Anodyne: A Cure for What Ails You

Being a critic is a strange thing. If you think about it, it amounts to being a mouthpiece for an industry. Developers create games, companies distribute them, PR firms market them, and then critics both professional and amateur must assess them to help the consumer know whether or not they will like the game. If the game is good, all goes well: the critic touts the virtues of the product and the public buys it. If the game is not good, the critic is placed in a difficult position. If he’s an amateur, he likely doesn’t have a very large readership, but he has the luxury of speaking his mind. If he’s a professional, he’s biting the hand that feeds him by interrupting the normal flow of business, possibly leading to his termination.

So then, the most logical solution for this problem is to have developers only make good games. That of course is not as easy as it sounds. For one thing, praise cannot be given constantly or else it ceases to have value. Criticism likewise cannot appear heavy-handed, or else the critic runs the risk of being mean-spirited when in actual fact he’s expecting other members of the industry to have the same thick skin he’s undoubtedly developed over the years of dealing with an editor. So I, like many others, am left to try to find some happy medium between integrity and maintaining the normal flow of business.

Anodyne is a game that tests that medium.

You can almost hear the frogs croaking

You can almost hear the frogs croaking

Like the name’s definition, I think it would be best to start with the soothing panacea that Anodyne serves up to the player.

Sean Hogan and Jonathan Kittaka are the two-man team which make up Analgesic Productions, who are responsible for Anodyne. That alone is worthy of praise considering the refinement of execution we’re dealing with here. It’s a 16-bit retro game employing a top-down perspective. My immediate impression is that someone took Zelda: Link’s Awakening, colorized it, and then added a healthy dose of the humor one often finds in a dream.

You play as the dreamer, Young, who’s chosen to undergo a quest by the Elder to stop some unspecified evil from ravaging the soft, moody, and oh-so-rich dreamscape that takes you from one down-tinged emotional extreme to the next. With broom in hand and Elder shaking his head over being saddled with such an unremarkable chosen one, you explore one interconnected map after the next, unlocking new abilities to further your range and occasionally dropping into a puzzle-filled dungeon. I think it’s safe to say that we have here an homage to 16-bit gaming. It’s unafraid to drop into the non-sensical frivolity of Earthbound. It employs a soundtrack, easily the most powerful aspect of the game, that can instill a sense of peace and nirvana in a fashion hybridized from Illusion of Gaia and Secret of Mana. It even drops in the unsettling nightmare imagery from Yume Nikki. Words fail me to elucidate what vistas of the imagination and symphonies of emotion are expertly engendered and modulated within the player.

Your broom isn't exactly the Master Sword, but it does more than just sweep up.

Your broom isn’t exactly the Master Sword, but it does more than just sweep up.

But, from the most serene of dreams can come the most unpleasant of moments. Here do we understand that with a soothing panacea pain is a prerequisite.

Anodyne seeks to combine the most moving experiences from the 16-bit era, but ultimately it falls short. The dream logic of the story, while it may make sense in the opening moments, never actually coalesces into something more tangible, making the player often wonder why they’re soldiering on. The puzzles, while fun, suffer the sin of repetition; you find yourself quickly getting the feel for the game and becoming bored with the same course of action over and over.

We never really learn much more about Young than what we know about him from the start, and because of that he’s always a stranger. This is possibly because there are too few NPCs for him to interact with. And then there’s the fart in the rose garden, the bucket of cold water that wakes you from your dream. It’s apparent that Anodyne is Analgesic Productions’ first title because they make the mistake that all of their 16-bit forebears firmly avoided: They included jumping in a game that relies upon a top-down perspective. Be prepared to press “continue” often, as I only made it through the first jumping puzzle after exactly 73 tries.

Normally an elementary mistake like this would warrant the game being kicked to the curb, but doing that to a first-try would be like setting fire to a flower bed because a few weeds have popped up. Sean and Jonathan definitely know their stuff. They have talent. What they need are resources and experience for the dream to blossom into reality. I strongly recommend you lend them support so they can continue on this path to obtaining these things.

About The Author

John Richard "Chrysophase" Albers
Other posts by

John Richard Albers, an author, armchair psychologist, amateur historian, freelance, peacemaker, dragonslayer, warmaster, and part-time herald of the apocalypse, hunts ghosts when he isn't hunting crazy people. He holds dual bachelor’s degrees in Psychology and English Literature, is working toward a degree in parapsychology, and is acting CEO of Prior to Print Proofreading LLC, where he gets to torture editors instead of them torturing him for once.

One Response to Anodyne: A Cure for What Ails You

  1. HE says:

    “It’s apparent that Anodyne is Analgesic Productions’ first title because they make the mistake that all of their 16-bit forebears firmly avoided: They included jumping in a game that relies upon a top-down perspective.”

    That’s not true. The Gameboy Zeldas all had jumping, as well as many other top-down 16-bit games. Seems fine to be critical of the difficulty of the jumping puzzles in Anodyne, but it’s not legitimate to say that it’s a mistake to include jumping a priori.

Leave a Reply