Throwback done right: Why I love Axiom Verge

Axiom Verge is an indie game that mixes equal parts Metroid and Castlevania to make for a fantastic throwback adventure.

Jeff Bakalar
Jeff Bakalar Editor at Large
Jeff is CNET Editor at Large and a host for CNET video. He's regularly featured on CBS and CBSN. He founded the site's longest-running podcast, The 404 Show, which ran for 10 years. He's currently featured on Giant Bomb's Giant Beastcast podcast and has an unhealthy obsession with ice hockey and pinball.
2 min read
Tom Happ Games

Axiom Verge is a side-scrolling platformer built basically by one guy over the course of about five years. It looks and plays a lot like classic Metroid and Castlevania 8-bit games from the NES era.

This isn't anything new -- plenty of indie games have tried to tickle the sensitive nostalgia receptors of twenty and thirty-something gamers who grew up with sprite graphics and two-button gamepads.

But where a lot of those games fizzle out after the novelty evaporates, Axiom Verge perseveres, like a throwback phoenix through the ashes of knock-off imposters.

Tom Happ Games

What makes Axiom Verge so much fun is a smorgasbord of nuances and devilishly clever design choices. It plays on a graphical glitch aesthetic that anyone with an NES can instantly identify with -- a pervasive imperfection that seemed to affect the majority of titles from that era. Only this time, there's no cartridge to blow in to.

It's all the little things that really work in Axiom Verge, from the intoxicating score, to that iconic boxed map you've seen a hundred times, to simply the typefaces. It layers just enough complexity to keep it from feeling dusty, and takes advantage of a multi-buttoned gamepad in the way you had always hoped a Metroid game eventually would.

The homage paid to 80s platforming oozes through every pixel, but there are hints of gaming's evolution peppered in. Everything screams 1986, but brilliantly, Axiom Verge harnesses contemporary gaming ideas to make it feel 2015 just as much.

Tom Happ Games

It's this genius hybrid that makes me love Axiom Verge. It's not simple game by any stretch, but it's something that can traversed with a bit of patience. Where the Metroids and Castlevanias of yesteryear injected the player with a sense of isolation, Axiom Verge harnesses that feeling of despair and nails the identical satisfaction of progression.

Axiom Verge is currently available on PS4 for $19.99. It will be out on PC later this year.

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