Indie games can get pretty surreal and Anodyne is no different. This Zelda-inspired action-RPG is a crazy trip through the dream realm of a boy named Young and… hoo boy, there’s a lot of weird, impactful shit in the game’s 6-9 hour playtime. Players control Young on his quest to save the “Village Elder,” Briar, from “the Darkness” that’s sweeping over “the Land,” using nothing but a broom for a weapon. The story is simplistic, yes… but I feel as if this was done on purpose. After all, not everything in this game can be trusted, and it’s hard to decipher what is real and what is not.
The creators of Anodyne claim the game is inspired by the likes of Zelda and the Japanese indie dream simulator Yume Nikki, and those are apt descriptors for this game. Thankfully, Anodyne doesn’t retain Yume Nikki’s vast open landscapes (which this reviewer found to make the game quite dull), and the Zelda-style dungeon crawling fits the game well. The top-down swordfighting (or in this case, broom-fighting) is reminiscent of Link’s first adventure on the NES, and makes for fun fighting. The bosses of the game are definitely the highlights of the combat.
Unfortunately, moving around is the biggest complaint I have with this game. While combat is fun for the most part, trying to fight or do things in a tight spot leads to taking unfair damage. (Trying to reposition the way Young is facing often leads you to accidentally walking into a hazard or enemy). It doesn’t help that sometimes the hit detection can seem off too, with Young being hit by something he’s a few pixels away from.
The worst part about the controls by far, is the platforming. Ah, yes. There’s platforming in this top-down Zelda-style game. Do you remember Roc’s Feather from Link’s Awakening? Imagine that, but far worse. Granted, the jumping isn’t terrible, it’s just that in the later game, especially in the last handful of dungeons, the game expects you to perform maddeningly frustrating jumping puzzles. And unlike most Zelda titles, if you fall down a pit, you don’t spawn on the closest landmass you jumped from, you start at the beginning of the room, meaning you have to perform each room perfectly and you’re just trying to safely make it to the next checkpoint.
There’s also a number of cards hidden throughout The Land, each with a different enemy or NPC on them. I assumed said cards would be optional, as most of the time, having a number of them will open up gates that allow you access to this game’s version of a Heart Container. I also assumed they were optional because some of them are in really tough spots to get, thanks to the lackluster platforming. But unfortunately, the game expects you to find all of them to reach the final boss, which ends up being a pain in the ass backtracking quest.
But where the game stumbles in movement, it makes up for in spades with plenty of personality and atmosphere. The soundtrack is hands-down the best thing about the game, featuring dreamy tunes that all at once contain a sense of dread, wonder and hope. The 16-bit aesthetic fits the game well, and oddly enough reminds me of my days toying around in RPG Maker 2000. The sprite art is well-done and well-animated, and the backgrounds (especially in areas like the Cliffs or the Forest) are beautiful. And while a lot of the dialogue doesn’t make much sense, a lot of it hints at a deeper meaning behind it all, and it felt very Earthbound-ish to me.
Anodyne is not a perfect game, by any stretch. But it’s also not terrible. The fact that it was made by just two guys over the course of 10 months is pretty impressive considering how big the game is (my save file clocked in at just over 6 hours by the time I beat the final boss). If only they had spent a little more time on balancing the challenge of the jumping puzzles, this game would absolutely be a must-play. Don’t let that deter you, though; if you can handle the frustration level in the latter half of the game, it’s definitely an interesting experience from start to finish.
[Written by contributor Mitch Rozetar]