Axolotls are cute. But stick an AK-47 in their hands and they become deadly AF. Who’d do a thing like that, you’re probably wondering. The team at 2Awesome Studio is who, with its latest game, AK-Xolotl. And it absolutely rules.
It feels like we’ve been waiting a long time for AK-Xolotl to release. We first had our hands on a demo back in February 2022, and 18 months later it’s finally here, absolutely worth the wait – and so much more than we’d hoped. This twin-stick roguelike does indeed let you rain down bullet hell upon your enemies while taking control of a cute ‘lil axolotl. But it also lets you raise your own baby axolotls, shaping their development by feeding them certain meals – then take ’em into combat when they’re fully grown. Essentially, you’ll have a huge, living character select menu, all of which you’ve raised yourself from an egg. Aww.
We’d probably play Axolotl Daycare all day long: petting the baby ones and completing the minigames that AK-Xolotl tasks you with is more fun than it’s probably supposed to be. You’ll need to put diapers on them, catching their streams of rainbow poop, or spray them down when they get covered in dirt. It’s adorable. Each time you interact with them, you’ll fill up their happiness meter, and once it’s filled they’re ready to evolve to the next stage: a teenage axolotl. Feed your teenager a meal which you’ll need to cook yourself, and they’ll evolve into a fully-grown, ready-for-warfare adult-xolotl. You won’t want to feed them just anything though: the meal they eat will determine what skills they might have.
Or, maybe, you won’t want your baby axolotls to mature at all. You see, there’s a darker side to AK-Xolotl. Take your innocent little ‘lotls out of the safety of their pen, and you can have their happiness sucked right out of them. Barbaric, really. But don’t worry: they’ll gain happiness again. Eventually. And by taking it from them, you can gain permanent skills. This is a roguelike after all, and permanent upgrades are important.
But this is all just extra fluff to keep you immersed in AK-Xolotl’s gameplay loop. It doesn’t really need any of it: the twin-stick gunplay is engaging enough by itself to keep us jumping back in. But being able to raise your own babes, monetise their happiness and spend gems on unlockable weapons and abilities really does give the game a wonderfully unique personality. It also helps that these additions are drip-fed to you, unlocking as you play.
Let’s get on to the meat of the game. As a roguelike, you’re always going to be starting back from the start each time you jump into AK-Xolotl. You have a choice of starting weapons – each with unlimited ammo – but your success will depend on the weapons and abilities you pick up as you play. There’s a good selection: laser guns, powerful shotguns, super-accurate tactical guns and assault rifles, to name just a few. Any weapons you pick up in a run, however, will have limited ammo. You’ll need to keep picking up new guns, or revert back to your default weapon.
There’s also a bunch of random abilities and upgrades to be picked up as you play. Maybe you’ll become immune to explosions, or gain extra weapon damage (sometimes at the expense of accuracy). Others might give you a trail of fire wherever you walk, or increase the amount of ammo in your weapons. You’ll have some say over what you collect in each run: once you’ve completed a room, you’ll typically have a choice of two or three doors to walk through, each marked with their rewards. So it’s your call if you want a new weapon, a new ability, or perhaps some currency. Obviously, you won’t know what weapon or ability you’ll get; that’s down to the RNG gods to decide.
A highlight of AK-Xolotl is its boss fights. Enemy design in general is great – think mice with pistols, boomerang-throwing frogs and bunnies that explode – but the bosses take things to the next level. The first is a mustachioed crab, whose spin attack coupled with bullet spread will keep you on your toes. Later, you’ll come up against a big cat mech (naturally controller by a regular-sized cat) and a burrowing sock snake, amongst others. It’s a lot for a teeny axolotl to take on, and you’ll need to keep your wits about you to come out on top. Even on AK-Xolotl’s easy mode, which gives you extra hearts, death can come all too easy. But you’ll keep jumping back in, determined to do better and better each time, and you know what they say: practice makes perfect.
We love the bullet hell gunplay of AK-Xolotl: its variety of weapons and abilities gives it plenty of depth, and its quirky enemy designs are a joy to come up against. But it’s the additional content here that really sets AK-Xolotl apart. Raising teeny “axolittles” will warm your heart – and sucking out their happiness will break it. But it’s all part of the eccentric wonder that is AK-Xolotl, which has quickly become one of our favourite roguelike games.