Review – Anodyne 2: Return to Dust
Anodyne 2: Return to Dust has been on my radar for a while now. I played the original Anodyne when it released on PS4 last year. I was drawn to its retro 16-bit design and old school Zelda feel. In fact, the whole of Anodyne could best be described as a love letter to The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. Seeing as how that’s one of my all-time favorite games, you can understand my instant curiosity with regards to a game that emulates it so clearly. While I was pleasantly surprised with how decent the game turned out to be, especially since it was made by only two people, I still felt it was lacking the depth and substance that make The Legend of Zelda games so fantastic.
When I heard that Analgesic Productions was making a sequel to Anodyne, I was thrilled. With the success of the first one, I had hopes that they would have a larger budget and therefore would be able to add the components that made the first feel lacking. So were Sean Han Tani and Marina Kittaka able to expand upon their original idea and make Anodyne 2: Return to Dust a truly impactful and noteworthy game? Keep reading to find out.
Anodyne 2: Return to Dust is very much its own game, meaning that you don’t need to have played the first one in order to understand it. It has its own story and characters, with very little references to the first game. In fact, most of the references are really just nods to the original for those of us that have played it, but they have no real bearing on the story at all. There is a hub world that is formatted like that of the original, but that’s about the biggest common thread between the two and that only happens late in the game.
In Anodyne 2, you play as Nova, a newly hatched Nano Cleaner. She resembles a human, but is hatched from an egg that was created by a god-like entity called “The Center”, and is raised by two floating otherworldly, musically-inclined beings. If that sounds weird, just wait, as this game gets a whole lot more bizarre the further you get into it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though. I give them points for creativity.
Nova is tasked with saving their world of New Theland from the growing threat of the Nano Dust. Nano Dust infects the world around it and corrupts New Theland’s inhabitants in a multitude of ways. Nova is gifted a special vacuum that allows her to suck up the dust that is affecting the population and bring it back into The Center. There it can be repurposed for fueling the world’s energy needs. Something to that effect at any rate. Like I said, this game is pretty out there.
The art styles and world designs in Anodyne 2 is vastly different than the first. In Anodyne, the whole game was designed in a 16-bit style with the maps and levels looking like something you would find in an early Zelda game. Anodyne 2 takes a different approach and boasts a basic 3D style like a game released on the original PlayStation. This new direction threw me at first and I was initially put off by its blocky, simplistic, and somewhat ugly environments. However, after a short while of playing it became apparent that this was just another way that Sean Han Tani and Marina Kittaka were honoring the classic evolutions of gaming designs.
That’s not to say that Anodyne 2 is totally devoid of its original 16-bit charm. Its gameplay is simply split into two different types. When traversing the world, Nova will be in the rudimentary 3D design, with the focus being on exploring and platforming. Much like in the days of the PS1, the platforming can be aggravating at times, especially with regards to the camera or environmental glitches. Sometimes the barrier around a wall or ledge will actually extend past where it appears to end and this will cause you to bounce off an unseen obstacle and miss your jump. I also had moments where I would just float in circles instead of jumping towards my intended target, but luckily these instances are pretty few and far between.
When interacting with a character that needs “cleaning”, i.e. the dust removed from within them, Nova will enter into a short QTE in order to gain access to their tainted bodies. These QTE’s are beyond simplistic, but make for a nice break from the platforming, however brief it may be. Once inside an infected being, Anodyne 2 reverts back to its classic 2D style. Each of these sections involving cleaning a character are completely in 2D and laid out like a level you would find in the first game. It trades platforming for puzzles and light combat. These are still my favorite sections of the game, but I was surprised to discover how much I ended up enjoying the platforming areas as well.
The sound design in Anodyne was a standout aspect of the game. There’s no voice acting whatsoever and the game’s other sound effects are servicable enough. The main focus of the sound department has always been its music, though. While the music in Anodyne 2 is still good, it lacks the strange, majestic, and etherial feel of the first. Each area has its own unique soundtrack and for the most part, they fit the feel of the level fairly well. Some of the music is underwhelming and forgettable, which is a bit of a disappointment considering how impactful the score of the first game is.
My biggest issue with the first Anodyne was the lack of any sort of a well-developed story or fully fleshed out characters. This is by far the biggest difference between the two games. Anodyne 2 has a deep story with morality conflicts and in-depth insights into the inner workings of many different characters. Whenever Nova enters a character to clean them of the Nano Dust, she learns about their faults and desires. The Nano Dust targets their greatest weaknesses and exploits them, leading to their corruption. Having the game designed this way is a wise move and enriches the entire game in a way that first Anodyne was unable to accomplish.
If you’re a fan of the first Anodyne or even just a fan of retro-styled gaming, then you should definitely give Anodyne 2: Return to Dust a chance. It’s unique blending of two completely different art styles and gameplay mechanics was a huge risk for Analgesic Productions to take, but in the end it pays off very well. Its thought provoking story, complex characters, and self-aware and deprecating humor make it game that sets itself apart from the rest.
The 16-bit sections are still as charming as ever. The 3D parts are indicative of the PS1 era and often times ugly, especially in the beginning. The later sections are much more interesting to look at, however.
Anodyne 2 features two completely different gaming styles. The 3D areas are exploration and platforming based, while the 2D sections are filled with puzzles and light combat. The platforming parts can get a bit frustrating at times.
No voice acting and the sound effects are good enough to get the job done. The soundtrack is good, but not as resonating as the first game.
The blending of two completely different gaming styles is a bold move and one that works well. The poignant story, troubled characters, and self-aware humor are well executed.
Final Verdict: 8.0
Anodyne 2: Return to Dust is available now on PC.
Reviewed on PC.
A copy of Anodyne 2: Return to Dust was provided by the publisher.