Whilst Link’s Awakening might be getting the remake treatment and coming later this year, there’s actually a game that you can play a little sooner that was heavily inspired by Nintendo’s classic Game Boy adventure. Anodyne, the action-RPG that initially released back in 2013, has now made its way to the Nintendo Switch, bringing with it the adventuring, puzzle-solving, and outright strangeness that made it popular with indie gaming fans all those years ago.
It wears it Legend of Zelda inspirations like a badge of honour, particularly those referencing the aforementioned Link’s Awakening, but it also has its own ideas and quirky mechanics in place that make it stand out in its own right. Sure, it’s far from perfect, but it still offers an intriguing adventure that’s worth being a part of.
Anodyne puts you into the role of protagonist Young who has been sent on an adventure across his own subconscious to vanquish the Evil Darkness. With a fantasy setting full of mythical (and often bizarre) sights, it feels like the sort of tale that could kick off any action-RPG.
It actually has a lot more going on than that though and has a deeper meaning that could be interpreted in a few different ways, with the game seemingly self-aware that it’s a video game and that you’re in a fantasy world. It can also be pretty dark at times too, especially when you see Young’s flashbacks that reference a more harrowing time of his life. I don’t want to spoil too much here, but there’s just a lot of layers to Anodyne’s story that shows it’s more than just a fantasy tale of a hero against an evil foe. It’s also not afraid to be a bit tongue in cheek too, with plenty of bizarre characters to share amusing interactions with and even references to popular culture and other video games.
Young doesn’t get a conventional weapon like the Master Sword to beat enemies with, but instead a broom. That’s right: a broom. Fortunately, it just so happens to be a very useful broom that’s not only effective at beating up baddies but also to solve puzzles. Upgrades are drip-fed to you as you progress through the game too, with each one offering something different that’ll help you overcome different obstacles. Of course, some of these upgrades can be handy to take down enemies too, so it’s up to you to work out what’s best for each situation.
Admittedly, there’s isn’t a whole lot of depth to the game’s combat so you shouldn’t go expecting gripping showdowns that utilise every ability at your disposal. Button-mashing attacks is normally the easiest way to vanquish your foes, and with little variety in their attacks there’s rarely anything that you have to worry about too much in combat situations. Fortunately, there are boss battles which are a lot trickier and demand a bit more thought, but standard instances of combat are fairly run of the mill.
Like The Legend of Zelda, there’s a big focus on exploration in Anodyne and the player is rarely told where exactly they need to go, so you can expect to uncover all sorts of different secrets as you scour the world for your objective. It was actually one of my favourite things about the game, especially with all the bizarre encounters you have – most importantly though is that it never felt aimless, with dead-ends clearly marked or the solution to get past them never too far away.
The dungeons you encounter are a lot more straightforward in design, with the path you need to follow typically made clear and the puzzles enjoyable to solve. Don’t get me wrong, some actually took a bit of head scratching before I figured them out, but none were ever so cryptic in design that I started to grow frustrated working out what to do. However, there were some sections in the dungeons that focused more on platforming, which wasn’t ideal – this kind of game doesn’t give you the precision needed when jumping around, so having to pull off inch-perfect manoeuvres whilst avoiding enemies just got a bit annoying. In fairness there were some instances when it wouldn’t be too big of a problem, but as soon as a need for precision came into the equation it would grow tiresome.
There’s definitely more good than bad in the dungeon design though and the Zelda-influences are clear, especially with the enjoyable boss encounters and well-designed puzzling. As mentioned, there are plenty of secrets to uncover too, so exploration is a must – Anodyne is one of those games where if you get a strange feeling about a location or feel that something is amiss there’s typically something around you to be discovered, so never be afraid to head off the beaten path or interact with some objects just to see what might happen.
One of my favourite things to do in the game was find the collectible cards based upon the inhabitants you encounter in the world. Some of these cards are actually required to progress through the game, but some are optional and only serve a purpose towards the game’s end. It’s easy to keep track of how many you have and how many are left to find in each area, so you can always go on the hunt if you’re missing a few. I’m a sucker for this sort of thing, so I happily invested the time scouring previously visited locations and dungeons for that one little secret I might have missed… it’s good fun.
Old-school style RPGs are a dime a dozen these days, especially those that are heavily inspired by The Legend of Zelda, but Anodyne manages to nail the nostalgic vibe whilst adding its own bizarre twist to the formula. Sure, the in-game action might not meet the standards found in one of Link’s adventures whilst the use of platforming was more of a miss than a hit, but the puzzle design and boss battles were on point as was the design of the world and its inhabitants.
Add to that the bizarre yet compelling tale that the game features and it’s easy to see why it proved popular with gamers all those years ago. It might be far from perfect and it does have some missteps along the way, but Anodyne’s adventure was still one that I enjoyed from start to end.
Developer: Analgesic Productions
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC