Anodyne may at first glance look like just another retro dungeon crawler; a Legend of Zelda tribute act designed to scratch a particular old-school itch, however, getting to grips with Analgesic Production's action-adventure effort reveals a game that successfully combines its comfortably familiar 16-bit aesthetic and gameplay structure with a pleasingly dark and deranged narrative that toys with your expectations at every turn. It may feel a tad directionless at times – there's a little bit too much hunting for keys and backtracking during the six to seven-hour running time – but overall, this is a fantastically atmospheric little adventure through an often bizarre dreamscape that leaves you with plenty to mull over come its ending.
Assuming the role of the bespectacled, grey-haired Young, on a quest at the behest of a mysterious sage, the moment to moment gameplay you'll experience here – scouring the world map for secrets and new areas whilst delving down into dungeons for some light platforming, puzzling and combat – may be entirely typical of the genre but the characters and situations you encounter along the way are anything but. So much of the world of Anodyne refuses to respond in the way you might expect as you venture through it, signposts dotted around the overworld are often faded, their directions worn away and useless, the local merchant stocks items you'll never actually be able to obtain and NPCs are often too distracted with their own troubles to give you any meaningful advice or help you on your way.
Take James the Bear, who you'll encounter as you explore the green forest area of the game; you'll approach him cautiously, hoping he relays some useful nugget of information but instead he'll ask you not to crap on the local berries before informing you that he's had sex eighteen times. A friendly rock golem you meet high atop the world in the cliff zone seems well-placed to inform you of some secret or other, but uses the opportunity to talk about his mother who got fracked, whilst one particular signpost you happen upon laments the fact it's been placed in such an out-of-the-way corner of the game. There's rarely a straightforward encounter here and the strange, dreamlike nature of proceedings carries over to the central gameplay mechanics in the form of mysterious cards you'll need to collect in order to make progress through certain gated areas. There are fifty of these cards in total, they don't grant you any boons or XP or get explained in any way at any point, but nevertheless you'll need to scour the world to find them if you wish to proceed.
The world too, which starts out with your typical lush forests, beaches and temple areas, slowly morphs into monochromatic cityscapes, 8-bit mazes, dimensional rifts and disturbing debug areas, a series of bizarre environments linked together by the game's central Nexus area. There are mentions of social media and other aspects of the modern world here – real-life threatening to invade Young's fever dream at points – and, although the gameplay itself really doesn't do anything new or surprising, Anodyne is well worth experiencing for its diverse range of hugely atmospheric locations, excellent soundtrack and thoughtful – and pleasingly disturbing – narrative.
Anodyne mixes solid old-school dungeon crawling with a delightfully weird and warped narrative set in a fever dreamscape full of bizarre secrets and surprises. The gameplay mechanics might not offer anything particularly new but Young's adventure still manages to throw up plenty of original and off-kilter scenarios and is something of a gem in the Switch's line-up of retro action-adventure titles.