Anodyne 2 – Return to Dust
Anodyne 2 – Return to Dust
Game Reviewed: Anodyne 2-Return to Dust
Publisher: Analgesic Productions
Developer: Sean Han Tani, Marina Kittaka
Reviewer: Naomi Norbez
Platform(s): Switch, PC, PlayStation 4
ESRB Rating: M
As someone who grew up with the Game Boy Advance, I’m always drawn to games that seek to recapture that console’s playstyle and aesthetic. Games like Seedling and Two Brothers, with gorgeous pixel art and a square-ish screen, usually with black bars on the side.
Among these nods to the Game Boy is a little project called Anodyne, a Link’s Awakening tribute made by two people. At first, the game appears like a simple action-adventure, but as it unravels itself, bizarre and beautiful themes are explored. (I’d like to review Anodyne in the future, so I won’t discuss or spoil too much here.)
And now, it has a sequel: Anodyne 2: Return To Dust. A game that not only pays tribute to the Game Boy, but also the original PlayStation and the Nintendo 64.
So let’s have a look at Anodyne 2, and sometime in the future we’ll return to the original. Welcome to New Theland—we got some cleaning to do.
What Parents Need to Know
In this game, you play as Nova, a created being who can shrink to microscopic sizes. She was created by Palisade and C Psalmist, in order to clean the citizens of New Theland from almost-invisible Nano Dust virus. Nova does this by shrinking to microscopic size to clean this Dust and help the citizens, which will keep the Nova Dust from taking over the entire world. This involves fighting enemies who are forwarding the infection, via pixelated battles that show no realistic violence.
One of the reasons this game is M-rated is for “strong language,” so . . . yeah. I personally didn’t see much, so the M rating is very surprising to me, but it’s something you should know going in.
Quite a bit.
The characters and world were all created by “The Center,” a place/being who guides the destiny of all. It’s a godlike figure in the world of Anodyne 2, and it’s directly called “a figure beyond comprehension.”
Both Palisade and C Psalmist talk about existentialism (with each character having different views on it) and it’s a main theme the permeates the game. Nova was created for a higher purpose—to clean the virus from the citizens—but is all that it seems? Are we allowed to turn away from our higher purpose and find our own path? What stops us, and what keeps us there? Are those good things? Is the Nano Dust, which makes people different than The Center created them to be, inherently evil? All questions that come up in spiritual life, and ones that are throughout Anodyne 2.
There are also some biblical nods here and there, such as when a character says, “Glandilock Seed cannot live on ingestion alone!”
There’s quite a lot of text in this game, as its story and controls are mainly conveyed through written word. So be aware of that if a young reader is interested.
Anodyne 2 has a great array of accessibility options, something I always love seeing. You can change the controls extensively to suit your needs, adjust how close or far the camera is, and activate cheats to make the game easier.
There’s also a lot of nice visual elements that help players, such as speech bubbles showing up when you’re next to a character you can talk to. A bunch of little things go a long way, and Anodyne 2 is full of little things that really improve the experience.
I also love how the game’s title page has an option to check out a walkthrough—in a world full of folks who discourage this, it’s comforting to see creators who encourage help in completing a game. Though I don’t really like how the controls are dumped on the player in a big text scroll, and not explained through gameplay, but providing an open area to experiment with them somewhat makes up for it. And it’s nice of the developers to tell you to check the “Settings” menu in case you need to review the controls.
I love how the game also has a Game Boy-style manual that can be viewed online. Players can even print it out and assemble it if they wanted! As someone who really misses the days where every game came with a full-color manual, I love this.
The ways you can change the camera (by pressing Q on the computer) is also really cool—each new angle makes the game look like a different genre, and I love it.
A Child’s Perspective: There’s a lot for various types of gamers to love here. Anodyne 2 has beautiful graphics and an interesting story, and it’s a relatively approachable title—even if you find obstacles, you can still use cheats. But for kids who like a challenge, one can try to find hidden, hard-to-reach collectables that require using game-breaking glitches.
I think the developers, in this opening letter, say it best: “At times, the world of Anodyne 2 may be a strange of confusing place. But! At its heart is a story of human struggles and relationships.”
Anodyne 2’s world and characters are wonderful, but the philosophical story really makes this game. Seeing Nova struggle, learn, and grow throughout the narrative is rewarding in its own right, and even after playing the questions brought up by the game still stay with me to ponder through.
Playing this, and seeing the low-poly graphical style, brought me back to childhood, of GameCube fun and Game Boy awesomeness. But the game’s mature themes really stuck with me as an adult—playing it felt like visiting an old favorite, and realizing it had grown up with me.
Anodyne 2 is beautiful, confrontational, relaxing, uncomfortable—it made me feel. And I love games that can do that to me.
Play it for yourself and start your journey into New Theland.
Naomi Norbez has been making, playing, and critiquing games since she was a kid. In her free time she makes text adventures, draws comics, and watches birds. She hopes you find her reviews helpful and values any thoughts on them you'd like to share.