ReviewsReview: Anodyne 2: Return to Dust

Review: Anodyne 2: Return to Dust

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When a game starts by warning you the plot will go off on a tangent, you know you are in for an interesting ride. Anodyne 2: Return to Dust is a multi-genre title that follows a surreal path. This oddly beautiful game reimagines the approach taken by 2D and 3D projects of the past. Developed by Analgesic Productions and published by Ratalaika Games, this dreamy world will consume you with its weird and wonderful ways.

I’ve played some strange games, yet I think this one tops them all. I spent most of my time with my mouth wide open in confusion, wondering what the heck was going on. You explore vast landscapes that your most vivid dreams would fail to recreate. Alien-like monsters live in towns and villages that you must visit and interact with. And then there is the small fact of hoovering Nano Dust from the minds of these land’s inhabitants.

Weird, yet wonderful.

You control a hatchling of the centre known as Nova; she is born with a special skill, a blessing that allows her to shrink to microscopic size. She can enter the bodies of the surrounding infected people. Nova’s skill allows her to become a Nano cleaner, a worker who can cleanse villagers of their deadly Nano dust. This forms the backbone of the concept of this title, and every idea that branches off from it circles back to the cleaning mechanic.

If walking gets boring, transform into a car.

The dust alters its host’s mental state; they go from normal to uncontrollable, overnight. The world that Nova knows is rapidly changing, and only she can prevent it from imploding because of this microscopic plague. It’s a bizarre twist on a classic adventure approach. It’s laced with irony as the collected dust is a valuable commodity and is used to power the great cities of New Theland.

So many genres!

I don’t think I’ve played a game that has used so many concepts to support its core ideas. In theory, this should fail miserably, “too many cooks and all that”. Alas, it succeeds at every turn. Its enormous open-world 3D environment draws you in and demands that you explore until you’ve spoken to everyone and seen everything. The 2D dungeon-like experiences are claustrophobic and test your brain with its minor puzzling traits. The action portions ask you to react perfectly to a sequence, where failure will block your progress.

A seamless transition between each of these ideas was well designed and kept you engrossed in this dreamlike state. Analgesic Productions has been influenced by the Sega Saturn, SNES and PlayStation One. The 3D world was reminiscent of Atlantis: The Lost Tales and Burning Rangers, its blocky art style, and character models matched those early console games perfectly. Early dungeon-crawling RPGs such as; Zelda, Wild Arms and Breath of Fire, can be seen when you enter the Nanoscope to gather dust. The action moments where sequences must be correctly matched felt like PaRappa the Rapper and Bust a Groove. It’s an eclectic mix of influences, with some powerful ingredients. In theory, it shouldn’t work, but somehow it does.

Breathe in the dust free air.

So retro, but beautiful and touching.

With so much going on, it would have been easy for this to look and play like a complete mess. Yet, it’s sharp lines and angular images created a beautiful world. With such defined images, I expected it to be painful to look at. Its use of colours, pixelated sprites and lo-fi landscapes softens the blow and makes this a pleasant dreamy game to experience. The early genre Sega aesthetic won’t be for everyone, but disregarding this game based on its old-school imagery would be a big mistake. Quickly you forget what it looks like, and you lose yourself in its seductive world because of its soundtrack.

No matter how bizarre the nature of the storyline, or the obscure imagery and weird environments, it’s all hollow without amazing audio. Anodyne 2 has a touching soundtrack that transports you to a surreal world. 50 light, yet haunting melodies accompany you on your many missions. It’s gloriously emotive and brings the game to life. Players may be disappointed that there is only text dialogue. For me, the lack of spoken dialogue was the perfect choice, as voice-over work would have broken the immersive nature of this tale.

So much to do, so simple to do it.

Though you have to get your head around a collaboration of genres, you’ll do so with ease. The simple to follow control set up ensures you are up and running in no time. Each different element is easy to follow, and little practice is required to master it. This doesn’t mean that it’s perfect, sadly it’s very clunky, and captures the Sega Saturn control setup to a tee. It’s a shame as it takes the shine off the final product somewhat.

It’s time to get to work as a cleaner.

Anodyne 2 is a large game with plenty to see and lots to do. The combination of different approaches and the moderate achievement list add replay value. Yet, this isn’t the main reason to return. The odd story and dreamlike experience is what will draw you back.

A dream that you won’t want to wake from!

I enjoy most of the games that I review, but occasionally one takes me by surprise. This brilliant indie title’s success is down to a combination of factors. A wonderful story that reimagines long-forgotten titles, the detailed approach of the touching audio and the pace and lore of the core tale. I know this won’t be for everyone, but I recommend you take a gamble and buy it here! The world of New Theland has become corrupted and a microscopic plague is taking over. Can Nova save humanity and restore order before its too late? 

SUMMARY

The world has become infected by Nano dust. People are changing and humanity is dying! A new hatchling known as Nova must step up and save the day. Anodyne 2 is a touching and weirdly beautiful multi-genre title.

+ Retro influences used perfectly.
+ Beautiful surreal imagery.
+ 50 haunting melodies.
+ You will want to play again.
+ Great value for money.
- It can be confusing.
- It won't be for everyone.
- Clunky movement controls.

(Reviewed on the Xbox Series X. Also available on PC, Nintendo Switch and PlayStation.)
Daniel Waite
Former editor and reviewer for www.bonusstage.co.uk, I've now found a new home to write my reviews, and get my opinion out to the masses. Still the lead admin for Xboxseriesfans on Facebook and Instagram. I love the gaming world, and writing about it. I can be contacted at [email protected] for gaming reviews.

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