women from Slavic mythology. Furthermore, one of them is named Ophelia.
  • Flash of Pain: Tough enemies and bosses flash a pattern similar to TV static on their sprite when damaged.
  • Flechette Storm: The Shards gun, which fires a constant stream of small sharp ice crystals as long as you hold the fire button.
  • Flunky Boss: The Ukhu Variant summons enemies as one of its attacks. The final boss uses them exclusively.
  • Foreshadowing: Early on in the game, it's possible to see a hallucination version of Trace enter the uppermost door in one of vertical corridors in Zi. It serves as hint that he's already began to suffer from the effects of pathogen that Athetos has released, and it finally kicks in full force when Trace enters Ukkin-Na. This also foreshadows that Trace is a clone of Athetos/prime Trace.
  • Gameplay and Story Integration:
    • When you die for the first time, you are brought back to the last Save Point and are told that you have been revived, much to Trace's confusion. Since you happen to be a clone, this is easy to do.
    • Game glitches are an in-universe phenomenon (the Breach), and two of your earliest powerups are a lab coat that lets you glitch through walls and a beam that lets you glitch out enemies and make them behave differently.
    • Another upgrade is the ability to use "algorithms that alter reality", a.k.a. passwords/cheat codes.
  • Good Bad Bugs: Invoked, justified, and played with. Trace causes in-universe glitches to his enemies and environments which have beneficial effects, and he can even enter corrupted areas whose contents and locations change with each save file.
  • Graceful Loser: Athetos takes his defeat with dignity, and even tells Trace not to blame himself for Athetos' sins just before he is vaporized.
  • Grappling-Hook Pistol: The Axiom Disruptor gets a grapple attachment that can be used to grab ceilings and swing over gaps.
  • Guide Dang It!: Players will most likely need to rely on one if they're collecting all items for 100% Completion, as many items are hidden without hints to their location. However, the location of secret areas, some of which contain exclusive weapons, are randomized with each playthrough.
    • The ingame way to find the passwords to make 3 specific items accessible are by far the hardest to find:
      • One of them requires you to notice Sudran writing visible on the ceiling of the room and then cross-reference it with translated and untranslated versions of a Sudran note to find out what it says.
      • One of them requires you to use the Address Disruptor on a single piece of flickering scenery in an otherwise empty room and notice that the garbage text that normally appears on the right side of the screen when using the AD now has readable text on it...assuming the password to translate Sudran text is activated, otherwise it'll show up in Sudran, which is far harder to tell apart from the default garbage text.
      • The last one of them requires you to use the Address Disruptor on specific type of enemy, which flashes the letters of the password when glitched one by one.
    • One of the powerups requires you to glitch out an enemy, make it follow you to a specific part of the room and then switch rooms, which somehow warps it to a blocked-off part of the room so that it can shoot a switch to turn off a barrier. Another, slightly more obvious variety of this involves glitching a different enemy and noticing that you now control its movement, allowing you to move it to a shootable switch. Finally, the first time a specific glitched enemy is killed (and the said enemy will burst into a cloud of parasites if Trace gets to close, which doesn't count), they drop a a health node fragment.
  • Hallucinations: Trace suffers from this as a result of being exposed to the pathogen and begins to see other versions of himself. It really kicks in when he enters Ukkin-Na.
  • Heavily Armored Mook: The enemies that are encased in metal, and are thus resistant to regular attacks, but are vulnerable to armor-piercing weapons like a drill. They become especially prevalent by the end of the game.
  • Hitscan: The Ion Beam. Also the Fat Beam, which doubles as a Wave-Motion Gun.
  • Hopeless Boss Fight: One in Ukkin-Na, but with a twist: You are the boss while Trace is an AI-controlled enemy. You're supposed to lose anyway, but given the role reversal, it may qualify as a Zero-Effort Boss.
  • Interface Screw: Occurs in Ukkin-Na as a result of Trace's hallucinations, with the screen becoming more red and hazy, ending in a boss battle where the player controls the boss instead.
  • Interface Spoiler: Less than expected - the items you haven't found yet are listed as "unknown" in the key bindings.
  • Just Think of the Potential: Athetos' whole motive for eradicating the Sudrans: They had infinitely advanced technology and he coveted it for the good of humanity. But as the Sudrans long since abolished their tech in accordance with their newfound religion and made doubly sure no outsider could also utilize it, Athetos had no other choice — if they had to die so that their technology could be utilized for the greater good, then so be it.
  • Least Rhymable Word: The weapons "Voranj" and "Kilver" were coined to rhyme with two of the classic unrhymables.
  • Lightning Gun: Three different guns fall under this and each are very powerful. The short-range Kilver allows you to hit close enemies around corners and on the other side of walls. Voranj is more long-range and branches out to a massive degree, allowing you to quickly cut down swarms of smaller enemies or hit larger foes at an angle while staying out of their reach. The gun simply called Lightning Gun fires a constant stream of electricity that seeks out enemies around corners and will latch onto them, allowing you to just hold the fire button until they are destroyed.
  • Meaningful Name: "Athetos" means "lacking/without a place", emphasizing his nature as an invading outsider. Invoked when the name was originally given: Trace's new theories were dismissed as pseudoscience by the scientific community which proceeded to mockingly refer to him as Athetos, thus indicating that they believed his theories had "no place" in science.
    • Worth noting that an alternate translation of "Athetos" is "abrogate", to do away with or nullify something. Very much an indicator of how despised Trace's theories were, and what he'd go on to do to get Sudran technology.
  • Metroidvania: Axiom Verge uses the style of exploration, enemy combat, and gradual powering up and gaining of new abilities that the genre is known for.
  • Mickey Mousing: A good number of the background animations, as well as the low-health warning tone, follow the beat of the game's soundtrack.
  • Minus World: Some of the game's collectibles are hidden in small secret levels styled after this trope. Described by Elsenova as "flotsam and jetsam" left behind by the Breach, they consist entirely of scrambled tiles from the region you entered from, under a blurry film grain filter (said filter is how you know you're near the entrance to such a level).
  • Multiple Endings: Depending on how quickly the game was beaten or how many items were collected, two different Stingers after the results screen can be seen.
  • My Future Self and Me: Athetos is actually Trace's future self who has gone through a Face–Heel Turn, committing genocide on an entire race and serves as the game's Final Boss. In a couple of the Multiple Endings, Athetos confronts Trace back on Earth, telling him that he cannot escape his fate.
  • The Needs of the Many: Athetos' motivation for releasing the pathogen on Sudra. The Sudrans possessed incredible technology, but were very reluctant to share it, so Athetos decided to wipe them out so that humanity could steal it.
  • Ominous Visual Glitch: Ubiquitous to the whole game, sometimes serving as literal barriers to progress.
  • One-Hit Polykill: The Inertial Pulse gun is pretty much the Plasma Beam from Metroid, cutting through multiple enemies but with the additional effect of bypassing armor.
  • Painting the Medium: Glitches are part of the game's actual universe, where they are known as "Breach".
  • Power-Up Letdown: Several of the weapons you can find, as some of them are much more useful than others.
  • Reluctant Warrior: Trace is reluctant to kill his enemies and attempts to negotiate his way out of most boss fights early on. This is especially made apparent when he runs into a dying aborted Athetos clone and is told to finish it off, and tries to make the Rusalki promise not to kill Athetos. Refusing to kill the clone and a skippable boss in the last area nets two trophies/achievements.
  • Retraux: Uses a graphical style that fluctuates between the 8- and 16-bit eras of gaming. The glitches and breach incursions are intentionally reminiscent of NES graphical errors. The secret areas you can enter even make the screen fuzzy.
  • Role-Reversal Boss: Part way through, Trace starts to hallucinate from a virus in his system, causing the level to become a twisted nightmare. When the player reaches the boss, the normal dialogue is inverted (with the boss speaking like Trace and trying to talk him down, and Trace adopting the shared catchphase of "DEMON. KILL!"). The player then controls the boss monster in a Hopeless Boss Fight (which ends with Trace keeling over and being dragged to safety by a drone).
  • Shout-Out:
    • One of the passwords you can enter is JUSTIN BAILEY, which puts Trace into a bodysuit like in Metroid.
    • Glitching the Sentry robots changes them into something strongly resembling Missingno.
    • The secret worlds have a structure and visual style taken directly from the numerous out-of-bounds areas from Metroid and Metroid II.
  • So What Do We Do Now?: Trace is returned to Earth sans any injuries, but can't return to a normal life because he has lingering questions about Sudra. He leaves the lab and is determined to find a way back.
  • Space Isolation Horror: It is an other-dimensional version, with many of the H.R. Giger-esque art styles, haunting music, and a deliberate homage to lots of Metroid's style and gameplay.
  • Speed Run Reward: There is an achievement called Overclocked for completing the game in 4 hours or less.
  • Spread Shot: The Multi-Disruptor fires three shots simultaneously, one straight ahead and two at 45-degree angles up and down. There's also the Nova gun which fires one large projectile that will explode into six smaller projectiles when the fire button is pressed again.
  • Starfish Robots: The Rusalki have faces resembling human females, but their bodies, some of which are seen in a large chamber in Edin, are not humanoid at all. Elsenova is reattached to her body late in the game, and it's a long, serpentine skeleton with multiple guns built in, which she uses to destroy the breach attractor in the final battle with Athetos.
  • Stationary Boss: Uruku and the Breach Attractor both stay in one spot during their battles.
  • Steam Vent Obstacle: Quite a few in Zi.
  • The Stinger: Two can be seen whether the player gains a high item collection rate or completes the game within four hours. Each shows Athetos confronting Trace back on Earth, telling him he cannot escape from his own self. If the player had a high item percentage rate, Athetos will also tell Trace to wake up and supposedly shoots him with a gun. If the game was beaten within four hours, Athetos doesn't appear to be armed.
  • Story-to-Gameplay Ratio: The game leans heavily toward the gameplay side. The main plot is told through text boxes and cutscenes, while the lore behind the game's events is found through notes hidden in the game. The game's Speed Run mode, available from the beginning, does away with the story entirely.
  • Stranger in a Familiar Land: In the game's ending, Trace is returned to Earth shortly after the lab explosion in the beginning of the game occurred, but suffers no injuries and no one finds it unusual. He quits shortly afterward and is unable to start a new life, determined to return to Sudra and find the truth behind the technology he came across.
  • This Is a Drill: A drill weapon is regularly used to cut through destructible rocks and to deal with the armored enemies.
  • Trapped in Another World: The premise of the story. Trace finds himself in a strange new world following a lab accident. Though it is later revealed that the lab accident had nothing to do with him being transported to the other world.
  • Turns Red: Most of the bosses turn redder and become more aggressive as you damage them.
  • Unique Enemy: The Annihiwaiter, which appears in a single area in Ukkin-Na. Its sole purpose is to be used as a Cranium Ride.
  • Video Game Flamethrowers Suck: Mostly averted. The Flamethrower has a fairly short range, but not short enough to truly stand out, and the damage it deals on that range is very high. It's also the only wall-piercing weapon with a decent range, which is extremely useful in the endgame. To make up for its usefulness, you need a password to reach it, which you learn from a hidden note found halfway through the final area of the game, so it requires a significant amount of backtracking to obtain. Unless you look up the password online.
  • Was Once a Man: Pretty much every boss except for the Sentinel and the final boss.
  • Zero-Effort Boss: Some very literal story-related zero effort bosses are tossed into game.
    • You go into a boss fight room only to discover you control the boss while an AI shoots "you". You also can't kill the AI-controlled Trace, either, as it's invincible.
    • Another is Athetos' aborted clone. Just close the text boxes and wait for him to slowly die.
    • See that big floating boss that can easily kill you with bullet spam? As Trace says, you can just run out the door without attacking it.


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