Twenty years ago, The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening was released on Game Boy. It is still one of the best action adventures for handhelds and impresses with its interesting plot, wit and great game mechanics. I mention it because it's the perfect inspiration for Anodyne. And so the pixel-adventure, by Sean Hogan and Jonathan Kittaka is a small masterpiece in its own right.
Of course, you gotta love it...if you're traditionalist. Pixels and polygons are two very different designs that separate generations of gamers. Anyone who has grown up with the former will instantly love what's on display here.
Anodyne is a gift for the dreamer of those bygone days. It was developed by Sean Hogan and Jonathan Kittaka last year and keys into the 16-bit days of action adventures and RPGs...and echoes Link's Awakening. We move our hero across a top-down map, enter dungeons. We solve puzzles, search for keys and collect items. The locations also strike a cord similar to Nintendo's series: we wander through forests, beaches, enter villages, climb mountains.
And fittingly, the plot tackles fictional reality created within the subconscious, as we try and escape from our own dream. There are some parallels to Secret of Mana and Illusion of Time too - also both now almost twenty years old.
But despite these similarities not everything Anodyne is plagiarism. It contains only reminiscences, memories that evoke great times. Sometimes there are opponents, situations or mechanisms which remind of the classics. And the reminders are entirely from our own experiences.
Anodyne has a weird, yet fantastic, sense of humour about it. The game only flirts with the serious. Our main weapon is a broom, with which we can absorb dirt and release it. There are dialogues that are just so absurd that we can only shake our heads and smile. Some jokes work only for those who know what's being referenced. Yet despite the well-placed laughs, the game is serious. And that is the difference to its inspirations and Anodyne. The game's story ties into the real world, provoking questions of the player. Behind all the nonsense and nostaliga there's depth.
What is most fascinating are the game mechanics. Each dungeon feels different as puzzle-solving concepts are unique to each location. There's no special items to collect - we're stuck with the broom only - instead there's a great level of inventiveness in the locations that continually surprise.
There's the odd irk of an otherwise great game, that again ties into the classic style its emulating. Sometimes its hard to judge the odd leap due to the camera angle, while the difficulty's more in keeping with the 90s, when expectation was that we'd have to be at the top of our skills to survive. But there are nods to the modern day: there's plenty of save points to eschew any frustration.
Anodyne clocks in around six hours, but that seemingly short play time is well balanced against the cost of the download, being under a tenner. Despite the minor rough edges, Anodyne is an action adventure that recalls the best of the past without being a poor imitation of classics. If you're a child of 90s gaming, play it.