If there is one game that has been ripped off of and emulated more than any other, it’s probably The Legend of Zelda. Nintendo’s landmark release has spawned countless imitators and influenced hundreds of games, and developers are still counting it as an inspiration to this day. Anodyne is one such game, but unfortunately it fails to bring anything new to the already crowded table, and as such is a game that will almost certainly be forgotten in the wake of so many others.
You take control of Young, a man who wakes up in an unknown realm called the Nexus. You are told that you must protect Briar from the darkness, but first must prove your worth by scouring the land for cards. And, that’s pretty much all you need to know.
You run into a lot of characters during your travels, but none of them have anything relevant or useful to say. In fact most of the dialog aspires to far more lofty and philosophical heights than it has any hope of reaching, and winds up feeling pointless and pretentious, while at the same time completely throwing off the tone of the game. A lot of heavy subjects are brought up, from antisocial paranoia, to self worth and parenthood, but they are never expanded upon or even discussed.
It’s clear it was a very personal experience for the developer writing the lines, but putting all of your problems and insecurities into your game is a sure fire way to lose your audience. Adding to the disjointed tone is a bundle of worthless profanity that was unneeded and serves absolutely no purpose. It’s as if the developer felt they had to put it in somewhere, and it doesn’t jell at all with the rest of the game. The ending is the final nail in the coffin, coming completely out of left field and not giving even a remote sense of resolution. I have no idea what the writer was going for, but the story fails on every level and had me wishing it hadn’t been included at all.
If you want to get an idea of the gameplay, imagine the original Zelda, except you play the whole game with just your sword, and that sword is actually a broom. Now you should have a good picture of what to expect from Anodyne. You wander around an overworld, collecting cards and filling out your map, and then you venture into dungeons to do basically the same thing, and maybe fight a boss.
This formula gets repetitive fast, as you aren’t gaining any new abilities as you progress, and most of the puzzles are little more than pressing a series of buttons. Had the levels been interesting, I could probably get over the repetition found in other areas of the game, but once again it’s a mixed bag at best, and mostly full of duds. There are a few that are surprisingly well designed and fun to go through, but they also serve to further call out the bad ones, and are few and far between.
Many of my problems with the level designs stems from how much backtracking you have to do. It makes the game much longer than it otherwise would be, seemingly there only to pad out the experience. A bigger problem than just being tedious, is that there are many times when going back is nigh impossible. Doors will close, gaps will become impassible, and dust (which serve as a movable block) will be trapped on the other side of the room, and yet you are still expected to make your way through. At times the only option was to either teleport back to the entrance, or purposely kill my character and hope the last checkpoint was before I got stuck.
It all seems very unpolished, and is a shame, because I think had the game been tested and developed a bit longer it could have turned out a lot better than it did. But truth be told I actually did enjoy it here and there. The gameplay is one dimensional, and yet satisfying. The world is barren, but I loved filling out my map. The true problem is, to reiterate, the fact that Anodyne does absolutely nothing we haven’t already seen dozens of time done much better. It has it’s moments, but by and large feels all too familiar, and ultimately had me wondering why I was playing it instead of so many other games. I never felt compelled to continue, and I doubt it will be finished by most.
If Anodyne does anything right, it’s the game’s music and art. The graphics wholly envelope the SNES era, with a wonderful pixel style that is both beautiful and varied. Each dungeon has it’s own look, from a noir inspired town, to a neon maze it is constantly evolving and giving you something new to look at. It may not all flow together, but it was the one thing that made me want to search out new dungeons.
The other half of the presentation is the music, which does a great job of selling the somber, lonely tone of the story, even when the dialog can’t. From gentle piano melodies, to a pounding jungle beat, it is just a great set of songs, and some I could actually see myself listening to outside the game. They are that good, and easily the best part of the game.
In the end though Anodyne left me wanting. Wanting for better levels, a better story, a better ending, but mostly, a better game. When I first began, I had little idea what to expect and was actually enjoying it a great deal. But as time went on, the gameplay never evolved, and the story only strayed farther and farther off course.
The artwork and music is remarkable, but games are meant to be played, and not merely looked at and listened to. Great as they may be, it isn’t enough to salvage the dull and conventional gameplay. So while at times enjoyable, I can’t say Anodyne left any real impression on me, and in the end I was all too glad to sit back from my keyboard as I watched the credits roll.