It has been over six years since we saw the release of Anodyne, a surreal, yet interesting top-down adventure game. Flash forward to today and we now have Anodyne 2, a more expansive take on that same type of game, this time in 3D as well as 2D. The sequel maintains much of what made the first good, but also brings along with it some of its problems.

Pros:

Excellent aesthetic. Right off the bat, what immediately sets apart Anodyne 2 is the aesthetic that it goes for. The game is essentially split into two, with half of it being in 3D and the other half being in 2D. The former is in the style of a classic PlayStation 1 JRPG, with large polygonal character models, low-res textures, and blocky geometry throughout. However, this is done while displaying the game in HD, creating this interesting combo of old and new that perfectly matches the atmosphere that the game goes for.

The 2D segments are done just like the first Anodyne game, with good sprite designs and a very diverse color palette. This half of the game is more comparable to the older Zelda games, like Link to the Past. These two styles contrast with each other, but at the same time feel right at home given the story and general atmosphere.

And it’s not just the art either. The music, just like the first Anodyne, is the perfect compliment to the game’s surreal nature. There’s a mix of chiptune, synth, and other atmospheric styles thrown in there. This, when combined with the great art style, leads to a very unique overall aesthetic and ended up being one of my favorite things about the game.

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Diverse game world. One thing that I really like about Anodyne 2 is just how diverse its game world is. You’ll go from exploring a desert, to driving through a car wash, to even a medieval kingdom needing to be saved from a dragon. Some of this is accomplished in 3D and some in 2D – there’s a nice balance struck between the two. Regardless of the format, you’ll spend a lot of time exploring this diverse world, which the game does make easier by allowing you to swap between driving and walking at any time.

Along the way you may even run into some areas of the game that appear to be unfinished, but oftentimes these areas are intentionally left as such. In fact, the devs encourage the player to break the game as much as possible. For example, when I managed to get to an unfinished portion of one area, I found a bunch of collectibles and even some jump pads to allow me to get above the entire level. There’s a lot of cool little secrets like this scattered about and it makes the exploration really fun as a result.

Fun gameplay mechanics. The gameplay in Anodyne 2 is relatively simple. It makes use of only a few controls and doesn’t really appear that complex at first glance. That is where the game surprised me, as despite how simplistic it looks, the gameplay actually has some depth to it. Much of this is accomplished via the game’s clever level design. You’ll have some levels take advantage of platforming, others with deceptively simple puzzles, and even some that introduce simple gameplay mechanics of their own.

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For example, one such level had me completing a series of rooms in which I was mirrored across the center, forcing me to maneuver both sides in such a way as to avoid either dying. Another level just had me going door to door in an apartment building and taking clothing delivery orders. Sure, these mechanics are relatively simple, but they’re just as diverse as the game world and make for some pretty cool gameplay segments.

Cons:

Nonsensical storyline. Keeping up with the trend established by the first game, Anodyne 2 also features a completely nonsensical storyline. There’s a whole lot of meaning packed behind it, something that the game makes very clear at the beginning, but that meaning is pretty much lost in the game’s own surrealism. The devs obviously had a lot of ideas going into it, but these ideas just did not mesh well together, resulting in a story that’s really only understandable on a surface level.

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And this is coming from someone that watches a ton of those “out-there” films, so it’s not like I’m just unable to extract meaning here. I can imagine some having fun trying to find meaning in Anodyne 2‘s story, but it just came across as nonsensical to me.

Inconsistent pacing. Aside from the storyline, Anodyne 2 also has some pretty inconsistent pacing elsewhere. There are a number of story and gameplay segments that really interrupt the flow of the game. For example, the most glaring is a story segment towards the middle of the game. This segment is played entirely in 2D and has very little actual gameplay outside of a wrestling minigame.

While it did provide some essential information to the story, it was significantly slower-paced than what lead up to it and what came immediately after. It really felt like it was just sandwiched in there to give the game some time to catch up on its story, leading to this boring lull in the middle of the game.

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Another example being the pointless minigames when transitioning from 3D to 2D. These minigames take the form of a rhythm game, in which you are tasked with matching an input to the colors coming at you. I had originally thought this minigame would serve some sort of purpose, but after clearing the game, I still don’t understand why they were implemented. They’re not fun and really just serve as an obstacle more than anything. This minigame does not last too long, but is worth noting regardless.

Wonky camera. Anodyne making the jump to 3D has unfortunately led to a number of camera issues. Among these are the lackluster camera controls when driving using a controller, the jarring camera angle shifts in some areas, and the unintuitive fixed camera angles. That last one in particular was my main problem, as the game has several areas where a fixed camera angle is used, but that fixed camera did not really feel necessary. If anything, these fixed camera angles just made regular movement more difficult. Of course, it should be noted that this is only a problem with the 3D segments.

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Although it does have some of the same problems as its predecessor, Anodyne 2 is still a decent game. The game world is diverse and fun to explore, the aesthetic is excellent and really captures the game’s atmosphere, and there are a bunch of cool gameplay mechanics to take advantage of. However, if you’re in it for the story, you will likely be disappointed, as the story really loses itself in its own surrealism. Regardless, I do recommend the game, especially if you’re a fan of the first.

Score: 6/10

You can buy Anodyne 2: Return to Dust on Steam here.

I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.

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