In an industry obsessed with labelling everything and confining it to a certain box, Anodyne 2: Return to Dust feels like a protest. It’s official description lists it as an action-adventure, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a culmination of games, art and outright absurdity.
Stick with me, because I know that was a rather grandiose statement, but Anodyne 2 really is that weird and wonderful. A sequel to 2013’s Anodyne, the sequel raises the bar. It still includes the predecessor’s 2D Zelda-like dungeon crawling, but now much of the action has been shifted to a 3D plane.
Anodyne 2: Return to Dust tasks players with cleaning the world of dust. Throughout your journey you’ll meet a number of beings plagued with dust monsters, and it’s on you to shrink down to a molecular level – a little bit like that one episode on The Magic School Bus – and suck up the dust. This is where the 2D Zelda-like segments come back into play. Each being you enter has a small dungeon with an assortment of puzzles. Solve each puzzle and you’ll face a boss.
The only real shortfall in Anodyne 2 is the combat. Unlike Zelda, which features an assortment of equipment and items, players in Anodyne 2 will rely on a hoover. I know that sounds a bit silly, but you essentially suck up items and enemies to hurl them at other items and enemies. This not only forms the basis of combat, but also the game’s many puzzles. It certainly isn’t a bad system and it fits thematically, I just wish there was more depth to it.
What makes Anodyne 2 so intriguing is its world. Each character, location and molecular level is weird. I know that word gets thrown around quite often, but Anodyne 2: Return to Dust is one of the most abstract games I’ve played for some time. Characters you meet in the world all have unique and interesting dialogue that sometimes relates to the game’s setting, but often doesn’t. As abstract as Anodyne is, it’s also fascinating. I wanted to see more of this world, just to see how weird and wonderful it could get
There is a general dip in quality between the 2D and 3D gameplay sections. Controls at the molecular level feel tight and responsive, making puzzle solving and exploration feel fantastic, but character movement is not so polished in the 3D sections. The character model feels sluggish and cumbersome. Unfortunately, this is most noticeable during the platforming sections, which can be frustrating.
Anodyne 2: Return To Dust never fails to surprise, though. When it isn’t bouncing between 2D and 3D exploration and puzzle solving, you’re battling against a rhythm section reminiscent of Guitar Hero. Where many games have tried and failed to mix genres, Anodyne 2’s unusual aesthetic helps it all fit perfectly. This is a game that feels less like a video game and more like an experience, one that’s not meant to be taken too seriously.
In an industry that feels so monotonous at times, games like Anodyne 2: Return to Dust are a welcome distraction. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, and it’s not going to pull major headlines, but for those players who do take the plunge, they might be pleasantly surprised by what awaits them.
Anodyne 2: Return to Dust is an unusually captivating experience. The way the developers mix and match various gaming tropes shouldn’t work, and yet the absurd narrative and overall aesthetic binds perfectly. If you’re looking for something completely different, make sure you check out Anodyne 2.