05/03/2021

๐ŸŒŸ Anodyne 2: Return to Dust | Review | XBOX Series X | 9/10 | "A Beautifully Realised World With a Wonderful Tale To Tell" ๐ŸŒŸ @analgesicprod #IndieGames #GameDev

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It was only a few weeks ago that I noticed a comment on Twitter, lamenting how few games there were that were presented with PS1-era polygonal visuals.

Fast forward a few days to me watching a trailer for Anodyne 2: Return to Dust, a game which not only featured such visuals…but looked so interesting that I had to seek it out as soon as possible, it was my destiny.

The story begins with the creation of a Nano Collector, named Nova. ‘The Centre’, a seemingly omnipotent force in this word birthed Nova with the specific purpose of collecting Nano Dust, which swirls around the city of Cenote, seemingly poisoning the denizens of New Theland and blocking travel to the outskirts of the city and beyond. Off you trot.

I’ll open by stating that I haven’t played the first game (released in 2013) and so I’m not sure how closely this follows the themes or styles of the original but from my perspective and experiences, it can very much be played as a stand-alone title.

Anodyne 2 is a game comprised of several styles, the main overworld action is all in wonderfully mid-90’s polygons -running at a solid 60fps, good – and this is where a lot of the exploration will take place across highways, deserts and woods.

Whilst there are other styles used that would be a touch spoiler-esque to state here, I can say that the other main style is a top-down 16-bit view, which kicks in when you shrink down and enter areas and ‘things’ in order to cleanse them of the nano dust.

The game has a real dreamlike sensibility to it but the narrative is so dedicated and well-written that the various quirks and oddities that you encounter over the 8-10 hour runtime really come together and make sense, as opposed to some other games I’ve played that just feel like a series of disconnected, poorly thought-out, ‘wacky’ events.

I was hips deep in what was going on and, although the story unveils through quite unique conversations and in an idiosyncratic way, the fact that it’s easy to follow and doesn’t bog the player down in taxing lore or worldbuilding is a testament to the writer. It’s dangerously easy for situations in the writer’s mind to badly translate to others, making everything seem disjointed and silly and that really doesn’t happen here, it’s an impressive balancing act.

Making your way around the overworld of Anodyne is a wonderful experience. It’s stylistically sparse so everything you see that isn’t landscape will certainly either be a plot point or hidden area, keeping roaming focused and with purpose. The game also isn’t afraid to get meta and this means that there’s a lot of bonus behind the scenes content to unlock as well and quite frankly, I was loving the game so much that anything that extended my time in this fantastical place was welcomed.

The puzzle based ‘dungeons’ were a real highlight. Each one introduces subtle new mechanics and exits to the next screen are usually locked off until the room puzzle is completed. This means that you get eased into the individual mechanics in a really casual way so that progress is always satisfying and not just a massive difficulty spike. I never got stumped for more than a few minutes and it always felt completely fair.

The music, oh the music. Melos Han-Tani has really weaved some serious magic here, with keyboard and bubbling synth that veers from takes on Greensleeves (punctuated with midi dog barks, natch) through to achingly gorgeous, minimalist, swelling chords and low-fi drum beat loops a-la lift muzak. Quite frankly, I’m in the middle of pre-ordering it on vinyl as we speak. Good.

Anodyne 2 is a game that really crept up on me. I was hooked on the music from the title screen and I was initially charmed by the low-fi visual take but the story and more specifically, the lucidity of the narrative through the abstract presentation was what kept me wanting to dive further and further in.

A take that cleverly melds mature topics such as existentialism, the human condition and freedom of choice with gentle humour and an over-arching sense of melancholy, Anodyne 2 is a real gem of a game that feels a unique title in the gaming world.

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