Review by TurkeyHammer
"A fun throwback to the 16-bit era of the Legend of Zelda"
Anodyne at first glance would simply appear to be a Legend of Zelda hack or worse, a shameless copy of a classic formula. Thankfully looks can be deceiving because while it does employ the fantasy setting and general gameplay of the Legend of Zelda games, there is more original concepts and themes unlike any that would have been in the Nintendo counterpart.
You play the role of Young. A boy with white hair, glasses and really not much else to characterize him. Young's story(both back and present) never is mentioned at all. While there are clues and notions of Young's past in the game, we never really get to know what his role in the grand scheme of things is! At times it can appear that Young is a destined hero come to save the land, while sometimes feeling as if he is an unfortunate guy thrown into an unknown world and expected to be this hero. I also felt this feeling of the world being Young's subconscious. Unfortunately, I had this feeling the whole game that neither of the developers really planed out the the story or setting. At the games climax I still felt as if I had no idea what I accomplished in this world.
The story is pretty simple, yet felt thinner than most games with even the simplest of plots. Young wakes up in a mysterious land greeted by a Sage who tells him he must "Defeat the Darkness that looks to use the Briar for evil!". Pretty easy to grasp but almost near the end, that is pretty much it. You met characters and talk to them but you never learn more about the world, your quest or the characters you met. Most times I could never tell if that guy/thing is hopeful to my quest or wanting me to end up in failure. Up until the end of the game, I though the Briar was either the land or some mystical element/spirit. I won't spoil what the end of the game is, but I felt a bit disappointed in flat the games plot was.
Themes the game will show you are various. At times you will feel hopeless and alone while others will be of joy and wanting you to have a bright outlook on the world. One thing I wasn't a fan of though was the mood changes the game went through. My first hour was of roaming through grassy plains and sunny beaches ala The Legend of Zelda. But then I'm going through abandon buildings with dead people and killer shadows. Same with dialog from the NPCs. One character you meet, Mitra is a nice girl with a bike who befriends you and helps along the way. Her dialog along with others will be happy and fun. On the other end of the spectrum though, are characters who talk like they were written be a 12 year old who found out about profanity and sex. I'm not wholly against a game like this having profanity or mature subjects, but its more that the game changes to and fro quite rapidly that it's a bit confusing on whether the game is trying to be a mature game in the guise of a friendly fantasy game.
The biggest question I had about the game though was it trying to poke fun at a game like Braid with its themes of adult subjects in a package of a lighthearted platformer or whether it was trying to be a game like Braid. At times the game seemed to be leaning towards Young being a person who needs to overcome is personal problems(mother issues, social anxieties).
The game also seemed to be heading into Young's quest being a sort of purgatory for whatever horrible deeds he did. The problem though, is that the game never confirms these or follows up in anyway on them. I don't want to use the word pretentious, but I kinda got the feeling in some scenes/dialog.
Gameplay is largely what you expected when you seen screenshots of the game. Controls will be familiar of anyone who has played a Legend of Zelda game. You have the main eight way directions to go in and a button to swing your trusty sword. In this game though, your sword is a handy broom. Capable of attacking enemies and sweeping up dust. Dust is an object you will come into contact quite frequently. It can be used to shield yourself from harm, placed in water for use as a raft and used to power up some contraptions you will use to get around puzzles. Like the Zelda games, you have a health bar that can be upgraded from finding fairies roaming around the land to beating bosses and collecting your reward. Life can be regained by defeating enemies and by saving the game at a new checkpoint. 1/3 the way through the game you will acquire the Jump Shoes which allow you to jump over pits ala Ling with the Pegasus Boots.
One of the main complaints about the gameplay I had was with some of the platforming parts. Quite simply the game just sometimes had too much stuff to jump over. Some rooms would have multiple pitfalls requiring diagonal jumps with too precise of a jumping point; to too many obstacle like spiked rollers and circular moving beams. Another problem I felt was that some of the enemies had some really bad attack patterns. Mostly it was the dogs and lions. A lot of them seemed to be designed to ram into you which wouldn't be too much of a problem if it weren't for some of the room layouts.
The world in which Young will explore is nicely varied. The over-world goes from grassy plains and sunny beaches, to smoggy African like shrub-land and a dark mysterious forest. Dungeons also have some good design. While there is common stuff like the cave dungeon, most have a theme. Like an abandon apartment or the insides of a worm like creature that spans four small dungeons to go through. Other unique areas is a black and white town that always has you thinking to yourself, "something doesn't feel right about this...", a cavern filled with circus like enemies and puzzles and an 8-bit maze inhabited by blind-zombie like creatures.
The games enemies for the most part have nice, simple designs like frogs, flowers, goo and dogs. Bosses for the most part are pretty original in design. From a flesh red octapus and wall with arms and a mouth to a scary hockey mask wearing mayor. Unfortunately though, most bosses can be beat by simply brute forcing your way trough them. Only the final boss required a different strategy and even then it wasn't too hard.
If you've played a 16-bit Zelda game, you know what the graphics have in store for you. Now this isn't to say the game is unoriginal; in fact, I really liked the design. Nothing was ever too muddled looking to distract myself from playing. Simple design is the best way to describe the art style and it worked for. Only real complaint if I had any here, are that sometimes the layout of the area made it look like I could go someplaces only to find out I couldn't fit in between a tree or whatever have you.
Music is one of this games high points for me. Sean Hogan(one half of the developers) made the entire soundtrack which goes from bleak and desolate to soft, piano driven scores that remind me of classic 16-bit Squaresoft tunes. One of the creepiest pieces, Suburbs, made a game like is feel like I was playing a 16-bit Silent Hill. One of my favorite tracks was the Windmill theme. It was just nice, calming upbeat mellow piano track that caused me to go back into the area just to hear it. Other sound and effects are mainly what you'd expect so I can't really comment on that other than it sound decent.
Stuff to do outside of going through the main quest are few and far between. There are no other quest to partake in outside of a quest to talk to several NPCs after you beat the game. Throughout the game there are cards to collect that feature characters and enemies you'll met throughout the game. There isn't much to do with these besides unlocking a few gates with the correct number of cards. There are 48 to collect total, but you will only be able to get 37 before beating the game. To get the other 11 would be spoiling the game a bit. But let's just say it's asinine and involves glitching to get. Other than that there are a few broom upgrades to get. Not necessary but they're there.
So that about sums it up. Despite what sounds like a lot of complaints, I would still recommend anyone who enjoys games like this to give it a play-through. The problems I had with the game don't hold it back too much or cause too much frustration.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 10/24/13, Updated 09/26/14
Game Release: Anodyne (US, 03/22/13)
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