Anodyne is an indie adventure game developed by two students in their final years of college. The game blends Zelda-style graphics with Metroid-style progression to create a game world that feels like something straight out of the early ’90s. While the game is fun, some stiff controls and a generally obtuse plot stop it from being a classic.
While I typically don’t consider myself a man fixated on graphical appeal, Anodyne looks very nice. I took my laptop and played the game on my 42-inch HDTV and it scaled very well. The lines are bold and clean with lots of color.
I mostly chalk this up to the art style. The creatures in the game are unique and defined. Each enemy is understood immediately by either their shape or color, leading to battles that build in your memory rather than guesswork.
The character sprites also animate nicely. The main character, Young, has a nice walk cycle and generally looks happy to exist. The few other people you run into also have clear facial expressions, even if they never emote.
The soundtrack to Anodyne is a bit somber, but it definitely makes the game feel important. The tunes are slow burners, but build to some great explosions in sound. The game even uses 5.1 for its mix, so people playing with home theater setups will experience a whole different layer of immersion.
Everything almost sounds like a copy of Super Metroid, though. While there is no iconic theme to define Anodyne, it does well enough to emulate a classic soundtrack and evoke a sense of nostalgia. If the bright graphics don’t help you remember where you are, the music definitely will.
Anodyne is not a very complex game. The controls consist of directions and three buttons. This would make the game a joke if a tutorial or guide arrow existed. Thankfully, Anodyne is designed well enough that nothing ever feels impossible.
You aren’t given a lot of information when you start the game, but that helps build a sense of accomplishment when you do solve something. You will learn all of the mechanics of the game by simply performing the actions.
I suppose that could lead to some guessing in a tough situation, but I managed to finish the game in a little under six hours without getting stuck for long. Even the layouts of the areas are generally easy to digest. The inclusion of a map with linking rooms helps a lot, too (and lends to a Castlevania-style desire to walk everywhere).
I will say that I was a bit lost in one section, but when I looked carefully at the map screen, I walked over to the area I missed and found my way. I haven’t done that in gaming since the ’90s, so I was ecstatic.
Anodyne features a card collection mechanic that allows you to open up some doors for extra upgrades. The game never mentions the fact that this will be required, though. To actually finish the game, you will need to collect 36 cards in the environment.
When I conquered the sixth dungeon, I figured I had to teleport back to the hub and talk to the first NPC. This yielded nothing. Then I remembered I encountered an area that had a 36 door and figured that was the ending.
A quick Google search proved my theory correct and then made me take another hour to mop up where I had missed cards. I never enjoy being forced into extraneous side-quests and Anodyne practically halts your progress for not playing properly. Thankfully, the cards are easy to find.
While Anodyne is a PC game and was probably developed with the intention of keyboard controls, a gamepad option exists. I figured that I could sit back and enjoy this like an old-school action RPG. Well, I was sorely mistaken.
When using a gamepad, the main character tends to walk an extra step or two. It makes a lot of the platforming rage-inducing. I often missed jumps simply because I would step forward for no reason. This lag in input also hurts a lot of the combat.
When you approach enemies, your character might turn in a different direction for some reason. This makes hitting some of the fast-moving bosses almost impossible. There is also no way to jump and attack either, which just seems counter-intuitive.
When playing on a keyboard, the walking problem seems corrected, but then the default layout is just strange. X and C perform your two actions and the arrow keys move you. I’m not sure why WASD wasn’t the default, but you can change the scheme, so there really isn’t a need to criticize here.
Limited Puzzle Design
While I praised how simple the game was, this is also one of my main problems with it. Anodyne feels like the step between Zelda 1 and A Link to the Past. Almost every puzzle is “kill all the enemies in the room.” There is some platforming, but Zelda has even done this better in its Gameboy iterations.
Along with a lack of lateral thinking, Anodyne also doesn’t give you much in the way of weapons. As a matter of fact, you only have one. Your single broom has a few upgrades, but they don’t stack. You must choose which one you want and they are purely supplemental in their use.
When the game finally gives you another item, it’s the last puzzle in the game (and ironically, the only puzzle). It feels like a lack of capitalization on a clever idea. The game definitely makes you feel good for completing its labyrinths, but after beating the third dungeon, you have seen everything that Anodyne has to offer.
I’m not quite sure what the plotline to Anodyne is, I just know that a few rooms made me feel sad. A lot of the quips that characters spout out seem to be direct insults to gamer culture. One signpost reads, “You’re talking to a rock because you have no friends.” That just hurts.
There are even some mentions about how routine life can be and that opening up to others is the path to happiness. These never amount to anything, though. Even the final boss doesn’t make sense. His role in the story is exceptionally limited and the resolution is an utter anticlimax.
While not every Zelda game has an original or complex story, Anodyne pretends that its narrative means something. The game throws constant dialog in your direction to make you assume some massive revelation will occur, but then never delivers. It sours an otherwise well-made game.
While Anodyne may not be a genre classic, its simple design leads to some good fun. The short length is also a big plus and some extra collection quests can lead to decent replay value. The well-designed game world makes exploration fun and the great graphics and music will implore players to continue on.
The sloppy controls and cryptic progression might sully the experience for some people, though. I know I was certainly ticked off at the essentially hidden ending, so I could see most people giving up after completing what they believe is the final dungeon.
Regardless, for the low price on Steam (or the free torrent sponsored by Pirate Bay), you could do far worse. The fact that two people were able to create a game that rivals the original Zelda is also highly impressive. Anodyne is worth a shot, if nothing else.