Link’s cheese-fuell ed nightmare
Made by two college students over the course of what must have been a sleepless ten months,
Anodyne is a surreal tribute to vintage 2D Zelda games, played in chunky Game Boy resolution.
Even if you’ve never played one of the Nintendo originals you’ll most likely be familiar with the way this works. There’s a dungeon-studded overworld, threaded with pathways that loop back through areas you’ve already visited, and a lot of dead ends and locked gates to contend with as you try to uncover the route to the next bizarre encounter.
With no overarching theme to tie things together, Anodyne’s dungeons are strange and diverse. Fantasy-style stone caves and statues are followed by a multi-floor hotel where pest controllers fly around, fumigating the rooms. There’s one where you float on what looks like a river of blood in a boat made of dust, fighting a giant meat monster who wants to lecture you about existential pain, and another that’s a cross between a circus and a sci-fi prison, with suicidal acrobats and fire-breathing lions.
There’s no story to speak of, beyond your simple mission to meet ‘the Briar’, whoever he may be. When it first cropped up on PC and mobile five years ago, there were plenty of attempts to analyse exactly what, if anything, Anodyne was meant to be about, but it defies sensible explanation. A journey through the tortured psyche of a gamer seems to be the best theory, although the same thing might well have been said about
Manic Miner in the early ’80s if anyone had thought like that back then. It’s wacky and a bit creepy. There’s probably no sane reason for it.
Compared to actual Zelda games it’s extremely basic. The only items you ever get are a broom, for hitting enemies and sweeping up dust, and later some shoes with springs in them, for jumping over gaps. New areas are almost always accessed by finding a key or pressing a switch, so there are none of those classic Zelda moments where you return to an old location with a new ability and find some previously inaccessible place is now reachable – at least, not until you’ve beaten the game, when a new power is belatedly granted in case you want to return for 100% completion.
Just passing through
The dungeons are nicely designed, even if the way through tends to be fairly obvious. There’s clear progression as the rooms unlock before you, and a neat little map at the top of the screen that clearly shows where the unexplored places are located. After reaching the heart of the dungeon and struggling – in an ‘I have no idea why this thing exists’ sort of way – with the boss, you’ll warp back to a hub area, from where you can access a new part of the overworld in search of the next challenge.
Anodyne is let down somewhat by its limp, button-mashing combat and a reliance, in later dungeons, on frustrating, pixel-perfect jumping. The game doesn’t play smoothly enough to make this sort of thing enjoyable, and it’s hard to tell if you fell down a chasm for the tenth time because of a glitch or because you mistimed it. Revisiting areas to hunt for collectibles becomes a chore when you’ve got so many tedious respawning creatures and annoying jumps to contend with, but the game as a whole is worth a look, if only to discover what kind of unsettling dreams it ends up giving you.
“Let down by its limp, button-mashing combat”
below That’s not a shop, it’s three items that we can’t buy, placed on the ground.
left Cheerful meat monster explains the meaning of life.