Anodyne resides within the subconscious of a cerebral adventurer named Young, a boy who ventures into a spiritual walkabout that, though enlightening, is filled with danger. Although this 16-bit homage sprinkles its narrative with dry humor and cute gameplay, don’t get it twisted: Anodyne is a nightmarish journey of the soul. Does this blend of levity and darkness create the perfect iOS souffle, or does it crumble amidst its pretension?
It’s embarrassing how a visually rudimentary game can hold more themes and depth than most of today’s eye catching titles, and Anodyne is living proof that dreams still live within a pixelated universe. The story’s absurd yet charming conceit is that Young, in order to master his own thoughts, holds a powerful broom that can consume and dish out dust at a moment’s notice. Strategically placing the dust to block deadly lasers or surreal looking creatures enables our hero to survive just a bit longer. Creatures can also be vanquished by braining them with the aforementioned weapon, and at times their death will give Young an extra life cell to boot.
A virtual joystick found on the left side of the screen moves Young from room to room, and the slim C button is used to interact with enemies or objects he encounters on his quest. The title’s minor flaw lies in the joystick, which will occasionally overcompensate on your command. For example if you’re moving forward to throw some dust on a laser, Young may accidentally overstep his bounds and run into a world of hurt. It’s a control issue that is a grain of salt in this loving spoonful of goodness, especially since life cells aren’t a rare commodity.
For Young to unlock even more doors within his mind, he must find keys and cards throughout his mission. Anodyne doesn’t let gamers off easy with its puzzle based sequences, as running around in circles may be your ultimate frustration if you can’t get past a boss level or find a much needed item. If you have a horrible sense of direction and ignore the maps that are provided for your journey, then many of your questions will take a long time to answer.
Although it has taken me quite a bit of time to figure a few important Anodyne puzzles out, here’s one piece of advice you need to follow; and don’t worry, it’s not a spoiler. Make sure you obliterate everything in a given room with your broom. Their death may lead to the opening of a gate, which will lead to another puzzle and possibly to another dimension. There are a few dialogue sequences laced with humor along the way, especially if you try to interact with statues, but the words that continue to stick with me rest within my first boss encounter. As I essentially swept him into seeming oblivion, he had these prophetic words to offer.
To have an enemy offer words that, upon one’s interpretation, is either a threat or a form of encouragement, exemplifies Anodyne’s deliciously surreal tone. The first rate score, which could have been lifted off a Twin Peaks episode, only adds to its seductive pool of dread. With such a foreboding and suffocating tone, a bit of humor actually works now and again. Do a couple of jokes amidst the darkness blend into a mouth watering gulp of gumbo? You betcha.
With a quest filled with death at every turn, unlocking life’s innermost mysteries is an understandably daunting and oftentimes discouraging experience. For Young to remain strong, he must understand the tragic inevitability of it all. Edgar Allan Poe once wrote that, “All that we see or seem, is but a dream within a dream.” We may never escape our own nightmares, but why not pick up a broom, dust off the cobwebs, and give it the old college try? Young is determined to open the door into another dimension, and following in his 16-bit footsteps isn’t such a bad idea.