Good Week for Games

Writing about news or teasers and trailers is not really my forte, but it feels appropriate to share my excitement for some recent announcements. While I was fairly disappointed in a lot of what was shown at E3 and the subsequent Game Awards, I’ve been absolutely blown away by the number of announcements made this week. Seemingly out of the blue, 3 indie developers that I have been following for the past couple of the years just dropped some trailers for their upcoming games. Also, Nintendo dropped some huge bombs that I am also looking forward to. But I will start with the indie news from Team Cherry, The Game Bakers, and Red Hook Studios.

First and foremost, I absolutely have to talk about Hollow Knight: Silksong. The complete unexpected nature of this announcement blew everybody away. If you don’t know, Hollow Knight is an absolutely phenomenal metroidvania that received critical acclaim back in 2017. The 3-man-team known as Team Cherry funded Hollow Knight through Kickstarter and the game was released as a resounding success. It quickly became a hallmark of the metroidvania genre, and many people consider it to be one of the best metroidvanias ever created. As one of their Kickstarter reach goals, Team Cherry planned to release DLC for the game where the player could play as an alternate character: Hornet. What was completely unexpected was that Team Cherry decided to just make a whole new game for Hornet instead.

I am extremely excited for this as Hollow Knight is without a doubt one of my favorite games. You can read more of my opinion on Hollow Knight in my review of the game. The trailer for Hollow Knight: Silksong looks absolutely fantastic. It keeps the aesthetic and feel of Hollow Knight, but it looks like it will introduce plenty of new things to keep the game fresh. Hornet seems to be much more agile and have a wide array of attacks and trinkets to use to liven up combat. With 150+ new enemies, a new kingdom, and the introduction of Hornet, I hope that Hollow Knight: Silksong can live up to its predecessor while also being fresh and new. That being said, I have a lot of faith in Team Cherry. Additionally, Team Cherry announced that anybody who backed the original Hollow Knight for $10+ on Kickstarter will receive Hollow Knight: Silksong for free, which I think is pretty cool of them.

Watch the trailer here:

Aside from Hollow Knight, another indie game that I really loved was Furi. Furi is an adrenaline-pumping boss rush extravaganza that I played through entirely a couple times because it was just so damn satisfying. The music, aesthetic, action, and difficulty all felt spot on. You can read more about my opinion of Furi in my review. I have been keeping an eye on The Game Bakers to see what they have in store next.  Apparently, that thing is Haven. Not much was shown or described about Haven in its short teaser, but I am definitely interested. Haven is marketed as an RPG rather than an action game like Furi, so I am intrigued to see what new direction the developers are taking. Despite that, the art style and music are almost identical to Furi which I am happy about. I mean, Furi has one of the greatest video game OSTs (original soundtracks) of all time as far as I’m concerned. Hopefully many of the artists will return to work with Haven. All we really know about Haven at this point is that it is an RPG about two lovers who escape a planet together. I have a sneaking suspicion that Haven may be connected to Furi, but that’s just a guess. Either way it seems to be an entirely new experience and The Game Bakers have my attention for whatever news comes next.

Watch the teaser here:

For an indie game that I’m more skeptical about, Darkest Dungeon 2 was also just teased. I really do have a love-hate relationship with the original Darkest Dungeon. The combat, artwork, atmosphere, writing, and even the resource management aspects were incredibly entertaining to me. The overarching issue with Darkest Dungeon was its incessant grinding. The game was ridiculously long (60+ hours), but the player would have seen most of what the game had to offer in the first 15 hours. Also, endgame mechanics dragged on the game even longer for no apparent reason. You can read more of my opinion in my review here. All in all, I’m cautiously optimistic for Darkest Dungeon 2. The characters, Lovecraftian horror, combat, and even Wayne June’s narration make a return. Red Hook Studios have said that the game will differ from the original Darkest Dungeon in a few ways, so all I can hope is that the overbearing tedium is significantly cut down on. Darkest Dungeon 2 looks to be set in a similar setting to Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, so I will have to read that as well.

Watch the teaser here:

In non-indie games news, the recent Nintendo Direct also announced some big new titles. The remake of the 1993 classic The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is the most exciting news for me. I’m a huge fan of the series, but for some reason I never finished the original release of the game. I got about halfway through before I just kind of stopped playing because it did not really click with me. Hopefully this remake will modernize the experience, as I remember the original being incredibly vague and hard to follow. I am just happy that I get the opportunity to give this game another shot. I am not completely sold on the new art direction, it looks a little too cartoonish and cutesy to me. I think I would’ve preferred well-made 2D sprites, but oh well maybe it will grow on me. Still, it is cool to get a remake of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening on the Switch.

Watch the trailer here:

The final announcement that I want to talk about is Super Mario Maker 2. The original Super Mario Maker let players create their own levels and share them with the community. Usually games that try to add level creation features end up with a janky mess, but Super Mario Maker executed the concept incredibly well. The easy to use user interface and tons of different tools from the Super Mario series combined into an experience that lets the community run free with ideas. I personally did not play the original Super Mario Maker much, but now that Super Mario Maker 2 is coming to the Switch I will definitely pick it up and see what levels the community has created.

Watch the trailer here:

That’s about it for the big announcements. Other than the games mentioned we received some news on the upcoming indie game Baba is You and also some more info on Fire Emblem: Three Houses. All-in-all it was a pretty solid week for game reveals. More so because all of this was unexpected and came out of seemingly nowhere. I cannot wait for all of these games to be released and I am looking forward to playing them.


Axiom Verge (2015)

With the surging popularity of indie games, the genre of metroidvanias also is rapidly being filled with dozens of new games every year. As such, it can be difficult for a metroidvania to stand out amongst its peers. That being said, there are a few games that do manage to accomplish this. Games like Hollow Knight as well as Ori and the Blind Forest achieve this through strong level design, beautiful visuals, gratifying combat, and tight platforming. When I picked up Axiom Verge, I was hoping for a modernization of the game that birthed the genre: Metroid. While Axiom Verge did capture a lot of what Metroid was about, it does not manage to stand out amongst its peers.


To me, the key of a successful metroidvania is first and foremost level design. The genre is ripe with backtracking and revisiting previous areas. Developers should work to minimize just straight backtracking, and should try to implement it in a more intriguing way. Looping paths that lead back to the beginning of an area, creative shortcuts to cut down on wasted time, or even implementing fast travel can cut down on unnecessary tedium. Axiom Verge does essentially none of this. Areas rarely loop into each other and are mostly linear paths from start to end, and there is no form of fast travel. There is one shortcut to take the player from one end of the map to the other, but it is not available until fairly late into the game. Traveling from area to area in Axiom Verge can be a giant waste of time. And this is compounded by the fact that there is also a heap of aimless wandering.


As Axiom Verge is obviously inspired by the original Metroid from over 30 years ago, it carried over some archaic design concepts, but it also does not fall into the pitfalls of many modern-day games. Many modern games unfortunately do not trust their player’s abilities and often resort to handholding. This is patronizing and takes control away from the player. Axiom Verge has absolutely no handholding as essentially no direction is given. I usually like being given complete control of where I go, but this combined with the difficulty of traversing the map frequently frustrated me. Figuring out where to go next can be a daunting task, and when you have to tediously wander back and forth to find a passageway that you missed you can easily grow irritated. With better level design, or even fast travel, this issue could have been alleviated. Luckily, Axiom Verge does implement clever ways to prevent the player from going too far backward. Still, I was often wandering through large areas repeatedly to find what I had missed.


Combat is another core component of any metroidvania, and most games for that matter. Axiom Verge is a shooter similar to Metroid. You can aim in a few different directions and use a variety of different weapons to blast through aliens. You can amass a collection of weapons, each with vastly different damage, firing-rates, and the like. Some weapons shoot a close-range burst of electricity, others spray a lot of low-damage projectiles in a wide pattern. While some weapons are strictly better than others, the player is given a lot of freedom to test and find a weapon that suits them. Unfortunately, it is hard to justify using a bunch of different guns when one or two heavily outclass the others.


Battling the enemies in Axiom Verge is fairly static. Most of the time you can sit in one spot and shoot until the enemy is dead. It is not incredibly engaging or interesting, and the enemies respawn often enough that trudging back and forth through areas can be tedious. This issue is made worse because most of the environments look similar to one another. The one most interesting aspect of combat is the dashing ability, which is not unlocked until fairly late in the game. Worse still, the controls for executing the dash are ridiculously bad. Double tapping the control stick leads to plenty of accidental dashes, and it is difficult to execute in the moment when you actually want to dash. As far as I can tell, you cannot even rebind the dash to a button or key to make it more consistent.


The singular aspect that I enjoyed most of Axiom Verge was the setting and theme of the game. You play as a scientist who gets transported into some sort of “glitch world”. A catastrophe happened here, and you must restore the inhabitants and escape. The story is filled with mystery as you uncover who unleashed a plague upon this world. The idea is also implemented into gameplay pretty well. One of the tools that is unlocked is a decoder that can clear glitches that are blocking your path. This decoder can also be used on enemies to scramble them and turn them into weaker variants of themselves.


Overall, I feel like I enjoy the idea of Axiom Verge, but it just felt dated to me. It took almost too much inspiration from Metroid, and did not update or modernize many of the features. It is a decent metroidvania, but its hard to justify recommending it when there are dozens of more unique and tightly crafted games in the same genre. The dated combat, antiquated exploration, and low-bit graphics left me feeling like I was playing a game made in the early 1990s. If you want a retro metroidvania, Axiom Verge may be perfect for you. But if you want a fresh and unique take on the genre, then you would be better served to search elsewhere.