Review by kiwasabi
"Subversive Zelda-style game with major substance and minor flaws"
Story (Score 10/10):
"You explore and fight your way through nature, urban and abstract themed areas in the human Young's subconscious, evoked by a 16-bit-era visual style and a moody, dream-like soundtrack".
You play as the seemingly self-designated chosen one known as Young. Your quest is to save The Land from the darkness that has come over it in the form of The Briar, a mysterious yet familiar shadow person. A wise old man known only as The Sage is your guide through your harrowing adventure. There are many odd and interesting characters that you'll meet along the way, many of whom seem to have something to teach you about yourself. It is a bizarre world where even your enemies appear to want to help you become a better person.
Throughout the game you face many bosses who seem to know deep truths about who you really are. They hint at the fact that you play video games to escape from reality, and that one day you'll have to learn how to deal with people. Some people in the game say, "I'll see you tomorrow night then", as if this is a never-ending cycle. And still some other lament only being able to connect with others digitally, without any real face-to-face interaction. There are very dark moments such as lore on stones that talk about how we come into this painful world by causing harm to our mothers. Overall it's a very powerful narrative that seems to almost tell the player he should go out into the real world and talk to real people. It's a story of frustration and escapism that doesn't quite lead to fulfillment.
Gameplay (Score 7/10):
I really enjoyed Anodyne, but I think it was mostly due to its story, exploration, and to a lesser extent, its bosses. The actual gameplay did leave something to be desired. It's your standard Zelda top-down action fare. The difficulty seemed pretty uneven. Many enemies were either overly wimpy (slimes, bats, etc) or overly annoying (dogs, magnetic metal things, fumigators).
The game also requires quite a bit of platforming expertise at times as well, with many jumps back and forth over rolling spiked logs that seemed impossible to pass unscathed. There are also some excruciatingly difficult jumps to make in regards to utilizing some arrow pads that give you speed boosts. Many times I found myself brute-forcing my way through many obstacles, not caring to successfully maneuver through them as it wasn't very fun.
There were some interesting action puzzle aspects to the game. At many parts you have to interact with the more benign enemies to get them to step on levers to open doors. This can get fairly complex and interesting at times when you have to time it properly so the enemy steps on a lever at the same time as you. At some points I did find it a bit frustrating that the enemies didn't want to interact intuitively. Roaches never seemed to behave in a consistent way, getting scared by me sometimes while being completely apathetic at other times. Overall this was a welcome addition to the game that could've used a little more refinement.
The collecting aspect of the game is very engaging. You must collect cards and keys in order to unlock new areas. The cards provide some lore to help tell the story. After completing the main quest you are given the swap ability which allows you to swap any two tiles. For those who enjoy hardcore world exploration and/or breaking games, this will be right up your alley. You have to search over every square inch (tile?) of the world to find the remaining cards that weren't reachable in the main quest. It is very easy to get stuck in the game world or end up in glitch zones, which can be frustrating. But this all serves to reinforce the core themes of the game for those who stick it out to the true end.
The bosses are all creatively designed and I found them to be a highlight, although they seemed a bit easy compared to some of the more frustrating parts of the game. Overall they each had fun gameplay designed into them as well as lots of character and lore. I found them to be a compelling vehicle for the story.
Graphics (Score 8/10):
These are SNES style graphics and they are well done. I would like to see this team create higher resolution art for their future games.
Music/Sound FX (Score 9/10):
There are some really great songs that capture the mood of the game quite well. A couple are a bit grating over time, but the good ones far outweigh those. The sound effects were functional, but not exceptional.
Overall (Score 8/10, Not an average):
Anodyne is a great rookie title for its creators. Its story is so compelling as to pull you through the uneven and sometimes tedious gameplay. You'll enjoy visiting all the different worlds and trying to figure out how they all tie together. Ultimately it's not a story of fulfillment, but one that seems to carry a powerful message to its players: don't be afraid of reality, embrace it! Definitely play Anodyne and support these developers.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 02/19/13
Game Release: Anodyne (US, 02/04/13)
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