With the current wave of indie titles, many developers are making games that show a clear inspiration from more retro titles. The best of these games give the feeling that their creators really loved the games of old. Anodyne, on the other hand, takes the retro throwback in a bit of a different direction.
Anodyne comes across as a response to a criticism many gamers have about The Legend of Zelda series: the newer games are too much like the old ones. For the most part, Anodyne’s aesthetics are very different from the Zelda series which it takes inspiration from. Many of the locals are nothing like the places found in Hyrule, Young looks quite different from Link, and the broom he uses as a weapon does not look anything like the Master Sword. It gives the feeling of trying to be a more adult take on the series.
Game lore and visuals aside, the game still plays much like the early Zelda games. Young may wield a broom instead of a sword, but he still uses it the same way. For all the attempt at making a more mature and sophisticated spiritual successor to a childhood classic, Anodyne does not improve on the mechanics it takes inspiration from.
The puzzles in Anodyne give enough of a challenge to keep the player occupied, but none of them particularly stood out. None of them reach the satisfying level of games such as Escape Goat or Braid, where the puzzles are so challenging that you feel like a genius after you solve them. Puzzles of harsh difficulty are not for everyone, but as one of the main focuses of the gameplay it certainly feels lacking.
Another major part of gameplay in Anodyne is combat which, for the most part, is fairly tedious. Most of the monsters, while curious to watch, are not particularly engaging to fight against. Once their simple attack patterns are figured out, it becomes quite easy to defeat them, save one or two enemies such as the wolves. The boss monsters are slightly more difficult to beat, though most of them still lack any sort of real challenge.
Often you can simply bypass any monsters you come across, so long as defeating them is not required for solving a gate puzzle. The only other incentive to fight them are the occasional health drops. For that matter, there are several areas that do not have any enemies to fight or puzzles to solve at all.
The atmosphere is at least nice to take in while you walk from room to room. The visuals provide an otherworldly aesthetic at times - nothing I have seen before. While Anodyne has little in the way of tunes, the background ambiance works well at conveying a mood that fits with the sights. It is a game that looks and sounds nice, but is fairly boring to play.
Some players might find it in them to overlook this if the narrative was engaging. Sadly, the story and characters are mostly forgettable. Outside of the game’s setting, the story is your standard “save the world” fare, except more confusing. The Darkness has taken over, and Young has to get to The Legendary Briar before The Darkness can reach it. The Cloaked Man who sends Young off on his quest doesn’t explain more beyond this, even if you try to get him to talk more.
The characters are not particularly memorable either, save for Mirta and only because she shows up three times to encourage Young on his quest. The rest of the non-player characters are a bunch of quirky looking individuals who say a lot of strange things, but none of them are particularly notable.
The game boasts about how the characters say new lines of dialog after talking to them multiple times, but it is all meaningless if none of it sticks after the game is finished. Perhaps the lines and lines of text is part of why the characters are so forgettable. There is a simplicity to lines like “It’s a secret to everyone” and “I am Error” that leave an impact in a way walls of text never could.
So without any sort of interesting narrative or gameplay mechanics, it is hard to recommend Anodyne. It fails to improve upon the mechanics borrowed from The Legend of Zelda games. There are plenty of other narrative driven adventure games on the market which are much better.
Overall, the best I can say is Anodyne is at least passable. If you are dying for a game that plays like The Legend of Zelda yet looks completely different, then it might be worth checking out. Otherwise, you might want to pass on this disappointing experience.
This game was purchased by the reviewer and reviewed on the PC platform. You can purchase it on Steam here.
Unique ascetics aside, Anodyne fails to improve on the adventure games it takes inspiration from.