From the developers at Analgesic Productions, Sean Han Tani and Marina Ayano Kittaka, comes a sequel to 2013’s Anodyne, titled Anodyne 2: Return to Dust. I had a chance to pour over a preview beta build of the game, and I’m head over heels.
Presented in a lo-fi, late 90’s aesthetic, you play as Nova, a Nano Cleaner tasked with the seemingly overwhelming goal of tackling a malaise plaguing the world of New Theland. Nano Dust has spread far and wide over this place, infecting anyone unfortunate enough to become host to this particulate assassin. Once inside, it spreads rapidly and exacerbates all the worst things one can imagine: rage, sickness, gluttony, pain, and so on. By shrinking to microscopic size, Nova is able to enter the minds and bodies of those afflicted and take on the infestation with her trusty vacuum.
The game is a joyous romp throughout. Your exploits in New Theland are accomplished in 3D, featuring platforming and exploration on foot or via transformation into a car, while your shrunken endeavors are in top-down 2D. The 3D aspects are gorgeous, their fuzzy nature lending to a certain abstraction of environments, heightened by the meticulous texture and lighting work at play. Characters are vibrant; not only full of personality in their writing but also in their design. New Theland feels at once cozy, familiar, but strange and alien all the same. Bizarre creatures discuss their emotional states, personal lives, and offer help where they can. One moment you’re talking to a purple moleperson who laments that their video game review videos aren’t as popular as they had hoped, and the next some car wash attendants tell you about having to deal with a short-circuited generator.
In 2D, the game takes on the stylings of the classic Anodyne, and in that, it plays something akin to early Zelda titles. You have no direct way to attack enemies, instead having to either suck them up with your vacuum and blast them at a wall or other opponents, or pull in boxes or stones to use as projectiles. These segments also feature puzzle solving that feels reminiscent in presentation to the material behind the inspiration for the game. Like many Zelda and Zelda-likes, you will be tasked with figuring out novel ways to dispatch enemies in order to unlock doors — such as not directly taking out the slimes in a room, but using a different monster that crawls along the wall and spits fire, to set the slimes alight. You see, the gate hates slimes, but hates seeing them die even more.
Beyond graphical presentation and the writing of the world, music is an incredibly integral part of Anodyne 2’s elevated sense of place and purpose within its atmosphere. Analgesic’s work on the original Anodyne and Even The Ocean serves as quite a strong foundation for the music here. Comforting, ominous, and, at times, swelling; it really fleshes out the world. The sound effect work is also impeccable, pleasing bloops and dings adding necessary weight and depth to your actions. More so, the sound effects play off of the music at times, creating a wonderful sense of fusion between the two.
The world of Anodyne 2 appears quite small at first; after an initial tutorial you’re able to explore the city center of Cenote. A roundabout circling a central plaza serves as a great way to ease the player into familiarizing themselves with the controls and overall goals of the game. Four infected characters dot the streets and alleys, each intervention dealing with the Nano Dust provides you with a bevy of collected dust and a Card. This ever-growing pile of dust you amass is then pumped into The Center beneath Cenote, a seemingly magical place that everything around it has sprouted from. The dust you put into it is then used to dispel the meteorological effects of the Nano Dust itself, with Cards upgrading the storage capacity of The Center.
After taking care of the citizens of Cenote, you are then thrust into the Blue Vale and greater world of Anodyne 2, opening it up exponentially. Given no specific direction to head in, Nova is free to roam the countryside, undertaking side-quests and exploring the variety of locales scattered about. Beyond the base game itself, there’s so much more to adore about this title: a distinct evolution of bespoke UI design from Sean’s All Our Asias, the clear growth in gameplay from Anodyne, and the impeccable story work that’s come from all their work prior, but especially Even The Ocean.
Anodyne 2 is really a piece of work. I’ve been floored multiple times by the presentation and how well the gameplay works. Sean and Marina have something incredibly special on their hands, and I really can’t wait to see the whole thing when it releases later this year on Kartridge, and Steam, GOG, and Itch shortly thereafter.
Keep up with development and release info for Anodyne 2 by signing up for their newsletter, and, if you’re interested in the original Anodyne, it’s now released on all current-gen consoles and can also be found on all of the storefronts mentioned above.
Catherine Brinegar is a trans game developer and filmmaker who explores the surreal and abstract in her work. Beyond her creative endeavors she enjoys losing herself inside other worlds, interactive and not. Finding inspiration in everything, Catherine aims to see all the world has to offer, through the continual conversation of art. You can keep up with her on twitter @cathroon.