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Games Of March 2013: Anodyne

A small and winningly weird riff on the Zelda template.

By John Teti • April 18, 2013

In case you missed it: On Monday’s edition of The Digest, we argued over BioShock Infinite, and yesterday we took on the last, best ending of Mass Effect 3.

We often like to dedicate one segment of each month’s Digest to games somewhat off the beaten path, which brings us to today’s topic of discussion. Borne from the Zelda mold, there’s nothing earth-shattering about Anodyne, and it certainly has its share of annoyances. What struck Steve and me, though, were the quirks of language and level design that weren’t quite random but weren’t quite sane, either. Anodyne is just a little unhinged, and it’s fun to explore a game that has a talent for catching players on the wrong foot.

We wrap up donut week with a nut-encrusted peanut-butter-and-banana-cream number. Note that Steve starts out saying that the donut is “pretty hefty as far as donuts are concerned” and then argues with me when I remark that the donut seems especially heavy for a donut. That’s right: I am accusing Steve Heisler of being a DONUT CONTRARIAN.

Thanks for watching The Digest this week! We’ll be back next month.

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  • Spacemonkey Mafia

    April 17th, The year of our lord, 2013

    -Day Three-

       I have been chained
    to the phantasmagoric cascade of Teti’s
    jacket for what feels a countless age, but according to my Windows widget had
    been a mere three days.

       What had begun as
    an aggressive bray of adolescent hues has, over time, insidiously resolved into
    a message meant only for those who can peer through the veil of garish,
    non-flame retardant fibers into a deeper truth.

       Can you see it?  It seems to say…

          Buy Assassin’s
    Creed III.  

    • Enkidum

      I noticed that Heisler was also making aggressive plaid manoeuvres with that jacket. A false prophet or a new covenant with the faithful?

      Also John’s sugar-high bitchiness was delightful to watch.

    • stakkalee

      Completely off-topic, but have you seen this? The thieving bastards.  You should totally sue, or at least send some hired goons to rough them up.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia

        The jokes on both of us, unbeknownst to myself when I first chose this handle, I completely subconsciously appropriated it from a lyric in Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start The Fire”
           It’s like walking around with a really spiffy little mustache that you just rock, only to find out it’s a style previously codified by some dude named Adolf.

        • stakkalee

          Well, better an unintended Billy Joel reference than choosing the name for this association.  Teenagers are fucking morons.

    • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

      I saw a very nice plaid jacket at Banana Republic yesterday.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia

        Lacking any culturally sanctified ritual to demarcate my transition from child to man, I’ve decide for myself it was when I started to want to buy almost all my clothes from Banana Republic.

  • The_Helmaroc_King

    Well, you’ve convinced me to pick this one up! Eventually!

    Even though the mechanics look functionally identical to Zelda games, everything else I’ve seen seems consistently “off” enough to give the whole game a different feel. The art palette, for example: it’s sickly like Link to the Past‘s dark world, but without the contrast of a light world. The other sense I’m getting is that the game’s NPCs are “off” in the same way that retro games’ NPCs are/were (e.g. unusual and repetitive behavior, unnatural dialogue) but instead of pretending they’re limited representations of actual people, the game presents them as deliberately unreal.

    I hope this isn’t way off base, considering I haven’t played the game. Granted, the description on Steam mentions something I don’t think you did (“… explore and fight your way through… the human Young’s subconscious…”) that seems to explains a lot about the game’s style, but at least they’re up-front about it rather than trying to make it into some kind of late-game revelation.

    • Link The Ecologist

       I played the demo and your interpretation of the interactions with npcs seems spot on. My favorite one in that short experience was talking to a rock.  And yeah, the discussion from the video makes me want to pick this up even more.

  • PaganPoet

    A memento of your journey, huh? Say fuzzy pickles!

  • BillyNerdass

    I LOVE the point about sharp edges. Sharp edges are my thing.

    I participated in a writing group not too long ago. We had 13 writers who took old stories that were never gonna see the outside of a drawer and basically played Telephone with them. Everyone had total license to to do whatever they wanted to the story they received and then it was passed on to the next writer, who had the same privileges. (And on and on for a few rounds.)

    It was really interesting and fun to watch how each story evolved. But really quickly it became about the end product and not the act itself. People became worried about how the final published story would look and not what they were passing on to the next writer. They wanted to polish off the sharp edges and make it more widely presentable. And I’m not about that at all. 

    Sharp edges are what make something unique. Sharpen those sharp edges; sharpen those edges you made because no one else can make sharp edges like you can. Everyone can make stuff that’s been sanitized and made okay. I want that sharp shit.

  • Destroy Him My Robots

    Wait. Is this legit vertical orientation or just black borders? Because I have a weakness for the former, but dislike the latter. (Speaking of which, does Microsoft Game Room for Windows offer vertical orientation? Seems like the easiest way to get a copy of Detana!! TwinBee)

    Judging by the trailer, 3DS Legend of Zelda seems to handle Z-axis in a top-down Zelda quite well. The gimmick also looks like it might be fun, but on the other hand the presentation seems preeeetty uninspired. I mean, I’m still looking forward to it, but I’d be more excited if it had something like that amazing Minish Cap saw bass. Which, after all, is quite literally sharp edges.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      I’m not sure about the distinction – since screens are horizontally-oriented, ‘legit’ vertical orientation necessitates ‘black borders,’ at least in full screen mode.

      The first time you play the game, it has you sort of calibrate the game’s resolution in a windowed mode, and that window is slightly vertically-oriented, and then is blown up to a full-screen image with black bars. So the game’s resolution is ‘legit’ slightly vertically-oriented, I think.

      • Destroy Him My Robots

        My monitor has a pivot, which is a feature I looked out for specifically for MAME (and photo stuff). Modern games pretty much never support it. Even most pinball games are content with wasting a tons of space on the sides (or forcing odd perspectives). I mean, I can see that this doesn’t render at 9:16 so I’d have black bars one way or the other, but even for 3:4 games (your Donkey Kongs, Pac-Mans, DoDonPachis etc) the difference is pretty big.

        For simplicity’s sake: Real vertical orientation in 9:16 would use the whole 23″ of my screen. Fake vertical orientation would use 13″ or so. Or, at 1080p resolution: 2073600 pixels versus lousy 656100 pixels. Math is fun!

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          I think it would work with your set-up. It’s only slightly more vertical than square, but if the windowed calibration is any indication, it works from a (slightly) vertical resolution which it then extends to your monitor’s (horizontal or vertical) resolution.

        • The_Helmaroc_King

          I think you’re overestimating the number of pixels you need by just a little.

        • Destroy Him My Robots

          @The_Helmaroc_King:disqus If my monitor was a CRT, sure. But it’s an LCD and therefore the amount of total pixels and therefore pixel density is constant. I just mentioned it because that number illustrates the fact that bad implementations of vertical orientation mean I could lose up to two-thirds of my screen to black bars better than the diagonal does.

        • The_Helmaroc_King

          @DestroyHimMyRobots:disqus I meant that I don’t think increasing the size of the game would necessarily look better, since the game is using Zelda-like sprite work, but to each their own.

        • Destroy Him My Robots

          @The_Helmaroc_King:disqus If my display device was simply smaller, I wouldn’t mind. I dunno, I’d just rather watch an anamorphic DVD on 32″ than a windowboxed one on 40″ I guess. Is that weird?

        • The_Helmaroc_King

          @DestroyHimMyRobots:disqus Maybe a little, but it’s not like I don’t have some bugbears about games and movies.

    • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

      Also of interest from that press conference was confirmation that Earthbound will be coming to the Wii U virtual console.

      • Destroy Him My Robots

        Also: For the first time ever a Millenium Kitchen game will be released outside of Japan! *hugs everyone*

        Please, please buy this, and while you’re at it, help fund the Scroll kickstarter so Barnholt and Ayabe can be awesome together. It’ll be the best.

  • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

    Speaking of pixelly puzzley indie plaformers, Fez is coming out on PC in a few weeks!! Woooo!

    • Spacemonkey Mafia

      I’m terrible at puzzle games but great at looking at charming game worlds, so I’ll be checking this out.

  • The_Misanthrope

    I will admit to having a fondness for indie games, too,  but I sometimes face the problem of how to judge their merits alongside better-funded, better-promoted AAA games.  If I like the game, it’s a shining example of an indie developer showing the bloated games industry how to do a game right without the  advantage of hair-rendering engines or other money-intensive tech boondoggles.  However, if I didn’t like it, I’m in the uncomfortable position of judging some small dev team’s labor of love, one that they spent long hours on, fully knowing they might not see much profit or recognition for it.  Usually, I end up praising the things they did right and make noises about the potential for future releases by this studio.

    • duwease

      You’ve said it perfectly.  I’ve recently been trying to put out a side-project Flash game that I knew from the start was going to be a tough sell (it doesn’t feature zombies, launching things, physics puzzles, or tower defense), but which was something that didn’t exist that I wanted to play.  And right now I’ll be lucky to not *lose* money, even counting my own time investment as worth $0. 

      It brings a new perspective in a couple of ways.  First, an appreciation of the little bit of artistry that *does* manage to make it into the highly inflexible AAA market.. there’s a lot of criticisms about how Bioshock Infinite didn’t go far enough in one way or another, but to me now it seems amazing that even the originality that *is* on display made it.  Second, a larger tolerance of the rough edges in indie games.  I increasingly find that indie games are really the ones that delight and surprise, but those tiny budgets mean some hard choices have to be made if you want to be rewarded with even minimum wage for your time.  Knowing that, I’m more likely to withhold criticism, because I’d rather have certain avenues of gaming available with rough bits than not at all.

      • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

        I wouldn’t say that I’m necessarily more forgiving of the flaws of an indie game over a AAA game. I will say, however, that I’m more tolerant of flaws in a game that has lots of originality and ambition. And the go-to source for originality and ambition these days is mostly in the indie scene.   

        • duwease

           Yeah, that’s basically what I was trying to say (albeit poorly).. they’re the only source for certain avenues of gameplay, so I forgive the rough edges that come with the risk and small budget of making those seemingly unpopular avenues possible.

      • The_Misanthrope

         Good fortune with your project, @duwease:disqus !

  • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

    I’ve had that peanut butter and banana creme square doughnut. It was definitely a bit heavy for me, and I love me some peanut butter and bananas (also, I barely picked up the banana flavor at all). The thing should be required to be served alongside a cold glass of milk and a second person to split it with.
    There was an orange creme doughnut that blew my mind at Voodoo Doughnuts in Portland, OR. The combination of cool fresh citrus with fluffy hot sugar cleared my conscious of the bacon maple eclair that preceded it (also delicious, though unsurprisingly).

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      The peanut banana doughnut sounds SOOO GOOOOOD but also looks like a head-sized brick of dough that would give me a tummyache like the one I get when I’m all overzealous and make myself two peanut butter and banana sandwiches…

      • Flying_Turtle

        Those things looked like what I imagine doughnuts would have (and maybe did, for all I know) looked like on The Flintstones.

    • Enkidum

      Bananas are fine, but any product that is supposed to taste of bananas? Ugh.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        Case in point: banana-flavoured medicine. It should be illegal to feed that shit to kids. Stick with grape, guys.

    • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

      Premium donuts haven’t really caught on up here yet. Tim Hortons has such a stranglehold that none of the indie coffee shops are willing to risk the dangers of a deep fryer.

  • Raging Bear

    I’m so glad you showed video of James the bear, since apparently Anodyne doesn’t support Steam screenshots and I therefore couldn’t be the one to share his important message about berries with the wider world. Believe me, I tried.

    I also love games that are suffused with mystery and a vague air of menace, and Anodyne just about epitomizes that kind of atmosphere. I love that it can go from abstract, occasionally lighthearted weirdness to something like Young Town, which is truly impressively creepy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/andy.tuttle.79 Andy Tuttle

    I’m always fascinated by the games behind John and his guest. I too have a lot of XBOX 360 games in comparison to Wii and PS3, but I wouldn’t call it my favorite system, it just seems to be the console I usually buy games for the most. 

  • His_Space_Holiness

    Commemorating your encounters with cards, eh? Just what everyone loved about The Witcher!

    • HobbesMkii

       Nothing pervy about collecting painted pictures of your latest sexual conquest. It’s certainly not on the same level as taking a Polaroid after sex at all.

  • http://twitter.com/ForFreeBeer IB

    Dear John Teti
    It looks like you have a good thing going here. With your following. With your games. But I just reread There IS An ‘I’ In Team (for who knows how many times) and your talents have been sorely missed. TV Club needs you.
    Someone needs to put Nina in the corner. It can only be you.

    Truly yours
    Krebstar All-star

  • Tom Jackson

    I can honestly say the critical doughnut analysis is possibly my favorite thing ever.
    Anodyne is great too though.
    I heard about it through steam greenlight back when it was still in development and picked up the game on the day it was released.
    Brilliant atmosphere and some really nice diverse game mechanics.
    My only criticism was a lack of purpose in some dungeon rooms but it’s a great game which I recommend to all handheld Legend of Zelda fans.

  • pico_bmd

    Oh god… StarTropics.  I can’t even tell you how much the jumping dynamics in that game made me want to burn everything down… Especially in rooms where you had to jump quickly and precisely or instant death.  

    I have fond memories of that game, but also a seething hatred.  

  • skoober

    Those glasses ain’t corrective.

  • http://twitter.com/stefenabram Stefen Abram

    You had me at StarTropics!

  • http://twitter.com/danieljflowers Daniel Bauer

    Yes, Star Tropics DOES rule.

    One thing I thought was compelling about Anodyne- you can’t collect all of the cards without entering something like debug mode and chaotically altering the world without much direction or purpose. People might find this infuriating if they see the cards as rewards for specific achievements.

    But building into a game the requirement that, to complete it, you basically have to hack the game, break the rules set for you and engage in playful, rudderless destruction and creation? I think that’s kind of brilliant.