AK-xolotl is a must-play if you’re a fan of roguelikes and bullet hells. Its various enemies offer interesting attacks and are distinct enough that you can customize effective defensive strategies against them with a range of weapons and abilities. However, some of the runs can get quite repetitive
Variety of levels and biomes
Nice range of enemies
Fun side quests
Fights become very repetitive
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Platform reviewed: PC
Available on: PC and PS5
Release date: September 14, 2023
AK-xolotl makes the most of its deadly and adorable premise with mountains of guns and even more unique axolotls to play with. If you’re a fan of roguelikes that are on the cuter side, then you need to check out this top-down shooter developed by 2Awesome Studio.
In this Bullet Hell, you play as a lone axolotl on a mission to rescue your kidnapped babies and, more importantly, find the food that went missing with them. This quest will see you fight through various biomes and against multiple gun-wielding enemies like spinning crabs and rabid forest dwellers.
No one run is the same thanks to the random paths you can take, but all roads ultimately lead to the deadly boss that lays in wait at the very end. While this does help to make each run feel slightly fresh, limited map layouts mean you’re struck with deja vu all too often.
Ak-xolotl’s premise is unique; there aren’t many games where you can play as a disgruntled axolotl fighting its way through hordes of rabbits, raccoons, and rats. There’s also a great deal of weapons for you to get your webby paws on. While the classic AK gives you unlimited ammo, you always have the choice to carry another weapon. This could be anything from a katana to an automatic pistol. Each weapon brings with it its own benefits, such as power or fire rate, and negatives, such as limited ammo.
While I love the dungeon-crawling element of AK-xolotl, nurturing all the baby axolotls I found scattered around the map was a welcome change to the chaotic dungeon runs. Thanks to time, care, and a lot of food, I grew all different kinds of axolotl their adult form - which I could then play as.
Luckily, you won’t have to save these extra weapons for a rainy day, as you’ll always be able to pick up more as you forge ahead. Almost every room you come across will have more than one door to choose from after you’ve wiped it clean of enemies. Behind these doors often lies a new gun, power-ups, coins, or even a baby axolotl in need of rescuing. Therefore, before unleashing an entire magazine on some aggressive rabbits, it’s best practice to look ahead and see if a new gun is going to be available afterwards.
There are also handy power-ups to get to grips with. Once you clear a room of rabid animals, you can choose one of three power-ups to aid you on your adventure. While some are straightforward, such as giving you more health or accelerating your speed, others are more imaginative and massively powerful. You can leave a trail of goo that will slow down opponents, electrocute enemies that come too close, or even damage attackers when you get hurt. Each power-up is critical in getting you to the boss room, and beyond, as you hurtle through various biomes and obstacles, facing more and more dangerous enemies.
You could sink hours into this Bullet Hell as a result. The number of various power-ups and weapons means there’s so much experimentation to try in order to create a potential game-winning combination. No matter how many times you end back at the beginning, you’ll always want to go back for more just in case your new combination works out.
Nature or nurture
While witnessing the hyper-aggressive nature of these gun-wielding axolotls can be fun, the similarity of map layouts can make runs frustratingly repetitive. Luckily, however, there’s more to do in AK-xolotl than simply gun down forest dwellers, which will help to mix things up.
A few side quests can help fill the time in AK-xolotl and also give you a much-needed reprieve from the deadly bullet hell. One of my favorites has to be nurturing the baby axolotls that you find across the maps. There are little banana axolotls, cow axolotls, and of course, pretty little pink ones. You can invest a serious amount of time into looking after them.
If you complete the few mini-games aimed at caring for the babies, such as cleaning them up or changing their diapers, they will then grow into hungry teenagers. After this, you will have to cook meals and feed the adolescent axolotls to ensure they grow strong and healthy. Only after they’ve reached adulthood can you swap characters and play through levels as them.
It’s a great alternative to simply unlocking new skins, and, this way, you’ve got way more of an incentive to rescue the baby axolotls because, while they are cute, it provides a fun way to fill your time between hellish runs.
However, if permadeath and massive restarts aren’t for you, be sure to think things through before entering into AK-xolotl, as no matter how far you get once you die, you’ll start again from the very beginning. For newcomers to the roguelike genre, you may be able to circumvent these aggravating restarts by splitting your time between Bullet Hells and Nursery. The nurturing mini-games for baby axolotls offer up enough reprieve to help you ease into the game's often brutal ways of progressing through levels.
There’s not much else to say about AK-xolotll; it’s a well-made game that’s entertaining to play, with a funny concept that makes it stand out from the crowd. If you’re a fan of Bullet Hells, then this absolutely delivers. At the same time, the dungeon-crawling aspect of this roguelike is hard enough to make you come back for more but doesn’t cross the line over to become incredibly frustrating.
The accessibility settings aren’t massively fleshed out in AK-xolotl, but some useful options are present. Screen shake, blood, camera focus, and vibration can all be toggled on or off. There are also two difficulty options to make things a bit more accessible, as well as different degrees of aim assist to aid you in battle.
How we reviewed
I played 6 hours of AK-xolotl on its most challenging mode to see how various enemies and weapons faired under pressure. Despite more than a few restarts, I had a great time crushing through hordes of evil animals and even a few of the starter bosses.
While I reviewed AK-xolotl on PC, I did have a go at the console version during my preview at Gamescom. I found that using a mouse and keyboard is more straightforward than playing with a controller, mainly due to aggravating aim assist, which can backfire during fights and send your axolotl shooting off in random directions.
Elie is a Features Writer for TechRadar Gaming, here to write about anything new or slightly weird. Before writing for TRG, Elie studied for a Masters at Cardiff University JOMEC in International Journalism and Documentaries – spending their free time filming short docs or editing the gaming section for their student publications.
Elie’s first step into gaming was through Pokémon but they've taken the natural next step in the horror genre. Any and every game that would keep you up at night is on their list to play - despite the fact that one of Elie’s biggest fears is being chased.