Anodyne 2: Return to Dust isn’t releasing until May, but it’s been quietly dominating my thoughts so far this year. Mixing Playstation-era visuals with Link’s Awakening-esque dungeons, it’s on track to be one of the most innovative and evocative games of 2019.
The original Anodyne released in 2013, offering a world of dreamy pixel art dungeons to explore. I had the chance to play a preview build of the sequel, and it’s a delightful merger of some of my favorite styles of gameplay. Developed by Sean Han Tani and Marina Kittaka, Anodyne 2 follows a “nano cleaner” named Nova. Picture a newborn fairy who can shrink to microscopic size and vacuum up dust. The world is suffering at the hands of evil dust fragments and dangerous miniature assassins, and it’s Nova’s job to dive down, hop inside of people, and clean all the bad stuff. It’s a whimsical concept, but what really makes it work is Anodyne 2’s visual style.
Whenever you’re wandering the world, it feels like you’re navigating your way through Playstation classics like Spyro the Dragon. It’s a hard style to get right, and with only a few recent indie titles really capturing the aesthetic. Jagged-edged polygonal structures and strange animal citizens dot the landscape, and you’re able to freely explore an overworld map to find folks affected by the dust. There’s a sun-drenched dream shore, hazy ruins, and bustling metropolises that feel lifted from the late 1990s. Worlds mix platforming and double-jumps with the ability to turn into a super-fast car that allows you to zoom around the world. The goal is to chat it up with folksy friends until you find someone who needs some cleaning. After that, you shrink down and get to work.
Changing size also changes the art style back to the same pixel art from Anodyne. Every person you need to clean acts as a sort of tiny Zelda dungeon complete with puzzle rooms and enemies. These areas—at least the early ones I’ve played—aren’t particularly difficult but still feature enough brainteasers to be satisfying. One room might challenge you to avoid enemies and leave them alive, while another could involve sucking them up Kirby style and then hurling them through fire so they burn up a gate blocking your path. It gives Anodyne 2 a unique pace: bouncing around the overworld and then slowing down for puzzles when you shrink. In some ways, it reminds me of Psychonauts. Each new dungeon reflects something about the person you are helping, and as you delve deeper you start to understand them a little more. This makes success feel particularly gratifying. You’re not just checking off a list of objectives; you’re helping people.
In the time since Anodyne, its creators have honed their skills with a variety of projects. Tani and Kittaka released Even the Ocean in 2016, a narrative platformer that pioneered accessibility options even before games like Celeste popularized them. Tani also released All Our Asias last year, a lo-fi, 3D game that dealt with cultural identity and boasted astounding visuals. Anodyne 2 feels like the product of several lessons coming home to roost, both in terms of how confidently it weaves together different gameplay styles and how much it nails old school Playstation visuals. There’s still some time before the game releases, but even the few moments I’ve spent with it have been inspiring. If you like good games or want to slide into a truly nostalgic and kind-hearted experience, keep your eyes on Anodyne 2.