GAME REVIEW: Anodyne Offers Atmospheric, Disturbing Take on Zelda-like Genre

Title: Anodyne
Developer: Analgesic Productions
Publisher: Analgesic Productions (PC), Nnooo (Console)
Release Date: Feb. 4, 2013 (Windows, macOs, Linux); June 16, 2013 (iOS); Oct. 15, 2013 (Android); Sept. 9, 2018 (PlayStation 4); Sept. 21, 2018 (Xbox One); and Feb. 28, 2019 (Nintendo Switch)
Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch

Traditionally, Zelda-like games draw inspiration from A Link to the Past when crafting out their gameplays.

Anodyne is anything but traditional.

The inspiration from The Legend of Zelda is definitely there, but the tone is closer to the strangeness of Link’s Awakening than A Link to the Past. In fact, Anodyne takes that oddness to a whole new level.

The result is an stunningly atmospheric yet flawed adventure that can be completed in about seven hours.

  1. Synopsis and Gameplay
  2. Analysis
    1. Narrative
    2. Gameplay
    3. Dungeons and Settings
    4. Performance
  3. Final Score

Synopsis and Gameplay: Across The Land With Only a Broom

Protagonist Young wakes up in a 16-bit dream world called The Land with Sage, a cloaked sage, prompting him on his adventure. Young starts out in the hub world called The Nexus and unlocks new portals to The Land as he discovers them while journeying.

Young journeys through The Land, visiting various areas and dungeons that carry nature, urban, and abstract themes. The world appears to be within Young’s subconscious.

Young largely uses two items throughout the game: A broom and jump boots. Players use these items to work through six dungeons with bosses and numerous puzzle-themed areas as they progress.

The game mixes elements of dungeon-crawling, action-adventure, and platforming. There are numerous indirect references to The Legend of Zelda, including volleying an ice ball back and forth during a boss fight.

Throughout the journey, players will encounter numerous non-playable characters, collect cards, and expanding the health meter en route to finding Briar.

Briar is the final boss of the game, but no explicit indication is given of who he is, though the game implies he is Young’s real-life friend.

Image Credit: Analgesic Productions (via Zelda Dungeon)

Analysis: An Imperfect Yet Fun Ride

Anodyne is a fascinating game because it is largely the creation of two individuals. What they accomplished is definitely praiseworthy, though there are several issues that make appearances throughout the game.

Narrative: This Is a Land of Confusion

In my opinion, narrative is the game’s weakest point. The story isn’t necessarily bad, but rather unstructured.

The concept is great, but why you’re venturing through The Land is never really defined. Sure, it’s to find Briar, but there are so many questions surrounding why you’re looking for him.

The game leans heavily into exploration, but it never connects dungeons through a narrative thread. Players largely wander around The Land with no narrative reason to go from point to point. It feels a lot like Alice in Wonderland but with no story.

What makes this tough is there is so much I want to know about The Land.

This no direction manifests itself in the game elsewhere. Many signs are faded and don’t yield useful information or lore.

That said, there are some points where the game gives you some interesting tidbits. One of the dungeons is a circus and there are stones throughout that give a story of sorts. There’s no indication how this relates to an overall story but is still interesting.

There are plenty of characters throughout the game that are fascinating. Few have an impact on the larger game but they are interesting none the less.

For example, you come across a bear in an area and he tells you that he’s had “sexual intercourse 18 times this season. Also, I have eaten 389 pawfuls of berries.” Again, no impact to the story but still interesting.

Furthermore, characters have multiple lines when players talk to them. Many characters will say something different two or three times.

While there isn’t much story in Anodyne, the developers do leave you enough to come to your own interpretations. This can be a lot of fun to some, but I would’ve liked more definition.

Image Credit: Analgesic Productions (via Game Grin)

Gameplay: A Broom is All You Need

Anodyne follows the Zelda format pretty faithfully, complete with puzzle-filled dungeons and action combat.

Where the game differs is in its item collection. Rather than collecting an item after each dungeon, players only earn additional health before moving on.

This allows for a simplified approach to puzzles since all the player has is their broom and jump shoes. There are upgrades to your brooms but they aren’t required to advance.

A similarity with Zelda games is that you get the jump shoes a bit latter in the game though not too long after the opening sections. Additionally, since there are only two main items, players are free to play the dungeons in their own order.

The narrative doesn’t dictate where you go and you mostly just stumble upon dungeons as you explore. In a way, Anodyne is somewhat an open-world game.

This was nice, but I found myself constantly questioning if I was going in the right direction. I opted to just wander and play as I went. This proved to be a lot of fun, but some may find frustration in a lack of boundaries.

The jump shoes are also a fun mechanic as they act similarly to Roc’s Feather or Cape from 2D Zelda games. While it’s fun to jump, there are some awkward and clunky platforming sections that take some time to perfect.

An example is the jump shoes allow you to clear at least one square of space, but there are some points where you’ll need to clear two or three squares of space. These bigger holes are tricky to clear and require a lot of tedious practice.

Some have huge issues with this point, but it just took some practice and I was ok. That practice time was really frustrating, though.

Another element of Anodyne is the card collecting. Players will come across various cards during their journey though the game doesn’t emphasize their necessity.

I tend to collect as much as I can so I didn’t need to do any backtracking, but if you don’t collect them the first time around, you’ll have to go back. They are vital to advancing.

Image Credit: Analgesic Productions (via Rock Paper Shotgun)

Dungeons and Settings: It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World

Dungeons are where Anodyne shines. Some of the dungeons have unique settings like a circus, a hotel, and an apartment.

The puzzle-solving in each one was a lot of fun and the game really nailed its landing with some. The other dungeons felt a bit generic like a cave or a temple, but the puzzles within helped boost these areas.

Each dungeon was challenging in parts, but never too difficult. There were times where I needed to step back and think, but I enjoy those moments. I never was stumped and any time I needed to think about a puzzle, I came to a solution quickly.

The areas outside of the dungeons were also top-notch. Many of them required dungeon-like puzzles to advance to another open area or dungeon.

The mixture of areas within The Land is wild. One minute, you’re in your standard forest and lake area before jumping into a world pool to a psychedelic world colored a hellacious red.

Two of my favorite areas included a black-and-white village that had black ghosts and suburbanites that you needed to kill; and an 8-bit maze that took the game further back in its nostalgic setting.

Nowhere in this game felt dull and it all sucked me in. This is impressive for the fact that it is a 16-bit game that two people developed.

Performance: A Handful of Hiccups

For the most part, Anodyne ran fairly well though there were some noticeable hiccups.

Sometimes, there would be a delayed response from pushing buttons to the action. This mostly happened where there was a lot going on such as Young jumping and numerous enemies.

Another glitch I found was sometimes, the game would place Young in an immovable spot when transitioning from screen to screen. These would be so bad at times that I had to restart the game to escape. This only happened after persistent attempts to make it to land without sinking in the water or something similar.

That said, I never really found bad performance issues. The game initially released on PC so console versions came about a bit later, meaning those could’ve played a factor into any performance issues.

Image Credit: Analgesic Productions (via Digitally Downloaded)

Final Score (3.5 Out of 5 Stars)

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Anodyne was a lot of fun to play and its adventure never overstayed its welcome.

The atmosphere, dungeon, and setting were absolutely fantastic with a lot of fun ways to suck you into the game. Dungeons were puzzling, but not overly difficult.

The game falls short in its narrative as there was a thin storyline. This was disappointing because its phenomenal world really left me with questions and no answers. There’s a lot left to interpretation.

Overall, Anodyne is a great game to play if you are a fan of The Legend of Zelda. The influence is obvious, but Anodyne does a great job at taking the formula at differentiating it enough so it doesn’t feel like a carbon copy.

Narrative aside, I’m sure fans of dungeon crawlers and Zelda-likes will enjoy their time in The Land.

Featured Image: Analgesic Productions (via Indie Game Fans)

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