What can you do when your sweet and idyllic island is suddenly overtaken by a deep and people consuming viral dust?
Dust that lies heavy, overshadowing and empowering above the ground. As it slowly decays the surrounding atmosphere, consuming every inch of the environment and finally seeping through into the veins of its inhabitants, destroying life, dreams, aspirations and ambitions?
Bring in the organisation called “The Center ”and particularly a couple of sentients with a plan. Bring forth a prodigy whose sole purpose is to find the inflicted. Cure each person of the dust inside their bodies and cleanse and purify the surrounding air prevailing in each area of land.
Born from an egg, you are the potential saviour named Nova. A girl that is assigned to rid the dust with the only feasible and sensible tool for the job. A vacuum cleaner!
Explore each area and collect enough dust to fill a large dust tank that’s situated in a three-floored main complex and linked by an elevator.
Nova can search and find plenty of small upgrades that increase the amount of dust she can carry as the game progresses. Yet essentially it’s mostly a back and forth journey as you collect and return to deposit large amounts of dust. Get enough dust and a process occurs that cleanses the sky of the area you’re in and allows you to take the elevator up into other areas on the map.
What’s clear to see from the offset, is a beautifully imagined world with elements of the weird and unpredictable that would make the likes of Tim Burton or Lewis Carroll quite proud.
Often quite barren and large in scale. Nova is gifted with the ability to change into a vehicle at any point in time, like an eco transformer, allowing faster progression through strange cities and long drives across weird alien highways.
The characters you eventually get to meet are equally as strange, surprising and unpredictable. Whilst most explored areas seem strangely short of passers-by as a whole. Meeting the infected is often bizarre, unpredictable,heart-rendering and endearing. Each character is overpowered by the dust infecting their bodies with tales of great sadness. Hopes, dreams and ambitions broke.
There’s a weird and wonderful amount of characters you get to meet. A strange reclusive bedridden creature with an obsession for table lamps. The local shopping mall roof plays home to a large creature resembling the licker from resident evil and on a final note, the living and breathing condominium T-Rex has to be seen to be believed!
The gameplay revolves around a couple of elements. After talking to the infected character and the cries pleading for you to help them. Players are taken to a mini-game screen that involves you running towards them as you attempt to get into their bodies. The character fires different coloured orbs from their bodies and the player is then required to hit the direction on the D-pad that corresponds to that colour. The wrong colour knocking you back and the right colour bringing you ever closer to that character. Rather in the style of games like Guitar Hero.
Succeed in reaching them and the game takes you into a dungeon type labyrinth area inside their bodies.
Heavily inspired by the retro look and games of the past. What appears here is a glorious and often satisfying exploration exercise as you seek to find a dust boss blob often hidden and locked away. Players having to manipulate and solve room puzzles to gain keys to unlock access to further areas and then a mini-boss battle with victory curing the infected character.
Overall, these are probably the best experiences in the game. Looking like a GBA title, most rooms require players to think about how to manipulate blocks in the correct order and the right place whilst using all methods and the abilities of your vacuum cleaner to take out small enemies and collect the dust they leave behind on death.
There’s no mistake. Anodyne 2: Return to Dust has a lot of quality in its gorgeous visuals. The transition between 3D and 2D worlds blends amazingly well and never feels forced together, combined with wild and strange characters and a hauntingly melancholy soundtrack. It’s themes on tackling the environment and virus-infected inhabitants runs scarily parallel to our issues in the real world right now and couldn’t be any more poignant in reality.
It’s just a shame that two key elements in the gameplay ultimately drag it down and become a major issue.
Firstly, in a strange open-world with vast areas and the need to find a specific character. Exploration is often joyous at first but after a short time, the feeling of not understanding your bearings and where exactly to go, soon grinds.This is not helped by NPC’s that are often few and far between to approach and seek guidance and clues and more importantly, an on-screen area map that is minimalistic in giving key points or any points of interest whatsoever. So basically, venture out and hope for the best.
Secondly, playing the rhythm colour game and 2D dungeon crawling for every single character soon starts to get mightily repetitive. Even if there are slight changes in the dungeon themes related to the origins of the character. This still does not do enough to make each visit feel much different from the last one and that feels like an opportunity sorely missed.
As a game with unique environments and characters and some interesting and heartfelt storylines and dialogue. Developers have done a fine job in creating something that a lot of games find hard to do at times. Create an experience that’s away from the standard genres of top-down shooters and platformers and touch on a lot of issues, problems and questions on the very meaning of life itself and parallel to our own lives and experiences.
In summary, an admirable and commendable effort that I just feel may have benefited a lot better if the focus would have more on it’s strengths. The visual novel aspect with emphasis on characters, story with gameplay more an addition than a core element. In its current state it sadly doesn’t quite hit that stage of greatness with repetition spoiling the overall enjoyment.
Underneath all this, there’s still a lot of imaginative and creative ideas from this development team and looking forward to what titles they might release in the future.
Thanks to Ratalaika Games / Analgesic Productions for the code.