Take up your broom and join Young on his quest to protect the Briar from the Darkness... whatever that means!
In Anodyne, you play as Young, a man who sets out on a quest to protect the Briar from the Darkness although the game intentionally leaves both the importance of the Briar and the danger of the Darkness quite vague. Anodyne starts strong by introducing you to the main characters, equipping you with your weapon (a broom), and funneling you through a quick tutorial area only for you to end up at the first world and dungeon. Upon learning the ropes, you're released into the overworld and are quickly pointed in the direction of the first quest and item in the form of jumping shoes that allow Young to leap over hazards and access new areas.
If Anodyne sounds a lot like The Legend of Zelda so far, that's because it is. It's clear that Anodyne takes its inspiration from early games in the Zelda series with its retro art style, top-down gameplay, and even its non-widescreen presentation. However, as the campaign progresses, Anodyne breaks away from the Zelda formula and forms its own identity but that's not necessarily a good thing.
The biggest distinction between Anodyne and similar games is its lack of linearity. Upon completing the first dungeon, you can choose which dungeon to explore next. You also have access to almost the entire world already, allowing you to search for secrets, unlock fast-travel points, and fill in the large maps that make up each area of the game world. The only problem is that the secrets aren't that exciting. There are two broom upgrades that make slight differences in the gameplay but besides that, there are no items that allow you to do new things. There are hidden cards that you must collect to progress but they don't impact the gameplay at all.
This makes for large stretches of time where exploring doesn't really pay off. I also found some areas on the map to be a bit too large and filled with nothing but a couple of simple enemies. Exploring the six dungeons and solving the puzzles within was more enjoyable but by the end of the campaign, it really started to hit home how vast and empty the overworld is.
Anodyne's dungeons may be its best aspect but they suffer from a lack of items and mechanical changes. If you think about Zelda and other adventure games with puzzle elements, they'll regularly introduce you to a new item then start testing you with different ways to cleverly use that item to solve problems. Because no new items are introduced in Anodyne, the puzzles don't really evolve.
Many aspects of Anodyne's story are left vague and open for interpretation. While this is usually fine, I didn't feel like it did a good enough job to get me engaged in Young's story. Particularly, many of the conversations Young has with NPCs are so vague that they border on nonsensical. I would assume there is a reason for Young's existence but I wasn't invested enough to look for one.
On the surface, Anodyne looks a lot like the older Zelda games. As you start to dig deeper, you'll find that it strays quite a bit from this formula but unfortunately, it also ends up leaving behind a lot of what made games like Zelda fun in the first place.
- + Exploring the dungeons is enjoyable
- + Some fun puzzles to solve
- + Non-linear campaign
- - Lack of new items and abilities stifles the gameplay's ability to evolve
- - Mostly empty open world
- - Confusing and vague story