Anodyne may mean a sort of painkiller, but you might be surprised to learn it’s also an action-adventure game, developed by Sean Hogan and Jonathan Kittaka and published on Steam via their Greenlight service. Now that we’ve established that A) I give undue prominence to indie games in the weeks when much bigger games like Luigi’s Mansion 2 are out (next week, I promise) and B) I ran out of money so had to buy something cheap to review on Steam, let us press on with reviewing this odd little game.
Since Ikaruga on the GameCube, we’ve seen hardly any non-mobile games that run in a vertical aspect ratio and after playing Anodyne in such a way I’m still a little perplexed as to why that’s been done. Perhaps it’s for people who play PC games in bed and like to rotate their display output so they don’t have to lift their heads (which I have never, ever done) or perhaps the smaller area of screen rendered meant that the developers could make the explorable areas smaller without us noticing. But in that case, why not just zoom in further on the characters, or space out the explorable area and raise the movement speed? There are several ways they could have done without it and it’s profoundly weird that they haven’t done so.
You may have noticed by now that I’m nit-picking over an absurdly irrelevant issue and haven’t even come close to addressing the story of the game yet. To put it bluntly, there isn’t one. Well, perhaps that’s cruel. There is indeed a story, just not one that I came close to fully understanding or feeling that I wanted to understand. As far as I was able to tell, it’s about a boy called Young who adventures through a dark dream world in order to rescue the world from an evil power.
So far, so Zelda and that phrase becomes particularly apt when it comes to the gameplay style. If you’ve played your way through any of the top-down Legend of Zelda titles, but especially the very first installment, you’ll be quite familiar with the fighting mechanics (this time using a broom), blocky map layout and puzzle-based dungeon design. Where it differs, as least as far as I could tell, is that the variety of items is much fewer and the dungeons are much shorter than Zelda games, which is an unfortunate outcome when The Legend of Zelda was released 26 years ago.
The graphical style lends itself to the idea that Anodyne is what happened to The Legend of Zelda when Link got a little older, grew his hair long and started cutting. The predominant colour scheme ranges somewhere between dark blue and dark brown, with the odd murky green thrown in occasionally for variety. A couple of the areas harken back to the visual style of Link’s Awakening DX on the Game Boy Color, with slightly washed-out 16-color palettes and sprite art, but for the most part it looks like a fairly standard SNES game. Bizarrely, I noticed a similarity to Pokemon in how the characters move, and at the point where you gain a feline sidekick who follows behind you, anyone peeking over your shoulder might very well be forgiven for thinking you were playing Pokémon Crystal or something.
Anodyne is essential a slightly more expensive rehash of Zelda with no useful story and a slightly weird dreamworld aesthetic. It has a couple of funny moments with dialogue, but in essence it’s nothing more than a reasonably competent independent game that does nothing spectacular and should only be considered if you just found a ten pound note on the floor and have nothing else you want in life.
But really, who am I to say this is a bad game? Certainly games which have a team of 150 working on them are not 75 times better than this for budget and effort, and it’s at least encouraging to see some sort of attempt to reclaim a golden age of gaming, when crazy story ideas and weird graphical styles were possible without being shot down for being unviable commercial. Thus, I must brand Anodyne an encouraging failure. I wasn’t a big fan, but I would certainly encourage the team to take up game designing again in future. They’ll have a guaranteed sale from me. 5.8/10.