When you picture the most adorable thing you have ever seen, chances are you are thinking of some kind of baby, like a kitten or puppy. I present to you one of the cutest things that you may not have considered — a baby axolotl, armed with a gun. Okay, I get it, that last part is not so cute, but somehow the developers of AK-xolotl have successfully pulled it off.
The game opens like a nature documentary, narrated by someone who is definitely trying to channel Richard Attenborough. We observe the axolotl, an aquatic salamander who lives a peaceful life, cooking food around the campfire. With no predators in sight, they rest by the warmth of the fire. With their bellies full, they let their guard down, and they quickly learn that this can come at a great cost: A tentacled monster has sights on the axolotls' chest full of food, and the baby axolotls at the camp. Our titlular axolotl has slept through the entire event, they wake up with a hungry tummy. So they open the box containing their meals, but inside there is nothing. It is all gone… Our character can excuse the stolen children, but they can not forgive the stolen food!
AK-xolotl is a roguelite twin-stick shooter where your right thumbstick controls where you are aiming and the left controls your character’s movements. You won’t only have guns as weapons, as our axolotl can also pick up katanas and other melee weapons. There are a few other buttons that will come into play that you will need to learn like:
- LT — Use your axolotl's special ability, like healing or using a decoy.
- LB — Roll/dodge incoming fire from enemies.
- RT — Equip your primary weapon (your default weapon is an assault rifle with infinite ammo).
- RB — Use your secondary weapon, this has limited ammo or uses so be aware of that. If you happen to pick up the same weapon, its uses or bullets will be added to your gun.
- X — Reload your assault rifle, even though you have infinite ammo, the clip only holds 30 rounds.
- Y — Switch between the two weapons that you are currently carrying.
You’re in an area split into “rooms” where you will need to defeat all the woodland creatures attacking you to progress. Each path you go down is labelled with a logo that will show the type of reward you will get inside. This treasure box could contain a new weapon, ingredients to use in recipes or Doraditos — the triangle-shaped snack that isn’t Doritos — that is used as currency at Jack the Jackal’s shop. Some paths even have cookies that you can exchange for a Weapon Customisation or even a baby axolotl! Each infant you find will be sent to your home camp where you will hatch the egg and nurture your little one to make it happy. The happier it is, the faster it will grow and once big enough you can feed it food like honey cream so that it grows into an adult. If you neglect them, their happiness will decline, and they won’t grow. So be sure to pay attention to your little ones! Once they are fully grown, you have the ability to swap between them and make them learn special jobs to make them stronger by spending cookies. You will also be able to switch between them all, playing with each aquatic salamander and their special skills.
Weapon Customisations are essentially a job/class for your axolotl that gives them a specialisation with a certain type of weapon. The arm type will always inflict 10% more damage and will become more common to find on your run. The selection screen shows eight different types that you can choose to become proficient in, and each displays a cute costume for our little axolotl. Pick from: a gunslinger, trooper, gangster, marksman, scout, berserker, demolitionist, or cyborg. Unfortunately, when you select a certain outfit, that does not mean that your character is playing dress up, their appearance does not change.
In the beginning, there isn’t much in your base camp, but as you do runs and return, more resources will become available to you like the Small Paws Dealer where items you buy will appear on your runs, a journal that keeps a record of all the enemies and weapons you have discovered, and an incredibly sinister bird, called the Blisstaker. Sure you can upgrade your abilities, but you need to sacrifice the happiness of your own axolotl babies. Once their happiness has been taken away, you won’t be able to nurture them until several rounds have passed and they will be unable to grow. This felt incredibly mean, I haven’t used his services yet as I would feel incredibly guilty, so instead, I have just been grinding to get more diamonds and Doraditos to improve my characters that way.
If you find diamonds you will be able to purchase items from Junkcat who has a booth set up in your camp. The merchandise that they sell includes:
- Blaster — 10 diamonds (rare) — A rapid-fire blaster that is hard to control, so be careful.
- Regulator — 5 diamonds — A gun from the future that is a trustworthy gun to possess (it’s a laser)
- G-Launcher — 11 diamonds (rare) — This weapon throws grenades better than you can.
The two weapons are more expensive as they are rare, and the regulator is uncommon so it’s a bit harder to come by. If you don’t like any of the weapons offered, you can pay three diamonds to refresh the list. There is a sign displayed that shows "doughnut = gun?" If you do come across one of these treats on your travels, it's worth trying to give it to Junkcat since it looks like that may lead to a worthwhile trade.
There is a pot on a campfire that you can use to cook a meal or dessert. Each of the dishes gives you a different perk or advantage while you are out in the field. There are a variety of ingredients you will need to collect on your travels such as fish, garlic, and mushrooms to complete these entrees. The area that you start in doesn’t have a huge selection of ingredients, and the only thing that I was able to consistently find were green leaves. I’m not totally sure which ingredient this is supposed to represent, but it is used a lot in the first few recipes so be sure to pick them up when you find them in chests, or when you shoot one of the sparkling tree stumps. One of my favourite recipes is the Vegan Muffin. When fed to a baby axolotl — called an axolittle — they will grow up with the Decoy Ability that spawns a decoy that is used to distract your enemies. Later on, if you are feeling lucky, make a Hallucinogenic Pie that will give you the Faith Ability that will destroy everything, though this may include you as there is only a 50% chance of survival.
AK-xolotl has colourful, pixelated graphics. All the crazy woodland creatures you face like racoons, possums, rats, mice, rabbits, and evil caterpillars, are fun and crazy. But, there are some more “exotic” species included like crocodiles and crabs (with moustaches) that you don’t usually find in the forest. Axolotl’s are, according to Google, endangered and only found in Lake Xochimilco in the Valley of Mexico, and the waterways of Mexico City. So it was weird to see a bunch of spruce-like trees in the backgrounds of the levels. The music that you hear during your runs is full of adrenaline and guitars. Unfortunately, after a while, it gets very repetitive, especially when you are constantly starting your run-over from the beginning and hearing that same track on repeat!
There are seven sections that you have to clear before you fight the area boss. I absolutely love the first boss named Pond Pincher; it’s a crab with a moustache! All the other characters and animal enemies you come across have a fun look to them, and they are full of personality. I felt really bad shooting at the baby crap with a soother, they are just little! But, if you don’t, they won’t hesitate to take you out. Once you run out of health, you start over again back at your camp. Everything you have unlocked is still there, you will just have to fight your way through the swarms of enemies to try and clear the area again. If you find the game to be difficult, you are able to change the difficulty from Axolotl Mode, which is for people who don’t shy away from a challenge and play other roguelite action shooters to Axolittle. This is for players who don’t have as much experience with games of this type. You start with more health, your shots deal more damage, and you are given more opportunities to recover your health.
I’ve had a fun time playing AK-xolotl, it’s a challenging twin-stick shooter full of adorable animals and full of personality. This is the first time I have ever played a game featuring the axolotl, and damn they are cute! Besides the repetitive music and the level environments that don’t really fit with the main character in real life, this is a solid experience that will make you feel guilty for the decisions you have to make because baby animals are just so freaking cute. If you are a big fan of roguelite titles, this is a game to have on your radar. Who doesn't love being a character that looks sweet and innocent, but in reality is incredibly deadly?
AK-xolotl (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
AK-xolotl is a twin-stick shooter full of action and personality. What bad can happen from giving cute creatures deadly weapons? It’s amazing how guilty this game made me feel for thinking about sacrificing my baby's happiness to power my character up!