Level 99 Axe Rage absolutely nails that 80’s early 90’s feel, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Drawing a plot straight out of Terminator or Independence Day, the Earth has suffered at cataclysmic event at the hands of an alien invasion. The resultant destruction leaves zombies and other horrors marauding through the ruins. Your hero, wielding a mere fire axe, slaughters his way through.
The art style perfectly captures the arcade feel of old school beat-em-ups with vibrant colors and lovingly crafted pixel art. Splash text from successful combos adds great flavor and the death animations of enemies (as well as yourself) are delightfully brutal. Often enemies will split or explode into clouds of detailed gore. Swipes of your axe sound meaty and are adequately flashy and appeasing to watch.
Exploration is rewarding and fun. There’s a bit of backtracking, a la Metroid, and often you’ll find crates with hidden health items if you’re clever enough to figure out what the developer wants you to do to get there.
The levels each have a unique and memorable feel to them. There’s no ambiguity or repeated elements, indicating the care that went into designing each asset. Music, movement, and ambient sound/music all hold well with the era the developer is going for. Catchy 16-bit style music rarely gets repetitive or annoying. You can feel the effort that went into maintaining that early-gaming feel.
And perhaps that is where the issues start. Level 99 Axe Rage is hard. Not Darksouls’ “Hey, I learned something and I can feel myself getting better” style of difficulty, but more along the lines of Battletoads’ “Hey, if I memorize this section blindly I can get past it and move on.” Often you’ll find yourself bypassing large sections of combat simply because it’s not worth it or fun to do.
Early game fights often involve one or two enemies, so engaging them and lining up combos is a great feeling. Later on, though, it just isn’t worth it. Enemies don’t suffer from stun effects while you attack them, so you can be mid attack then take damage and get knocked back, interrupting your sweet, well planned power combo. Eventually, especially once the enemies become more tanky, it makes more sense to run in, swipe a few times, then run back before an attack can connect. This negates the well-crafted combo system.
Exacerbating this problem, and seemingly in effort to maintain that 80’s/90’s feel, if you leave a room and come back all the enemies respawn at full health. This isn’t a major issue, but it comes up often enough to be a notable annoyance. Particularly when you are facing a mini boss, get him to low health, then a power attack knocks you into the previous room. There will be times you would rather jump into one of the fiery pits of instant death rather than use more of your limited pool of health items. Thank goodness there are save stations.
Herein lies another issue that compounds the difficulty. There are many ways you can die in Level 99 Axe Rage. Not just to zombies and robots, but ways that instantly kill you. Environmental hazards that one-shot you that a player would have no way of knowing they were there before dropping into a room. Spikes, buzz saws, fire pits, falling blocks, pick your poison. The player has no choice but to take the death and remember not to drop in that section next time.
Some of this could be mitigated by a tighter feeling movement system, but as it stands moving feels sluggish and imprecise. For example, there is a section with a falling block early on that you must move quickly underneath to avoid. If the player jumps from the platform leading into the room and lands under the boulder, the character does a heavy landing animation. It lasts a fraction of a second longer than the standard animation, but it’s long enough that the player can’t escape their demise. You must edge down to the lip of the platform and then initiate the jump. Such mechanics have no place in a platformer where consistent movement is integral to the experience.
Once you develop a mild case of Stockholm syndrome, enjoyment can be found in Level 99 Axe Rage. The developer’s passion in the project can be felt and there’s hope for this title to become something fantastic. Being an early access title, the developer has time to make adjustments. Currently, however, only the die hard early-era gaming fans will find fun here instead of Rage.
- Art is lovingly crafted
- Music and sound design is top notch
- Fighting enemies can get very frustrating
- Character handling feels imprecise
- Hard, but not in a good way