Imagine a Legend of Zelda game with a dungeon that you can only access if you push a hapless father into a whirlpool and then jump into the bloodied vortex. That’s Anodyne. Already a hit on Steam, Anodyne Mobile is an iOS adaptation of an indie adventure RPG that some fans suggest rivals the SNES’ hallowed A Link to the Past. It doesn’t come close—few games do—but there’s still a compelling and mysterious adventure to be had here, though slippery controls might lead you to check out of this world of dreams prematurely.
Anodyne’s story is difficult to explain, which is part of the game’s charm (or pretention, depending on your viewpoint). Young, a bespectacled adventurer, must travel through his subconscious and confront the beasts, terrors, labyrinths, and odd denizens within. It’s not unusual to find yourself on a breezy overworld in one moment, then a blood-red underwater cavern in the next.
Whereas Link has his Master Sword, Young must make do with a broom. Luckily, the monsters in his mind seem to be susceptible to bristles. Young can execute a stabbing attack with his broom, and he can also collect and lay down dust clouds. Dust clouds are key to navigating the world of Anodyne. They help Young pass traps safely, and they can also be used as rafts. Your goal is to collect the cards scattered through the world, which let you progress deeper into Young’s dream.
Truthfully, Anodyne has much more in common with the original Legend of Zelda than it does with the 16-bit A Link to the Past. You’re thrust into Young’s world with no direction at all, and few hints are offered on how to pass the traps in the game’s dungeons. You can expect to do a great deal of aimless wandering, but it’s not unpleasant. That’s not to say all the puzzles you come up against are intuitive. How are you supposed to automatically know that dust can be used as a raft?
In fact, most of the puzzles and problems in Anodyne lack the layers present in the best Zelda games. You can expect to move dust clouds, dodge lasers, hit switches – the usual tasks. The game’s controls are a puzzle on their own, too. They lack the necessary precision to send you around pits and enemies instead of into them. It’s frustrating, though the option to move the digital d-pad and action buttons is pretty neat.
Though Anodyne has problems and lacks the polish of a Zelda title, it should also be commended for using the Zelda formula to tell its own (albeit weird) story. It’s certainly playable, and chances are excellent that you’ll enjoy your journey into Young’s mind. Even troubled dreams can be fun to wander though.