Competitive Analysis: Axis Descending

Summary + Purpose

Examining the current market competition for my Metroidvania project "Axis Descending" will allow me to make justified decisions and potential alterations to the mechanics in four key areas: Combat, Customization, Tangibility and Visual Interest. These areas serve as major hooks and draws for players to focus on the product in a marketplace saturated in content and typically critical of games of its ilk.

The Metroidvania genre is one ripe with novelty, nostalgia and nuance. Fundamentally it is derived from games of a particular kind, ones that drive players through worlds rich in hidden and explorative-centric content that is locked away behind special abilities, power-ups and plot points. To make such a game, like any, requires an understanding of what came before. For a genre so steeped in the history of its own kind, or similar genre-kin that are influenced by Metroid or Castlevania's legacy, what mechanics and dynamics are the most relevant?

Axis Descending focuses on fast-paced combat, where typical Metroidvania incorporate slow and strategic combat. It focuses on a heavy amount of player ownership through hundreds of potential weapon, armor and avatar skins. It emphasizes interaction with the world with a sense of tangibility, where you see an animation to react with your chosen actions. It allows players to breathe amidst the chaos of the player's current goals and take in the skies, the flora, the fauna and just exist in the game's world for a moment as it exists around you.

Analyzing the way other titles have executed these components will acknowledge thoughtful design choices I have made and allow numerous unjustified, weaker or non-existent components to come to light in order to improve the player experience.

Methodology + Findings

Each game selected for this analysis was chosen based on the game's genre, critical reception and relevance to the goals Axis Descending is hoping to achieve within its player engagement. Through examining, noting and breaking down the elements of Combat, Customization, Tangibility and Visual Interest for each game the strengths of each will be revealed. Additionally, analysis of the pros and cons related to each of these components displayed in each game will assist in revisions, acknowledgement of current strategies and resolving current design problems.

In this instance, Combat will represent any mechanic, activity or system involving the defeat of game agents in the context of a "fight". Game agents typically are enemies, mobs, bosses or destructible objects that exist within the game's environment.

Options available to the player in the form of skins, player-defined abilities within game-defined constraints and impact of player involvement on the game world's state or story results.

The game's feel when interacting with objects, devices or agents within the game world. This could be restrictions and constraints involving player movement, opening doors, picking up objects, etc.

Visual Interest
Methods the game's art uses to convey the game's worldspace as it applies to the game. Walkable terrain combined with foreground art, foreground/backgrounds elements with parallax scrolling and activity that exceeds the bounds of the player's move-able space.

Ori and the Blind Forest

Labeled a "platform-adventure Metroidvania" and developed by Moon Studios, this title introduced a risk/reward saving system unlike ever before. By spending a rare resource players can save anywhere they like in the game. Ori has an 88/100 Metacritic score for both PC and XONE platforms and has been celebrated for its dreamlike sensitivity style of art..

  • Players balance WASD movement and player location with attack-oriented Mouse commands.
  • Combat can be fairly fast-paced depending on the enemy type you're fighting.
  • Abilities are locked behind a skill tree.
  • Ability points for unlocking skills in the tree are earned as you go, encouraging play and time spent playing to equate to player power.
  • Charge Attacks, Dash Attacks and object-sensitive (requires something in the environment to activate) movement abilities are present.
  • Health is fairly limited and increases the challenge significantly.
  • Players can choose 3 paths to progress, defining a particular playstyle.
  • No cosmetic options were made apparent.
  • Save Point locations are user-defined.
  • Save points appear only when the player uses their Spirit resource to do so.
  • Collectibles are magnetized to the player so they draw them in if they are nearby.
  • Some abilities slow time, providing you with the means to aim/focus.
  • Damage and location are emphasized with light/color flashes and emitters.
  • Environment platforming/navigation of hazards/safe areas is a strict part of the experience.
  • Responsive controls!
Visual Interest
  • Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful environments with a tremendous amount of movement in every layer of the world.
  • Use of clutter/parallax in each layer of the game world.
  • Ori shifts their weight around depending on your actions.
  • In-Depth Map of the game's world.

Hollow Knight

Developed and published by Team Cherry, this Metroidvania has achieved critical acclaim. With an 86/100 on Metacritic and an eventual port to the Nintendo Switch, the title represents a modern spin on the genre that can be successful in the marketplace.

  • The primary resource, Soul, is used for both offensive and defensive abilities.
  • Numerous "Nail Arts" are available to unlock that introduce charge attacks, dash attacks and a spinning Cyclone attack that opens up new options for player combat.
  • Combat in general is simple and more fast-paced than your traditional Metroidvania title.
  • Health is fairly limited and increases the challenge significantly.
  • Enemies tend to carry out simple behaviors.
  • Charms are special items found in the world that can be equipped in a couple of notches available to the player.
  • Balancing which ones you have equipped and how many notches they occupy is a game of balance and strategy.
  • Players may also Overcharm themselves by equipping Charms that outweigh their available notches at the cost of doubling the amount of damage they receive.
  • Many of these bonuses the Charms provide are simple quality of life additions, like drawing in resources or increasing the length of the player's invulnerability shield after taking damage.
  • These options help the player define their own individual "loadout" or "build".
  • Save points are manifested as a bench players sit on. This also acts as your only way to change your currently equipped Charms.
  • The game's currency, Geodes, are earned by smashing containers throughout the world. They fall and bounce as physics-based objects.
  • Receiving damage staggers the framerate, causing the world to seemingly freeze to emphasize you are getting hit.
  • Button prompts are displayed when applicable to use objects in the environment.

Visual Interest
  • High contrast in the environments between dark and light values. White is used as a way to signify important things.
  • The Knight, the player character, and other characters in the world all don white masks that helps them stand out from their environment.
  • Animation frames are limited and animations rely on special fx to apply context.
  • In-Depth Map of the game's world.

Another Metroid 2 Remake

Instead of introducing another critically acclaimed Metroidvania to the list, I decided to pursue something for fans made by fans of the genre. It has been received positively and reviewed by websites like Kotaku and Siliconera, despite the fact that the game is merely a fan-game and holds no official, legally, release. AM2R was actually nominated for the Best Fan Creation category in the 2017 Game Awards for its impressive design based off of the original Metroid II title.

  • Players only have Beam, Missile and Bomb weapons but they are upgraded as you go.
  • Combat is geared towards more strategic placement of the character as they can only fire in cardinal directions or a 45 degree angle.
  • Players can unlock a large amount of health and damage reduction upgrades so that mistakes 
  • Combat remains slow and steady with enemies that carry out simplistic behavior routines.
  • Upgrades can be acquired, at times, in no particular order.
  • Upgrades, ranging from Beam augments to High Jump Boots, can be turned on or off at will. This doesn't really seem to do anything, though. You aren't given a limit to what can be turned on.
  • Turning off upgrades seems more like an opportunity to run through the game with limitations.
  • The Varia and Gravity Suits change player appearance. Since they can be turned off I'll chalk that up to being a player choice.
  • Gripping on to corners to wall hang or climb over ledges is a fun way to move around the environment.
  • Save points adjust to your weight, shifting to compensate, and light up when used.
  • There are many, many environmental walls to break with Bombs, Beams and more.
  • Button prompts are displayed when applicable to use objects in the environment.

Visual Interest
  • Ground tiles blend nicely with foreground tiles. Slight correction differences make it apparent what is what, but there is a nice balance here to establish the setting.
  • The map tends to be focused on quite a bit when moving from area to area because of how tight the camera is. Areas are compact which means you move back and forth through the same corridor quite often.
  • Character sprites have a tremendous amount of smooth and breathable movement.
  • World Map is extensive but on a technical level as opposed to a visual "this is pretty" level.


In an attempt to incorporate games of a similar nature that bear obvious influences from the Metroidvania genre I have included Hob in this list. It features similar upgrade, exploration and progression mechanics found in these games. Despite an oddly unavailable reception, the game is currently at a 79/100 Metacritic score.

  • Hob splits your offensive abilities between Sword attacks and your Punch attacks. Sword strikes are fast, whereas Punch attacks can break defenses or make enemies vulnerable.
  • Ability upgrades are unlocked as you collect Shards, Butterflies and the core currency in a Forge.
  • Cloaks are available that can be equipped one at a time. They offer bonuses in exchange for reduced health, defenses and more.
  • Some enemies are fodder for attacks. This makes the player feel strong.
  • Some enemies can only be defeated by using an appropriate ability. These enemies are tough and pose a challenge.
  • The way you spend currencies to upgrade your abilities opens up new strategies in their own way.
  • Cloaks provide unique cosmetic looks.
  • The Sword changes appearance as you improve it.
  • Save points light up when you get close to them in a brilliant animation of shifting machinery.
  • Health and currency pickups glow and vacuum to the player.
  • Landing, climbing and moving about staggers the player when appropriate, making it evident that I am carrying out those actions.
  • Many objects can be interacted with. Levers to pull, buttons to press and more. The player animations when interacting with them make the objects feel responsive and impactful.
Visual Interest
  • The world is full of grass, bushes, trees and fauna. It feels alive.
  • The isometric perspective is given a fair amount of depth and complexity in the shape language they used for terrain.
  • Vistas give players a chance to sit and take in the sights from new perspectives.
  • World Map is visually appealing and uses larger and clearer icons to represent key objects within the world.
  • World Map spoils locations for hidden objects, though with the game's fixed perspective and difficult to navigate terrain that may be beneficial for players.

Sample Comparisons

By examining each of these games and the four applicable categories it is evident that there key similarities with how each title has chosen to attempt to evolve and grow the standard Metroidvania format. Ori's skill trees and player-driven save system, Hollow Knight's custom Charms belt and Nail Art upgrades, AM2R's adding features from recent Metroid games and Hob's exploration of Metroidvania within a new perspective, a heavy emphasis on enormous environment puzzles and a nice balance in combat between physical and "punch" attacks. Here are a number of comparisons that I have observed through this analysis.

  • All of the games featured enemies that were simple, easy to defeat, and relied on little complexity to overcome.
  • All of the games included enemy design that forced players to use upgrades they have obtained to defeat them.
  • All games included destructible objects with variants that could only be destroyed by certain abilities or weapons.
  • AM2R was the only game included that did not take Combat and try something different for the genre. I can understand why given the recreation concept, but the other games all had different takes on what combat could be.
  • Hob's Sword vs. Punch combat balance is similar to Axis Descending's physical/magical attack balance and proved to be engaging, providing there are enemies designed to play on these categories of attacks.
  • Movement abilities were at the center of all of the samples. They defined the player's ability to get around the world and crafted some of the most entertaining things to do in each game.
  • All of the games had various forms of character progression complexity.
  • None of the games incorporated player choice as a definitive and world-changing component.
  • The only cosmetic options, which are a huge aspect of Axis Descending, were found in AM2R and Hob's Cloaks/Suits that provided some form of an upgrade when worn. Why has the genre not incorporated player character customization?
  • Not one of the games shared a similar progression system with one another creating clear differences in player motivation and engagement.
  • Each game had a variety of Tangibility strengths that seemed universally enjoyable, like physics-based collectibles bouncing around the ground, objects characters directly manipulated or interacted with, time-manipulation when players were struck to emphasize impact and more.
  • All of the titles had objects to destroy, touch, interact with and so on.
  • Hob was the only game where the player character actually physically interacted with the environment more often than not.
  • Movement was drastically different when it came to feel. Ori used lower gravity and exaggerated jump heights, whereas AM2R was rigid and strict about your jump arcs and angles. Hob was more ground-oriented with its movement and awkward to platform with at such a fixed isometric angle. Hollow Knight was rigid, but provided clear tools for navigating environments.
  • Each title had a distinct art style: Ori was painterly and full of movement, Hollow Knight was high in contrast and given a unique "bug" theme, AM2R stepped up the pixel art color/animation/value game and Hob had Runic Games' trademark Warcraft-lite hand painted look.
  • Animation styles were all different as well and dependent on the game's art style.
  • Ori's clutter animation was breathtaking and very, very wobbly. Everything seemed to shift and sway based on wind and weather.
  • Hob's animation system was detailed and full of contextual animation between the player character and the game world.


Each of the four games featured something Axis Descending does not, and ideally will not have: a map. Each game felt fixed to it. As if you were required to look at it to get around, solve problems or find new areas. In games like this, where the environment is such an emphasized puzzle in and of itself, I want to strive to define one of Axis Descending's defining features as a spin on the genre by neglecting to include such a tool. As risky as this may be for players looking to use a map to guide their adventure, I have seen players excited at the prospect of making their own map and taking notes on the world around them.

As noted in the comparisons, the following components are going to be necessary to turn Axis Descending into a competitive title among others in the genre. Some of these are already in place or can be updated and iterated on within the current project. Others can be incorporated in ways that are appropriate for Axis Descending's approaches and design goals.

  • Unique Combat system for a Metroidvania
  • Enemy Design based on player Upgrades, Abilities, etc.
  • Make Movement Abilities fun every time they are used and required to travel
  • Display a unique art style
  • Impact, receiving or delivering, should be felt through auditory and visual means
  • Unique Animations for common interactions, plus screen space graphics for looking at books, computer screens, dialogue and more.

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