In Anodyne, you explore and fight your way through nature, urban and abstract themed landscapes and dungeons in the human Young’s subconscious, evoked by a GBC/16-bit-era visual style and a moody, dream-like soundtrack.
What We Think
There have been more than a few retro inspired titles amongst indie releases in the last few years but it would be unwise to dismiss them as simple call-backs to the past. Anodyne from two-man development team Analgesic Productions, summons these familiar feelings of nostalgia at first glance, wielding a style of gameplay reminiscent of the early Zelda installments. This is far from the defining feature of Anodyne, however, as this game is a lot more than a simple homage.
Control Thy Destiny
Anodyne opens with some simple instructions to get you to grips with the controls. These are very basic, using only the direction buttons and two other keys for attack and jump. You’re given these instructions as you pass through a few brightly lit rooms; the first of many different kinds of environment you’ll traverse throughout the game. While the controls for Anodyne may be simple, the game is anything but.
True to classic Zelda-esque style your perspective is top-down. The camera doesn’t track with the character and when you walk off of the edge of the screen the camera will scroll to show the next area. In this manner each part of the game world is ultimately made up of a grid of areas which you can navigate like a maze.
You’ll soon be able to arm your character and perform rudimentary attacks to clear enemies. These foes are quite varied and they’ll each provide a unique kind of threat. Some of the more dangerous enemies are particularly fiddly to dispatch and may require a specific strategy. The game features bosses at the end of major dungeons and these up the challenge considerably.
In terms of gameplay, Anodyne focuses more on exploration and physical puzzle solving than combat. Each area is a natural maze that must be puzzled through. The game easily conjures up that wonderful sense of mystery that you may remember from this genre. There are plenty of hidden areas or zones that you can get a glimpse of but can’t fully access yet. The drive to find out what’s around that corner is one of Anodyne’s strongest facets.
Some dungeons feature quite challenging puzzles and combat. You’ll probably die a lot in Anodyne but that won’t stop you from pushing onwards. Sometimes things can become a little frustrating especially if you aren’t sure of where to go next (you can spend a lot of time running around looking for the next unexplored area). That said, a short break is all that’s needed before you’ll be coming back for more.
A Journey Within
While the overall control scheme and action are excellent examples of the adventure genre, the true achievement of Anodyne is its unique aesthetic and atmosphere. The story of this game is very surreal; part humor, part disturbing psychological exploration. Anodyne is simultaneously a relaxing return to a familiar genre and a somewhat unsettling world that you’ll feel compelled to explore thoroughly.
Rather than the typical fantasy setting you may expect, Anodyne features a more eerie world that leaps elegantly from comfortable to creepy. There are more than a few transitions that take you from an idyllic local to something altogether unexpected and unpleasant. The terrain of Anodyne ranges from forests and mountains to urban roads and blood-tinted netherworlds. Rather than derail the aesthetic of the game, these contrasts actually help to support a recurring theme and atmosphere. Anodyne lives up to its claim of taking place in the dream like world of the subconscious.
The music helps to augment the visual side of the game, helping to convey a range of emotions through soothing themes and unnerving tracks in equal measure. The writing is also adeptly handled, with the typically minimalist narration of the genre used to excellent effect. Rather than simply ushering you along the path of the game, most of the dialogue also manages to convey either humor or unease.
A Legend and a Classic
Anodyne is a superb example of the classic adventure genre, harkening back to an age of top down, screen scrolling games. On top of this, Anodyne manages to twist the storytelling methods that its predecessors used for fantasy worlds into something very clever, very interesting and more than a little creepy. If you’re looking for a challenging adventure game and a world to sink yourself into for a few hours then Anodyne is definitely worth a look.