Can’t wait for Metroid Dread? You need to play Axiom Verge 2 right now

Patience is finally paying off for Metroid fans. Metroid Dread, the first original 2D Metroid game in 19 years, lands on Nintendo Switch this October. All players have to do is hang tight for another two months — though that somehow feels even more excruciating than the nearly two-decade wait. There’s only so many times you can replay Super Metroid to fill the time.

For those who need a game to fill the final stretch, there’s a solution. Axiom Verge 2 is out now on Nintendo Switch after its surprise release during last week’s Nintendo Indie World showcase. It might just be the best Metroid-like game since, well, Metroid itself.

The new indie is a sequel to Axiom Verge, a 2D sci-fi game that draws heavy inspiration from Super Metroid. Both games fall into the nebulous “Metroidvania” genre, which describes action platformers that often feature sprawling maps covered in upgrades, items, and secrets. Like Metroid, both Axiom Verge games feature heavy “gear gating,” where areas only become accessible after finding the right tool.

The main character of Axiom Verge 2 runs from a robot monster.

Doubling down

The first Axiom Verge shined largely due to its focus on exploration. Players who went off the beaten path would be rewarded with surprising secrets. They wouldn’t just find an extra missile tank or health upgrade, but an entire set of gameplay-changing weapons that are entirely optional.

Axiom Verge 2 doubles down on that strength by putting navigation at the forefront. When the game begins, players have very limited exploration options: They can walk and jump. As is the case with all Metroidvania games, the tool set quickly begins to build as players start tracking down items. A remote-controlled drone gives players access to areas blocked by narrow gaps. Climbing gear allows them to scale up walls, opening up areas that previously seemed impossible to reach. That only begins to scratch the surface of what players can do.

As the game progresses, the established laws of how players navigate space completely break down. Each new tool opens up more paths, until players can quite literally move in any direction they please. It’s a game that shows players a rule book and then lets them rip the pages out one by one. You almost feel a little guilty when finding a new upgrade; it’s as if you’ve just entered a game-breaking cheat code.

Axiom Verge 2's hero hangs on a cliffside.

Wonderful world design

What really makes all this work is the game’s excellent world design. Games like this tend to start players on a fairly linear path and slowly open more routes up each time they get an upgrade. Axiom Verge 2 does that, but to the nth degree. Every time I’d enter a new area, I was presented with tons of routes I could take. I rarely knew which one was the critical path, but it didn’t matter; any road I walked down always had some reward waiting for me. Sometimes I’d find something as simple as a skill point, while other times I’d find an entirely new melee weapon hidden behind a completely optional boss (in fact, every boss fight is optional, allowing players to focus entirely on exploration).

All of that gets at the heart of what makes Metroid, and others like it, so special: These are games that constantly reward curiosity. The world is one big navigational puzzle with hundreds of micro solutions. Every corridor is a carrot on a stick that always leads to a new secret. Aimless wandering can be frustrating in some games, but Metroidvanias like Axiom Verge 2 turn it into a satisfying experience that celebrates the simple joy of moving throughout a digital space — a small miracle we often take for granted.

Axiom Verge 2 is now available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC via Epic Games Store. It’ll take a good eight hours minimum to complete, so it’ll fill a little time between now and October 8, when Metroid Dread hits Nintendo Switch.

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