What if you were some sort of chosen one, a messiah sent to save an entire world from a creeping insidious doom? What if you’d only just hatched to find the weight of the world rested squarely on your shoulders, and you were the Nano Cleaner, a strange being with a seed implanted in your brain, the ability to shrink to microscopic size, and a powerful vacuum you’d need to use to clean the denizens of a strange world of the Dust that threatened to kill them and overtake their world?
This is where you begin with Anodyne 2: Return To Dust, the second in the Anodyne series and a self proclaimed multi-genre game that has you platforming and dungeon crawling to save the world by cleaning it. For some of us, it’d seem like a chore, even in game form, but Anodyne 2 manages to pull off a surprising amount of variety in its gameplay and pair it with a solid story for a truly unique experience.
Anodyne 2: Return to Dust isn’t a straightforward sequel to Anodyne though, taking place on a new world with new characters–it just ties back to the happenings of Anodyne, but as the developer message in the beginning states, you can play the games in any order or as standalone experiences.
Shortly after her brief and very egg-centric orientation to the world and mechanics of Anodyne 2; Return to Dust, Nova’s sent off to New Theland, where she’ll help two ethereal figures she mistakenly takes for her creators with a variety of cleaning tasks around different N64/PS1esque 3D worlds looking for entities plagued with a variety of ailments from ceaseless rage to pneumonia or an unquenchable and disturbing desire to taste everything and everyone around you. Nova shrinks down into a 2D, top-down dungeon to suck up all the dust that’s corrupted and crippled the people of New Theland by solving various puzzles and killing various enemies themed around the particular ailments suffered by the particular person.
One of my favorite things about Anodyne 2: Return to Dust is the variety of its gameplay. In the 3D overworld you’ll face jumping puzzles and even be able to shift forms to become a little race car, while in the dungeons, puzzles and straightforward key finding and combat reign. In the transition between the 3D and 2D worlds, you’ll find yourself sucked into a rather compelling little rhythm game that allows you access to a person’s insides.
While it might seem like a bit of a hodgepodge, Anodyne 2 does a great job of letting the narrative weave together its disparate parts. Nova has to gain people’s trust and connect with them individually to be allowed inside them to clear away the cobwebs, and though sometimes random interactions with characters made me feel like the writers were trying too hard to be “so random” or funny, the meat of the narrative deals with a lot of heavy topics sensitively and with heart, and leaves you with a sense of responsibility for the citizens of the world that keeps you going.
While I managed to enjoy my time with Anodyne 2, there were some definitely points of frustration. In each new area, you’re tasked with cleaning folks of their Dust, which is then magically converted to Cards. These collectibles are the key to life, the universe and everything, and mostly (though not entirely) exist at the end of the 2D dungeon crawls you’ll undertake in the process of cleaning people. But finding the people to get the cards proves difficult and sometimes the large world only serves as a point of frustration. In all honesty, too, it wasn’t my favorite environment to explore in, as subjectively I don’t prefer its retro Playstation 1 era aesthetic. I found the art style in the dungeons much more colorful and fun though, and I loved the way each person’s ailment played into its puzzles and backdrops.
Overall, though definitely strange, sometimes clunky and definitely a literal mixed bag of mechanics, Anodyne 2 manages to be much more fun and much more profound than I thought, and I found myself sucked right into its world and even more intriguingly, strangely beholden to my job to save it.
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