Anodyne is an action adventure indie game created by Sean Hogan and Jonathan Kittaka of Analgesic Productions. Winner of an honourable mention at the Independent Games Festival for student competition the game pays homage to the top down 16-bit games of the past with a strange and unnerving tale through a dream world.
The game starts with the main character, Young, being greeted by a sage and told that he is the chosen one who must save the world, known simply as the Land, from the darkness. While this all seems typical and childish the game opens into something much more unsettling pretty quickly. The plot is full of themes surrounding growing up and has metaphors at every turn. From the first dungeon and beyond the world is accompanied by a disturbing and haunting soundtrack which add a sombre emotion to the often colour visuals of the world. I will speak personally for a moment by saying that the game had hit a few nails for me. It certainly made me stop and think for a moment about my own adolescence, and more than once did I feel a bit of genuine sadness over something it seemed the game was trying to tell me.
Anodyne’s play-style is familiar to that of the old top down Zelda games. You move Young through a series of screens which contain puzzles and enemies to fight. As you explore the Land you will inevitably encounter various themed dungeons to battle your way through. Each one has its own boss at the end. The different areas range from peaceful forests to city apartments and strange cyber worlds. The visuals take an classic 16-bit style, which managed to invoke feelings of awe and mystery at times.
Collecting cards is a significant part of the game. These can be found all the world and inside dungeons containing pictures of characters and enemies with an accompanying message you can read in the menu. Obtaining these cards usually requires you to navigate a bit of a maze or solve a puzzle that is slightly off the beaten track.
Certain gates will block your progress unless you have acquired enough cards. Fortunately you have access to a hub world which makes backtracking between different locations much easier. The hub also has a helpful indicator above each teleporter to tell you whether you have found all the cards in a said area in the form a gem that lights up upon completion.
Despite this however, the task of collecting cards often feels like it was added to artificially lengthen the game. At first, the required number of cards needed to pass some gates seems reasonable, but eventually you will run into a gate which demands a much higher toll than the previous ones, and then you will begin your search across the Land. In typical fashion for this style of game, talking to NPCs – which there are not too many of – may provide you with extra direction whenever you are stuck. The fact that you can always find the old sage at the hub area means someone you might be able to point you in the right direction is easily accessible.
Young’s main weapon is the broom, which has two functions. Firstly it acts as his sword, slaying most enemies with a couple of attacks. The game also features a dust sweeping mechanic which is used to solve puzzles and shield yourself against certain enemy attacks. The dust has an impressive amount of variety in the different ways it is used to work through the puzzles. These include sailing, activating moving platforms. The broom can be upgraded, but otherwise it is pretty basic in its usage.
Enemies come in a decent variety starting out with few blobs and bats and working up to enemies with some nasty tricks up their sleeves. A lot of enemies however are just cannon fodder, though they sometimes feature in puzzles there you are required to manipulate their movements or keep them alive. You may also run into areas where the enemy placement seems rather unfair and taking a bit of damage in unavoidable. The somewhat slippery controls can also result in you accidentally walking into an enemy while attacking it as well. Health drops however, are plentiful and taking the odd bit of damage is easy to recover from.
The platforming however can be very frustrating and difficult. These usually involve jumping over small chasms or over objects. The movement has a rather slippery feel and at the start it is rather easy to overshoot a jump and fall down another pit. The somewhat odd choice for default controls does not help you to master these puzzles either, though fortunately the keys can be remapped in the in-game config menu. The challenge is ramped up when more when the game puts enemies between the jumps to try and knock you off and then again when you encounter jump boosters and crumbling floors. As the jump puzzles become more complex and punishing they become even more frustrating.
On the more forgiving side of things, the game is full of checkpoints, with a good handful to be found in every location. These allow you save your progress and recover all your health. Making liberal use of these checkpoints should mean that even if you die you should never take you too long to get back in there.
Anodyne is a game that is full of feelings and may have you thinking for a while after you put it down. The gameplay is simple and sometimes seems unrefined and frustrating. Given its retro graphics and sound the atmosphere is rather impressive. Those wishing the revisit the adventure games of yesteryear might be interested in taking a look at this title. For a small price the game offers up a good amount of content, a shortish action adventure game with plenty of bosses and puzzles to work through.
Anodyne can be purchased from Steam and GoG.com at the price of around $9.99. You can also visit the developer’s website at http://www.anodynegame.com/. For $12.00 a Soundtrack Edition is available from the website which includes over seventy minutes of soundtrack music.