Saturday, March 2

Review: Anodyne [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Making games that try to honor elements of classics from the past can be a tricky proposition depending on the approach. Aside from the tightrope that you can sometimes walk between showing love and ripping off the other risk you run is in reviving styles of play that are better left in the past. When playing Anodyne there’s no questioning its inspiration from the classic Legend of Zelda titles, though it's obvious that it has no ideas of its own (it is tonally completely different and certainly has its own flair). Unfortunately, even though the game only lasts a handful of hours, it seems too comfortable wasting the player’s time with far too much aimless wandering around with little direction, which can be grating and feels like a reflection of sloppy design.


Set in the hero Young’s subsconscious, the world of Anodyne can be quite unusual, unless you consider it normal to be doing things like talking to a lobster, for instance. Armed with a trusty broom, which unfortunately is the only weapon you’ll have in the game (though you’ll get some minor upgrades for it), you’ll set out on your adventure. Along the way your goal will be to solve puzzles, defeat enemies, and collect cards which will allow you to access new areas. In general combat tends to be pretty simplistic, not a surprise given your singular weapon, and this often makes things like boss battles a bit underwhelming as you will just dodge and poke away at them until one of you falls.


Fortunately, on the puzzle side the game is a bit more clever, though again since you only have one core mechanic to work with they tend to get a bit repetitive. Your primary means of puzzle solving is your ability to pick up dust with your broom, which you can then use to do things like block lasers or even act as a sort of raft on water. This, at least, is a bit different and will make you work through problems in ways that feel new. Once you acquire the ability to jump there can be a some frustrating elements requiring you to use it precisely (sometimes tricky given your mostly top-down view) but at least it helps add some flavor as well.


For me where things fall apart quite a bit is that no matter how clever some of the dialogue or elements that come together in the late game may be, the path to get there can be a bit of a boring slog. The world is a maze of sorts that slowly gets more and more connected as you open gates and find portals that allow you to quickly travel back to a given spot but for the most part the exploration to connect it all is a drag full of disappointments at dead ends blocked by obstacles that you have no idea how to get by. Later when they are removed in some fashion it can then be tricky to remember the path to get to them all as well, creating a situation where I could feel the minutes ticking away while I was accomplishing nothing, trying to backtrack through areas to find where I was to be going next. Like I’d said, this wasn’t uncommon back in the era that obviously inspired the developers. However, when there are so many other options out there respecting people’s time and doing more to optimize the ratio of fun to time invested is critical and in this area the game struggles.


While I have no doubt there’s an audience that will appreciate what Anodyne is trying to do, and will really dig its themes and quirks as they were intended, you’ll need to have some patience before it ultimately comes together. Over its relatively brief runtime in general it shouldn’t prove to be too difficult to get through as the combat works but is limited and the puzzles, for the most part, fall into general patterns even if their specifics may vary. The hook really just seems to be the overall experience and some of the weirdness that you’ll encounter along the way, how much you appreciate the ultimate payoff will then be measured against the somewhat vanilla journey getting there.

Score: 5.5

Pros:
  • In terms of the environment, the theme, and some of the dialogue it has a tone all its own
  • It does offer some fun and surprises later in the game if you’re willing to invest the time

Cons:
  • Too much time is wasted on dead ends and backtracking, with even things like portals not often doing enough to reduce the time wasted on this tedium
  • Combat quickly gets to be pretty one-dimensional and the lack of variety also affects the diversity and quality of the game’s puzzles
  • At times there’s a feeling that the game isn’t quite as clever as it would like to think it is