My biggest takeaway from playing Anodyne 2: Return to Dust is that developers Melos Han-Tani and Marina Kittaka at Analgesic Productions are not afraid to take chances. They took many big swings and most of them connected.
I’ve never played the original Anodyne. I swear I’ve thought about it like a million times but I’ve never pulled the trigger. It was the box art that always drew me to the game because it reminds me of how much I loved the original Zelda and Dragon Warrior back in the day. Thankfully, the developers insist that you don’t need to play the first game to enjoy this one. They share similar themes and concepts but feature new characters and standalone stories. You can play them in any order or skip the original entirely. I’ll probably play the original someday however because I enjoyed most of my time in Anodyne 2 Return to dust.
The original was a top-down 2D game that played like the two aforementioned NES games. Anodyne 2 took the first of many big swings by combining elements of 2D and 3D gameplay. You’ll start out in a 3D world with heavy N64 and PS1 vibes. There is a platforming feel to these sections that you’ll instantly recognize from that era, complete with double jumping, holding the X button to glide on the descent, and at times, a wonky camera. The low resolution and low-poly textures of that time are, quite frankly, hard on my eyes. It’s meant to invoke a PS1 feel and it nails it, but for me personally, that is the ugliest era in video games. Many others love it and will love how well Anodyne recreated the feel. On the other hand, the 2D portion of Anodyne 2 was my favorite part of the game. The 3D portion of the world is basically the overworld, while the 2D sections are considered the “dungeons”.
The Legend of Zelda-inspired dungeons aren’t really dungeons at all, actually. Each one is completely unique and bound by a distinct and usually odd-as-hell theme and color pallet. From winter-themed “dungeons” with angry snowball throwing snowmen, or fire-themed industrial style levels, and even a 50’s style diner theme. If you think that’s weird, wait until you get into a wrestling ring, or run a delivery service at an apartment building, or save a princess for an ancient kingdom. Each of these featured a satisfying boss battle at the end and some puzzles that weren’t too hard but were always fun to solve.
The story is deep, emotional, confusing, but most of all, it’s weird. For instance, the first thing you need to do is search through your first 3 dungeons to gather ingredients for what is basically a bowl of cereal. You play as Nova, a young girl who must rid the land of nano dust with your trusty vacuum. You’ll travel the overworld (did I mention you can turn yourself into a car???) until you find someone who needs your help. You then shrink down and enter a dungeon that represents their body via a strange rhythm minigame. Once inside the person, you’ll use your vacuum to suck out all of the dust and eventually defeat a boss. Doing so, you’ll collect cards that you use to build a prism in the center of the city, where you can store all of your dust. You’ll need to continue to collect the cards so your prism is large enough to store all of the dust because this world is a mess.
The entire story is told via text on the screen including the classic RPG trope of adding an insane amount of ellipsis to every piece of dialogue. I first thought maybe some voice acting could have solved some of the story confusion, but I think the story is strange for strangeness’s sake, and I’m okay with that. I grew to care for Nova and the world she is trying to save. The one thing that was obvious about Anodyne 2 is that Nova and most of the people of her world are hurting deeply, and that’s easy to relate to in this day and age. And let’s face it, the world could use a good deep cleaning.
You’ll need seven to ten hours to complete the story Nova and the nano dust. Maybe more if you want to truly understand what’s going on. The good news is you can play and truly enjoy the game even if the story doesn’t grab you. I think the relatively short runtime is a good thing in that regard. But for folks who really connect with the story or just want to remain in the bizarre world, they introduce some collectable coins you can search for after you’ve finished the story.
While Anodyne 2: Return to Dust won’t be for everyone, it’s the kind of game a certain type of person will absolutely devour. The familiar and retro graphics paired with an old school music score and some tasty chiptunes will definitely press some nostalgia buttons, but this is way more than a simple trip down memory lane. It was a helluva ride, to be honest. I just wish I could remember how I got here…
Anodyne 2: Return to Dust PS5, PS4 Review
Overall – Very Good – 7.5/10
Anodyne 2: Return to Dust is a weird game with a confusing story, but one I completely enjoyed. Nova and her dust-sucking vacuum may not be the heroes we wanted but they are probably the heroes we deserve. If you like retro-looking games and are tired of the big devs who are too afraid to take chances, this may be the game you’re looking for.
- Every 2D dungeon was a joy to explore
- The large 3D overworld wasn’t always pretty but it was fun to explore
- Despite the obvious visual inspirations, the game managed to deliver a completely unique experience
- The rhythm-based minigame never made much sense
- A little on the easy side
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed using PS5, PS4