When it comes to Anodyne, comparisons are most certainly going to be chalked up against The Legend of Zelda – most notably, Link’s Awakening. Hell, there’s even a cheeky reference of Link thrown in for good measure, but that’s best discovered first hand. Anodyne is served as a 16-bit adventure game that sees players thrown into the dream world of the game’s protagonist, Young. From here, a nearby sage sets the story before seeing you off on a trek into Young’s subconscious, a subconscious that’s compiled of different themes throughout.
These themes revolve around world exploration, dungeon diving, puzzle solving, and the usual Zelda-esque things that we typically tick off the checklist. I’m going to leave my comparison between Anodyne and Zelda right there, because despite this being very much inspired by that material, Anodyne certainly deserves to stand out on the merit of its solid design nonetheless. It’s not perfect by any means, but it does indeed offer up a worthwhile journey that any fan of the concept will greatly appreciate. So, without further ado, lets dive in.
First and foremost, I want to discuss one pretty unforgivable issue with the game. Whenever you pause, or interact with a specific item in the menus, a massively persistent flicker will ensue. This isn’t an isolated problem and it appears throughout the entirety of play. It may sound like a small thing to complain about, but when you’re greeted with nonstop flashing whenever you’re menu-browsing, it truly breaks immersion and in the long-run, becomes pretty damn annoying. Outside of this, there’s not much else that I can groan about here.
Anodyne is a well developed and well detailed game, together with a pace that feels driven, yet oddly open at the same time. Starting out, players will receive the game’s signature weapon; a broom. Yes, you read that correctly. You’ll not be fighting back foes with a sword – despite one being present during a specific dungeon – you’ll instead be slamming them to a pulp with the end of your trusty broom. To be fair, they operate pretty much identical to one another. Furthermore, players can find a few broom upgrades throughout.
These upgrades can only be equipped one at a time and grant you additional attack behavior such as extended reach, wider reach and so forth. It’s relatively simple stuff and to Anodyne’s credit, it blends some environmental puzzles with these upgrades, later on in the game. The second (and final) ability that Young will receive, is a neat pair of boots that afford him the ability to jump. It takes some time to get these boots, but again, the game toys with this addition through the use of its puzzles, which gives the gameplay an extra kick.
The aim of the game sees you taking on a small band of dungeons and nabbing collectible cards. There’s never any real sense of direction, much like Link’s Awakening, making for a game that takes quite a bit of perseverance, awareness and sense, before any real progression is made. Each area is broken up into several screen-sliding segments, and oftentimes, specific obstacles (gates, locked doors) will block your path until the puzzle or switch that is tethered to it has been solved or activated. It’s as straightforward as can be.
That’s not to say that Anodyne is a walk in the park, on the contrary, I hit my head against a proverbial brick wall many times during my play-through. It is however, speaking strictly about its mechanics and functionalities, easy to digest and understand. Generally speaking, if a section if blocked off, you’ll need to search around or clear an objective before you’re free to dive further in. This can be anything from touching a pressure plate, solving and completing one of the game’s tough dungeons, or even clearing a screen full of enemies.
Largely, this is the flow of Anodyne. You’ll find a dungeon, solve its puzzles, defeat its enemies, overcome its boss, nab a key and then move onto the next; rinse and repeat. NPCs are dotted around throughout, offering cryptic messages that don’t always make sense at that time. Some NPCs will be integrated into environmental puzzles, forcing you to take your surroundings into account as you attempt to suss out how to bypass them and their path-blocking attitudes. Though in fairness, the solution to each puzzle is typically hidden in plain sight.
Throughout your time with the game you’ll come across several cards that are themed on either the game’s enemies or NPCs. These cards come in handy for accessing gated areas on the map, as well as the all important end-game gate that requires you collect every card in the game up until that point. Mercifully, the game’s hub area keeps track of the cards that you’ve collected, making it easy to distinguish which area you have collected all cards for, and which area still has cards left to obtain. This hub area is served as a portal-filled environment.
Here, you’ll be able to chat with the game’s sage or fast travel to certain locations of the world via the aforementioned portals – which are subsequently unlocked whenever you visit a room that has a teleporting pad in it. Accessibility is key here, as it removes a hell of a lot of weight off of backtracking, which is something you’ll do quite often. I rather enjoyed my time with Anodyne, and although it doesn’t have a scratch on its inspirational material, there’s just enough depth and innovation here to grant the game its own deserved spotlight.
There’s plenty of enemy variations within and some tough boss battles that will constantly test your reflexes. Sadly, due to only housing a broom and nothing else, there’s not a whole lot of structure as far as the combat is concerned. Combat typically consists of dodging attacks and slamming in an attack of your own before dancing around another enemy attack. The game spices things up elsewhere, such as using your broom to gather a dust-cloud that can be used as a boat or an enemy deterrent, but it would have been nice to see similar innovation when fighting.
Still, when all is said and done, Anodyne does a stellar job at keeping things fresh. It will only take a handful of hours to complete the game’s story, and a few more on top of that if you want to seek out all of its secrets, but for its generous asking price, you’re certainly getting your money’s worth. Special mention goes to Anodyne’s visual and audio design. I absolutely loved the game’s soundtrack and its varied and distinct areas. Groundbreaking it may not be, though, Anodyne does indeed tick all of the boxes that it needed to, for a game of this type.
Although it’s nowhere near as compelling nor as deep as its inspirational material, Anodyne offers a fun, worthwhile and well paced journey. The game uses its few gameplay mechanics to great effect, and although it would have been nice to see more innovation and depth as far as its combat is concerned, there’s no denying that Anodyne is one of the better examples of Zelda-esque adventuring.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.