It is necessary, I think, for a video game reviewer to have their genre prejudices in mind when playing something that might prove aggravating because of the conventions its genre and not necessarily its quality.
So here’s my somewhat shameful confession: I’m not in love with The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. I don’t have nostalgia-tinged memories of the game because I came into the series around Ocarina of Time, so all the games in the series before the 3D entries feel archaic and stilted to me. I appreciate the earlier games, but I don’t particularly care for them.
Why is this relevant in a review for Analgesic Productions’ new game Anodyne? Well, for starters, this might be the most unabashed love letter ever crafted for the earlier Zelda games. Anodyne deftly mimics the 16-bit, top-down perspective visuals and exploration-oriented gameplay of A Link to the Past while still managing to have a unique aesthetic, especially when it comes to enemy design. Gone are the Babasus and Archers. Instead, you’ll be going toe-to-toe against frogs that spit hazardous bubbles, fire breathing lions and a stone goliath or two. Just you and your broom.
That’s right: a broom. Anodyne has a wacky, distinctive surrealness about it that will delight just as many players as it frustrates. The game also has the interesting quality of having a story that is both simplistic and somewhat convoluted. We guide a bespectacled young man named Young as he explores his dream world in order to defeat an evil entity known as the Briar. The world is a combination of caves, cityscapes, and spiritual realms; all of which are mostly abandoned but still filled with a ridiculous amount of detail. Indeed, one of Anodyne’s strongest qualities is the classic but fresh level design. Each section of the game requires Young to solve various puzzles and retrieve keys while dodging traps and fighting baddies. Eventually, he reaches the boss of the section, fights and defeats them and is given a trading card as a prize. Usually, it’s in the player’s best interest to explore the rest of the cave for more cards.
Trading cards are important because they operate as level keys, forcing the player to not only fight baddies but also to scavenge and search every last inch of every level, as many of them often house two or three cards.
This design choice annoyed me though, as it’s clearly a way to get some extra playtime out of Anodyne’s game world. My playthrough for the game was around the eight hour mark but I was ready for it be over by the time I reached the 6th because backtracking to find the cards is rather tedious. But again, it’s hard to fault a game that’s purpose is to pay homage to a game that was made when backtracking and exploration were staples, on that count. And to the game’s credit, Anodyne does have large, lovely map of hub worlds to explore; highlights including an exhilarating rooftop level and a creeeeeepy suburban neighborhood most likely inspired by the Tranquility Lane simulation in Fallout 3.
But acting in opposition to the game’s exploration encouragement is its harsh difficulty. You will die over and over again. And it wouldn’t be such a big deal if so many of those deaths weren’t cheaper than Shao Kahn at a dollar store with coupons (Badabum-ching!). Jumping is a particularly annoying since it’s hard to gauge when you need to press the button in order to clear a chasm, especially when there’s a giant spiked rolling pin of death barreling towards you. Luckily, there’s an abundance of checkpoints, but it doesn’t really help the fact that—unlike a modern “hardcore” game like Dark Souls—you can’t really learn from your mistakes outside of patterned boss battles. You just have to hope you press the jump key at the right time or you manage to sidestep an obvious, usually unavoidable beam that will smack you into a pit of oblivion. The fact that you’re doing all of this with a keyboard and not a controller is also extremely irritating.
The fighting, on the other hand, is rather easy: circle, strafe, stab (or poke, I guess) with your broom. There are a handful of upgrades for your weapon, but that’s really about as deep and nuanced as the combat gets, which is slightly disappointing. Boss battles don’t really liven things up either, since most of them have a two or three-step pattern that’s easy to learn and master—often on the first attempt.
However, with all those grievances aired, it’s important to note that Anodyne is pretty great; it just requires the right mindset to play. If you buy this game and boot it up expecting a casual journey through a fluffy 16-bit world populated by lenient traps and foes, you’re going to have an absolutely miserable time. Anodyne is equal parts frustrating and charming, and is a worthwhile purchase for anyone looking for a challenging adventure.
- Reviewed On