Anodyne 2: Return to Dust
Developer: Analgesic Productions
Publisher: Ratalaika Games
Genre(s): Adventure, Action, Role-Playing
Platform: PS4 (also available on Xbox, Switch, and Steam)
Age Rating: PEGI 7
Release Date: 18/02/2021
A code was provided for review purposes
Anodyne 2 is a narrative-focused action-adventure title with puzzles, combat, and exploration. Rid New Theland of Dust and learn about the residents as you venture inside them to cleanse their souls. Anodyne 2 offers substantial social commentary and will leave the audience thinking about and reconsidering their life choices.
The developers of Anodyne 2 put substantial effort into the story. The overarching story is simple. A dangerous toxin, Dust, is poisoning the citizens of New Theland. The player is Nova, a cleaner that can shrink down to microscopic size. In her miniature state, she can easily rid the terrible Dust from the souls of her friends. However, there is much more to the story than it initially seems. Nova was enlisted by The Center, the government organization managing New Theland.
If this were the entirety of the plot, it would simply supplement the gameplay, but the plot develops and becomes much more. The player becomes involved with Nova’s inner fight as she learns more about The Center and what drives people. She undergoes experiences that remind her of her past and who she has become as a person. Experiencing Nova’s dilemma makes for an engaging and fulfilling adventure.
In addition to understanding Nova and her story, there are a multitude of various characters and storylines to uncover. Each character tells a unique and impactful tale. They depict life lessons and detail uncomfortable feelings. I enjoyed seeing how certain toxic relationships unfolded or learning the importance of anger and grief in day-to-day life. Learning about their qualms with life kept me truly immersed in the world of Anodyne 2. Not only do the developers provide life advice through these struggles, but they do so without forcing morals down the player’s throat.
Asking for a friend…
For example, one doctor made a clone of himself. His clone was struggling with Dust, and he was feeling lonely. Traversing through his “body”, Nova finds that this clone wishes they could be friends with a particular person who does not like their company. The doctor who made the clone berates his clone for being stupid, and for having such unobtainable feelings when he made the clone from his own DNA, meaning he has undergone similar situations.
Seeing these double standards brought back memories from my personal life and will incite memories from many players. Much of the dialogue shares that same theme. Players can easily make the connection from the dialogue to their personal life. This was the main reason I cherish this game so dearly. Each story reminded me of my own life. For someone who does not value story elements, they may not have the same experience I had with the game.
Moreover, to supplement the base story and expansive characters, there are two endings. To find one ending, the developers force players to think outside the box and revisit old friends. The other ending has the player continue their mission from The Center. A great design element was that the player can experience both endings in a single playthrough. After an ending, the developers place the game in a state just before that event took place so the player can change their fate.
However, I did not like how one ending was clearly intended. Instead of having the option to feel like it was the player’s decision and letting them decide what they thought was best for Nova, one option is considered the “wrong” choice. Both endings depict crucial scenes for the story, but strongly hinting that the player should seek the other ending after completion degrades the choice that the player made.
Where’s my car?
Many story-focused games can get away with not putting much thought or detail into their gameplay. However, the developers of Anodyne 2 included substantial gameplay to supplement the story. Nova experiences life in two forms. The player explores the world in 3D. In this form, Nova can transform into a robot car for travel, collect overworld cards, and she can interact with the non-playable characters. This is mainly used for transportation; it is easy to navigate the expansive interconnected world with her robot car and her map.
Nova can also shrink to microscopic size and enter non-playable characters. The player now sees Nova in a top-down 2D world. In this style, players are equipped with a vacuum which they can use to suck certain enemies and objects. Sometimes, they can even shoot out these enemies or crates at other enemies. This resource management made for detailed puzzles, as the player needed to make sure they did not miss their target or remove crucial resources too early. This style required the bulk of the strategy used in Anodyne 2. Puzzles are fun and interesting, requiring the player to learn all throughout the title.
Help! I’m stuck
Even though the puzzles require some thought, the developers clearly focused on accessibility and did not make the game very challenging. There are various objects and characters to assist Nova along her journey. From parrots to rocks, everyone is lending Nova a helping hand. There are various checkpoints that completely restore the player’s health and enemy fights are not extremely challenging. I really enjoyed that the developers were able to make the game at a level where nearly anyone could beat it. They even included additional accessibility options such as double health and invincibility. However, I wish the developers included a more challenging mode, such as a mode where enemies do not drop additional health. Regardless, the easy difficulty does not hinder the title, as the puzzles are still fun, and combat is engaging. I was just slightly disappointed that I rarely died throughout the title.
Although they are a bit easy, there are some excellent puzzles in Anodyne 2. For example, certain enemies are protected with shields. Nova can break the shields to kill the enemies. One puzzle required Nova to keep an enemy in the shield before using it as a projectile so the enemy could damage multiple enemies before dying. Simple puzzles like these were seen all throughout the title and it was rewarding to figure out exactly how to complete each level.
To complement the excellent story and narrative focus, many of the assets in the levels are symbolic of the story. Exploring inside each character brings a different colour palette, new assets, and a different gameplay feel. It made each character feel truly different as if they were their own unique minigame to experience. This made each character feel even more unique, and as though their personality was taken into perspective each time. The art design was great for exploring the inside of enemies. On the other hand, the 3D environments were not nearly as eye-catching. I liked the character designs, but the 3D artwork was nowhere near as aesthetically pleasing as the 2D art. Regardless, I found the art style of Anodyne 2 to be excellent.
Furthermore, the music featured in this title was incredible. It was the keystone in design. Sure, it may not seem important, but the different worlds sound more unique because of the impactful music. It gave characters their personality, made locations feel unique, and most importantly, immerses the player in the story. The music was atmospheric and further developed the connection with the game world. I really enjoyed the music featured.
Anodyne 2 is an excellent game. It surprised me with its extremely deep story and further captivated me with its moving soundtrack and excellent theming. This game is a special title, and I encourage everyone to give it a shot.
Rapid Reviews Rating
4.5 out of 5
You can purchase Anodyne 2: Return to Dust on the PlayStation store here
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.