Released back in 2019 on Linux, Mac, and PC; Anodyne 2: Return to Dust is a game that has garnered a dedicated fanbase online. Last week Anodyne 2: Return to Dust made its way to consoles and I was intrigued despite having never played the original game. What interested me about the game was its blend of 2D and 3D gameplay as well as the general weirdness. Anodyne 2: Return to Dust is a truly original experience with some pretty interesting ideas that might not be for everyone.
Anodyne 2: Return to Dust takes place in the land of New Theland. Nano Dust has begun to infest the inhabitants distorting their emotions and desires. You play as Nova who is a Nano Cleaner. As a Nano Cleaner you have the ability to shrink down to enter the infected inhabitants and vacuum up the dust helping them with the issues that they are currently dealing with. Will you be able to save New Theland before the Nano Dust is able to take over for good?
If I were to describe Anodyne 2: Return to Dust’s gameplay I would say that it mostly consists of two main mechanics which are separated by their distinct graphical styles.
Lets begin in 3D. The 3D elements of the game are built around exploration and adventure. In this element of the game you basically explore the world of New Theland finding residents that you can help with their troubles as well as various secrets hidden around the world. You are given a double jump and a glide ability in order to help you with this task. You can also transform into a vehicle at any time in order to move quicker. You mostly explore the world to learn more about New Theland until you come across a resident that needs your help.
When you meet a resident that needs help you will shoot them with your “Spark” in order to shrink down into the infected resident. After a short rhythm based mini game, you will be transported into a 2D world. For this part of the game you are given a vacuum and your objective is to clean out the dust that is polluting the character’s mind. This plays like a 2d action adventure game as you use the vacuum to deal with enemies and solve puzzles. When you finally reach the dust infestation and vacuum it up for good, you will return to the 3D world.
I have to say that I have played a lot of video games, and I can’t recall playing one quite like Anodyne 2: Return to Dust before. The game shares elements with other games, but the entire combination is something totally original. In a way it kind of feels like an experimental game. For this reason people’s opinions are likely going to differ quite a bit. Simply put Anodyne 2: Return to Dust is a weird game. If you are looking for a more “regular” video game experience, you are not going to get it. Those that want something truly original though will likely find what they are looking for.
Personally I enjoyed the 2D elements of the game more than the 3D elements. The open world aspects of the game are made of a graphical style very reminiscent of early 3D games from the PlayStation 1 and Nintendo 64 era. I personally am not a huge fan of the graphical style of this era as the first 3D games were kind of ugly in my opinion. While not really my cup of tea, I will give the game credit for creating an interesting world and character designs. The gameplay of the 3D world is pretty basic exploration. There is no combat and the platforming is pretty simple. Most of your enjoyment of these elements will come from exploring a world that is quite different from our own. I didn’t mind this element of the game, but I found it to be pretty average.
I found the 2D elements of the game to be quite a bit more interesting. These elements of the game kind of feel like an action game mixed with a puzzle game. The combat is pretty simple and there really is no punishment for death outside of being sent back a couple screens. I found the “vacuuming” combat to be pretty fun though. Some enemies you can suck up by themselves, while others require you to launch other enemies or objects at them in order to defeat them. The puzzles are pretty simple as well as they mostly entail finding keys and figuring out how to traverse the maze of screens.
When in these parts of the game, it reminded me a lot of the SNES era of video games. The pixel art looks nice and shows a lot of character. What I liked most about this element of the game is that each world is designed around the issues that the character is currently dealing with. Some of these differences are just cosmetic. Others actually impact the gameplay as they introduce new mechanics that you have to deal with. I found this idea of using some simple 2D gameplay mechanics to explore a character’s mind to be pretty interesting.
The story is honestly a really big element of the game. The gameplay is fine, but by itself is not enough to keep a lot of players interested in the game. A lot of the game is built around the story. The story of Anodyne 2: Return to Dust is pretty interesting as you explore the minds of the residents of New Theland while also trying to stop a more dangerous threat that endangers everyone. The game talks about topics such as insecurities, depression, loneliness, and others that don’t usually make their way into video games. The story is kind of weird, but also interesting at the same time. Because of its emphasis on story, your enjoyment of the game will likely have a pretty big impact on how much you enjoy the overall experience. If you don’t really care all that much for video game stories, Anodyne 2: Return to Dust probably won’t be for you. Those that like an interesting story though will have a lot to like about the game.
As for Anodyne 2: Return to Dust’s length, it kind of depends on what type of player that you are. The game is meant to be played in a more relaxed matter where you take your time exploring the world instead of just rushing to the next objective. If you play the game in this way, it will take considerably longer to beat than if you would just rush from objective to objective. Because of this the amount of time that you will get from the game is going to depend on how you approach the game. Most players seem to get around 8-15 hours out of the game. For a game that retails for $20, this is not a bad deal.
Anodyne 2: Return to Dust is a game unlike any that I have ever played before. In a way the game feels like an homage to older video games as its two graphical styles are reminiscent of the SNES and PlayStation 1/N64 eras. The 3D elements are your typical exploration game with some light platforming mixed in. Meanwhile the 2D sections feel more like an adventure game mixed with some light puzzle solving. Anodyne 2: Return to Dust is kind of a strange game which will turn off some people. The game has some really interesting ideas though that make it really stand out. The story is intriguing as it goes into some topics that you don’t see in a lot of video games.
Basically Anodyne 2: Return to Dust is going to be a game that some people will love and others won’t care for it. If you aren’t really into story driven games or don’t care for “weird” games, it likely won’t be for you. Those that are looking for a truly unique experience though should consider taking a look at Anodyne 2: Return to Dust.
Buy Anodyne 2: Return to Dust online: Linux/Mac/PC (Steam), Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One/Series X|S
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank Melos Han-Tani, Marina Kittaka, and Analgesic Productions for the review copy of Anodyne 2: Return to Dust used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.