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  • Writer's pictureOle Gamer Joe

AK-xolotl Review - A Whole 'Lotl Fun!

AK-xolotl Review Written by Ole Gamer Joe

AK-xolotl

Available on PC/PS/XBOX/SWITCH

Release Date: 9/14/23

Developed and Published by 2Awesome Studio




What do Axolotl and Carnage from the Marvel universe have in common? They can both regenerate body parts of course! Oh, and they've both been in video games. For Carnage not every one of those games was great (I’m looking at you Separation Anxiety) but let's see how AK-xolotl has turned out!


AK-xolotl is a top-down action-roguelite, stop me if you've heard that one before. But wait, there’s a twist! Here you are able to play as an Axolotl, with a gun! The title probably gave that away, didn’t it? If you aren't familiar with these adorable amphibians, they grow up in the water, and live exclusively in Mexico City, but I don't recall them having guns. Until now that is! Thank you, Video Games!


AK-xolotl
So cute, but so deadly

Axolotls are living peacefully on a small planet when suddenly evil forces snatch up a small family, leaving only one pissed off Axolotl with an AK! You guessed it, that's where you come in! There really isn’t much more to the narrative, you set out to reclaim your family and nurse them to health and that’s about it.


Being a game with rogue elements, AK-xolotl is going to be run based, and that means playing the same areas over and over and over and over...You get the point. Same enemies, same bosses, same level backdrops for a LONG time. Rogue fans are here for it, some of you despise this style of gameplay. Either way I wanted to get this fair warning out of the way early. SO, BE WARNED! This game will not change your mind if you don't enjoy this genre to begin with.


With that said, AK-xolotl does make many attempts to keep each run feeling fresh, and with a good deal of success. You begin by selecting between two different gameplay modes, which I can definitely appreciate in a rogue game. The standard axolotl mode will put up a fierce challenge and is as the development team intended players to experience the game. The Axolittle mode however is a less challenging option where you'll have more health, receive additional health drops, and dish out increased damage. The Axolittle mode is not a total cakewalk, and a great way for those who are intimidated by roguelite games to ease into things. I certainly made use of it a few times myself, as you can switch whenever you wish throughout gameplay.


AK-xolotl review
Find your family and raise baby axolotls.

Movement is on the left stick and shooting is on the right stick. One interesting feature with this game is the ability to walk right over bushes, garbage cans, rocks, and all sorts of environmental objects. This allows players to discover ingredients for cooking, or find Doraditos, which is the in-game currency used to shop with. I almost wish they came in nacho and cool ranch flavors, but that might be a little TOO on the nose. Your first Axolotl comes equipped with a snack ability, but as you progress you can equip and control new critters with their own set of skills which adds to the customization options.


You'll hold two weapons at a time with shooting being performed via the right trigger. Unsurprisingly, aiming is executed with the right stick. It's a formula most of you will feel familiar with I’m sure, but the mechanics are pretty dang good. Whether I needed to use the left bumper to dodge enemy fire, or I was blasting down foes while carefully weaving between bullet hell madness, the controls felt tight and never let me down. Most mistakes were entirely mine to own. Of course, your success will often depend on how good your reflexes are.



Your goal in the game is to go room by room clearing out creepy crawlies like caterpillars and other insects, and even the occasional raccoon with a gun of its own. The game certainly has a sense of humor, that’s for certain. As you clear each area of enemies you'll typically be rewarded with a chest. Here you can choose between 3 different power-ups like a normal bag that MIGHT contain something nice, a veggie which will increase health, or black goo that leaves a sticky trail for your foes. Clearing out an area will leave a fork in the road, meaning you’ll need to pick between a few different doors, which are discreetly labeled to give you a bit of an idea of what might await ahead. A "gun" door will lead to a weapon, or a cute little axolotl head could lead to an adorable baby that you can nurse back to health and raise to adulthood. There is a bit of strategy involved with picking which door you want to enter, which I really enjoyed. Low on health? You’ll want a door labeled with a hospital symbol. Want a new gun? Follow the gun symbol! Just as you would expect each world is broken up into a set number of rooms culminating in a boss battle. Defeating this often difficult boss means moving forward, while death means back to the hub! Side note, I never want to fight the first crab boss again, but I’ll undoubtedly have to.


AK-xolotl
No roguelite would be complete without boss battles

And speaking of the hub world, it is perhaps the most fascinating part of AK-xolotl, and that’s because it is ever changing with each failed run. Yes indeed, you are rewarded for your many failures. I loved how new little shops and gameplay elements would open up. For example, Droppin' Doggo, an item shop where you can spend crystals for new perks eventually appears, a weapon shop will materialize, upgrades stations, and even more that I won't spoil here. But perhaps the most interesting element is the adorable little farm where the axolotls you collect gather together. Here they can be nursed to health through a minigame which involves cleaning them. You can also feed them through cooking using ingredients found through each run, and eventually raise them to adulthood. Doing so will allow you to play as one of these new Axolotls once they have grown up, and there are a ton of these cute little friends to unlock which could potentially keep you busy for a long time. I'm glossing over some of the unlockables of this game not to be lazy, but so as to preserve the fun surprises for you of which there are many.


I didn't even touch on the new weapons you unlock or the new room types so, as you can tell, there is more than meets the eye. However, the reality is there's no escaping the trappings of this genre, and for me even with all the cool unlockables, I just didn't love fighting the same crab boss and blasting the same enemies ad nauseam. That's a problem for me and won’t apply to everyone, but I feel like many indie gaming fans will feel the same way I did, burnt out after a while. This is a genre that has been around a long time now, so while AK-xolotl hosts some fresh ideas, it still ultimately suffers from the pitfalls of the roguelite genre. For me this will be a game I come back to every now and then as opposed to making it an obsession.


AK-xolotl pixel art
AK-xolotl features adorable pixel art

The visuals in AK-xolotl are very cute but pretty standard pixel art. The enemy designs consist mostly of adorable, fuzzy animals that fit well with the game's theme. Some of the backgrounds get repetitive due to the nature of the game, but mostly look nice. Your standard forest area, snow level and other outdoor settings all make an appearance and are quite colorful. The axolotls themselves are really stinkin' cute and the animations aren't too shabby either. In the end I am a sucker for pixel art, so I liked the look of this one.


The nice pixels are accompanied by a hard rock soundtrack that's pretty solid, albeit not all that original. Chugging guitar riffs and hard-hitting drums are common throughout your adventure, with all of the explosive sound effects and excruciating cries of death working effectively. All told, the game looks and sounds pretty good.


While AK-xolotl is still a roguelite at the end of the day, you can't say it doesn't try to freshen things up. I looked forward to unlocking more and more in my hub world, along with discovering new axolotls. I loved how the difficulty options allowed for me to advance through what is often a frustrating grind-fest. Sure, I got bored of seeing the same bosses and levels time and time again, but I still really enjoyed this one in small doses. For me this is a perfect handheld game, and with flawless Steam Deck support at 60fps, I could see it as something I dip into every now and then to slowly progress through. If you're completely in love with this genre and enjoy many of the games within it, there's a good chance you'll like this one too.


Pros

  • Nice pixel art

  • Solid rock soundtrack

  • Sound gameplay

  • Hub world is fun to watch grow

  • Difficulty options

  • Great Steam Deck support


Cons

  • Repetitive

  • Bosses get predictable and stale

  • Gets old after a few hours of play

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