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Review: Anodyne 2: Return to Dust (PlayStation 4)By Nayu At 30.08.2022 06:30

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Like the first game in the series, the story is surreal to the point of being absolutely nonsensical. The protagonist Nova is a being born into a world known as New Theland (Following on from Anodyne's "The Land"Smilie where they are tasked with their duo of mothers, Palisade and C Psalmist, in cleansing the land of dust. This dust is insidious, corrupting the land and even the inhabitants. Meaning Nova's cleaning has to include cleansing the internals of the characters. This is how the game retains its 2D aesthetic from the first game. This second instalment has now added on a 3D world style where Nova wanders around, speaking with inhabitants and looking for little collectables, before delving into the bodies of those infected with the dust where the game returns to the top-down 2D, Zelda-inspired style.

The world is aggressively, overtly, surreal. Nova has to explore this world, speaking with all the weird inhabitants, such as speaking with a group of gigantic human-faced worms who mull over their eczema and wishing for footballs made of their own skin. This is one of many inhabitants infected that Nova has to cleanse. Doing so rewards special cards that expand the areas of the world that can be explored. That world is a PS1 inspired blocky, geometric, hodgepodge that's just about as crazy as the story itself. Nova can traverse this spiky scene either as a human or - fitting with the mental setting - Nova can transform into an alien-looking car to drive around at higher speeds.

After finding an individual infected with dust, Nova has to enter their body, and doing so requires another type of mini-game. Nova and the inhabitant she is attempting to enter are placed on a 3D highway where a QTE event plays out. Nova runs across the highway towards her target, while dust flies out of the inhabitant, trying to push Nova away. Directional button presses are required in tune with a beat to block the projectiles. This odd little addition fits with the rest of the weirdness on display here. Once overcome, the game delivers a 2D dungeon, each with its own themes and puzzles.

These dungeons are by far the highpoint of the game; each one themed around a different type of obstacle. The basic mechanics are around Nova using her vacuum to suck up enemies and items, then fire them back out as projectiles - using these to defeat other enemies, to hit switches, to move items with the vacuum onto switches, and to take out the ever-present dust assassin boss who appears at the conclusion of each dungeon. As the game progresses these dungeons add some well-designed sequences, like a dungeon with an entirely mirrored experience, where obstacles and enemies on both sides need to be considered. Then in the later game, the dungeons grow bigger and bigger, even allowing Nova to enter a dungeon within a dungeon, with the art style changing once again.

There is a major problem with the pacing, though. At a certain point the game suddenly drags, stretching out one sequence which seems especially out of place, then again, towards the end forcing the player to collect Meta Coins to see the real ending. The gathering of these coins opens up another interesting element of the game. Breaking it. Anodyne 2 is filled to bursting with meta elements and this is a huge one. The developers want players to try and break the game. Hiding Meta Coins off outside of the world, having to get out of the areas that make up the world in both the 2D and 3D areas.

The 3D sections perfectly capture the feel and aesthetic of playing a random 3D game on a PS1 demo disk. The nostalgia hits hard. That experience is harmonised by the absolutely superb soundtrack. It's surprisingly big, with seemingly every area having its own themes, each delivering catchy and classic chiptune tunes. In both the 2D and 3D sections the OST is the star of the show, and really enhances the experience. While accurately representative of the generation it's attempting to capture, that does mean it brings the bad with the good. With frustrating camera controls and the occasional fixed camera sequence that seems made to be as annoying as possible. The 2D looks odd. It seems the developers have smashed together high and low res sprites for a strange mishmash, the textures clashing heavily at points that make for a messy experience. Speaking of messy, many last-gen titles are offering free next-gen upgrades now. Upgrades as opposed to playing the PS4 version on PS5, and there is often little enhancement done. Anodyne 2 is a perfect example. Because of the style, it's difficult to see any benefit in the PS5 version compared to the PS4.

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Final Score
An experimental experience that feels like it tries too hard with its surrealism and strangeness, to the point it actually negatively affects what it was trying to do. There are some wonderful experiences in both the 2D and 3D worlds, and there's something of a coherent story lurking in the forced quirkiness, but the pacing, combined with the nonsensical aspects hold this back from being something a little more.



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