From the beginning, Anodyne seems like a well replicated clone of an old school Zelda title. From the top-down view, puzzles, and combat, this game would have felt right at home on the Super Nintendo in its heyday. Indeed, the game feels like the 16-bit games of yore, but not even the Dark World depicted a surreal world such as this.
The game itself is set in the unconscious mind of the protagonist, Young. Tasked by a wise old man know only as The Sage, Young must save the The Land from the darkness that has come over it in the form of The Briar, a mysterious yet familiar shadow person. Through his adventure, Young meets many odd individuals who can teach him a little about himself. Even bosses appear to know the protagonist in this strange world where everyone wants to help Young become a better person. When not offering advice to the protagonist, NPCs and objects offer somewhat darker messages such as how we come into the world by causing harm to our mothers.
Early on in the game Young acquires his one and only weapon: the Broom. While this is not something a traditional hero uses to defend himself, it does prove useful for moving dust. This mechanic opens many possibilities as dust can be used in several ways; as a platform to ride across water, to block offensive obstacles, and to block the paths of enemies. The puzzles in this game are never particularly difficult, as the solutions are always on the same screen. Some may require multiple attempts however, as it is incredibly easy to kill all the enemies on the screen only to find they had to be used creatively to solve a puzzle. In this case, a reset is as simple as moving to another screen and back again.
The combat in Anodyne never evolves further than hacking away at an enemy. Upgrades can be found for the broom, but these only widen or lengthen the attack area. Opponents come in two types; the simple – such as oozes – that will do little to fight back, and the frustrating – like the dogs – that will charge directly at Young. In the latter case it is almost impossible to emerge from a fight unscathed. It is for this reason that finding fairies to extend the life bar becomes essential later on. Some faeries appear after boss fights; others are locked away in a side area that can only be accessed once a number of cards have been collected.
A number of cards are scattered throughout The Land, hidden away in chests. This is where the game requires exploration. It is often easy enough to progress through the maps, but collecting enough cards can require a fair amount of back tracking. Early on cards are only needed to access side areas, but a similar gate also locks the last area of the game, except this one requires almost every card available to the player at that point. While the story is lacking, the exploration is enjoyable and exploring each area fully can save lengthy trips back later.
Anodyne has tried to replicate the feel of a 16-bit game and this is no more apparent that in the graphics. Many different locations are represented throughout the game, from sandy beaches, towns and even strange forests shrouded in a blood-mist. Each area has its own feel and the team were not afraid to change up the style appropriately for an 8-bit dungeon. It should also be noted that Anodyne has excellent collision detection and some of the jumping puzzles can seem like Young barely made it on a platform.
The music in Anodyne serves to keep the atmosphere. When in an unsettling area, the music inspires a feeling of uncertainty. Likewise, in an open forest area, the music is more pleasant, though never upbeat. The music keeps to the style of the 16-bit era, though sadly there are no memorable tracks to be taken away from here. the soundtrack works well within the game, but is unlikely to make it onto any playlists.
What Anodyne lacks in its thin story, it makes up for in exploration and puzzle solving. It is a fairly short game at around six or seven hours (there are more cards to collect post-game), though the experience is largely pleasurable. The number of frustrating jumps towards the end do detract from it slightly, but it gives a sense of accomplishment when they are passed. Fans of Zelda titles will enjoy the setting and even one cheeky reference found in the game.