Anodyne 2: Return to Dust is technically the sequel to the original Anodyne, but this is an entirely new world, story, and group of characters. Not only that, but Analgesic Productions have expanded the brand in huge ways and have come out with a title that is much more ambitious than its predecessor.
But is Anodyne 2: Return to Dust a game that deserves your attention? Or should this one just simply shrink down to such a microscopic level that we never have to see it again? Let’s find out!
The story of Anodyne 2: Return to Dust is a bizarre one. Nano dust is starting to infect the inhabitants of New Theland, so two powerful beings known as C Psalmist and Palisade helped to raise a special child named Nova who possesses the ability to shrink down to nano size in order to suck up all the nano dust and protect New Theland.
On top of the strange concept, Anodyne 2: Return to Dust kind of goes out of its way in regards to world-building. There is so much going on and an obnoxious amount of information thrown at you from every corner, especially in the early stages of the game, that paying attention to it all is quite overwhelming considering that it is not the most interestingly built world. Despite, effort is applauded, because it does take a lot of creativity and time to connect an insane amount of pieces in order for the overall story to make sense. Personally, I think the game would have benefited tremendously from a more simplified world and story to alleviate the need to pay so much attention.
There is also a hint of personal healing and therapeutic messages sprinkled throughout, which is a nice effort in the midst of a complicated world. This makes some of the individual stories within Anodyne 2: Return to Dust more interesting than the overarching one. Characters that have been infected and are expressing extreme emotion find themselves in an uncontrollable state as you seek to cleanse and heel them of their problems. The conversations that happen throughout these encounters is really well written, and they are a joy to play through.
As far as gameplay goes, Anodyne 2: Return to Dust is basically two games in one. There is the 3D world that represents the normal-sized universe and a 2D Zelda-like world that represents the nano universe. Both worlds contribute to the the story and everything happening, but I honestly found the 2D sections to be significantly more entertaining that the 3D areas.
You see, the game caters to nostalgia by having 64-bit 3D graphics and 16-bit 2D graphics, so the look and feel of it all mirrors the 1990s heavily. In the 3D sections, you control Nova as she basically wanders around areas trying to make sense of things. You talk and talk and talk to characters until things are understood, and then you platform jump your way to citizens that have been consumed by the nano dust where you then move into a couple weird gameplay transitions.
First of all, you sit through miles of dialog before you encounter the citizen in a Dance Dance Revolution-like rhythm game where you use the D-pad to dictate where Nova throws up her shield to block the incoming colored attacks. It is quite strange and does not really feel like it belongs in the game, but it is there, it works fine, and it is one of the weirdest gameplay transitions I have ever encountered. Once you beat the nova dust infested citizen in a dance off, you shrink into micro size, enter them, and that is when you begin the 2D side of things.
The 2D sections are basically simple puzzle and combat areas where you use Nova’s vacuum to suck up dust as well as enemies and boxes that you can then use as ammo to defeat other enemies and bosses. The bosses in these sections, for the most part, are identical with differing hazards and sections that mix things up slightly. But the real fun are the maze-like “dungeons” and the puzzles within them en route to the boss and sucking up more dust.
These sections are excellent and really well designed, which is a shame, because the 3D sections suffer in many ways. Everything the 2D sections do well, like intricate puzzles and solid cues for what to do next, the 3D side is incredibly vague, depends way too much on obscure dialog, and finding where to go next, especially in the latter areas, is painful.
Thankfully in the 3D areas, Nova can transform into a car (Because why not?) at will and travel around more quickly and freely. This does help a lot in moving things along, but if you do not know where to go, it is still going to result in a lot of aimless driving.
An area that can absolutely be improved that would make the whole experience better is a solid map for the 3D side of things. The 2D gameplay has a Zelda-like map in the bottom right corner that serves its purpose really well, but the 3D maps are barren and do not really signify anything. I had so much trouble finding basic things in the beginning of the game, because the map simply does not have a key for such stuff. A more detailed and helpful map would make the 3D sections much more bearable.
As stated, the look of Anodyne 2: Return to Dust is a solid dose of nostalgia. The 3D areas have an old N64/PS1 look about them, and everything in the world is well-detailed and looks great. The 2D side is even prettier, as it is represented by an era that is much more crisp and clean. The 3D side does not look bad, but it is hard to look past some of the flat and ugly designs that are supposed to represent things like food, books, etc because the graphical capacity is too low. So it is kudos for the fantastic old-school, 3D throwback, but it is a double-edged sword in that this is not the best-looking era of gaming.
As for the music, it is quite pleasant for the most part. I found the open world music to set the stages wonderfully, and each of the 2D areas were fantastically scored. Once again, the only strange sections were the DDR-like ones where the music suddenly turns into something that just does not fit with the rest of the game. I enjoy ambitious attempts to merge multiple game types into a title, but it does need to make sense. In Anodyne 2: Return to Dust, these gameplay sections and the accompanying music just do not work for me.
On the technical side of things, sadly once again, the 3D areas are bogged by the occasional screen tearing, wall clippings, and sinking through the floor. This is not a frequent problem, but when it does happen, it is very noticeable. Compare that to the 2D sections which run flawless the whole way through the 7-8 hour campaign.
Anodyne 2: Return to Dust is an ambitious title, that’s for sure, but it is not without its problems. Nova is a solid character that is part of an interesting, albeit convoluted, story, and the quests to collect cards from infected individuals tell excellent stories of struggle and pain. The 3D and 2D sections are both entertaining in their own ways, but I found the 2D sections to be much more polished and fun.
This is a pretty hefty title as well when it comes to content, as there are plenty of worlds to discover, numerous places to go, and lots of cards and dust to collect throughout the journey. There are some bizarre design decisions, and the disappointing map in the 3D world makes traveling much harder than it should be. However, everything does work, the story is engaging, and there is a lot to chew on here, but this is one of those titles that is simply not going to please everyone, especially in every way.
I do recommend Anodyne 2: Return to Dust within reason, as I do believe it is a good game overall, but this may be an easier pill to swallow when the price is discounted.
Anodyne 2: Return to Dust Review provided by NintendoLink
Review also available on OpenCritic
Publisher: Ratalaika Games
Developer: Analgesic Productions
Release Date: February 18, 2021
Price: $19.99, £19.99, €19.99
Size: 424 MB
Good story, character development, and interesting themes
Nostalgic graphics and solid soundtrack
The rhythm sections don't feel like they belong
Poor map for 3D areas
A few technical issues
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My name is Jason Capp. I am a husband, father, son, and brother, and I am a gamer, a writer, and a wannabe pro wrestler. It is hard to erase the smile on this simple man.