Thursday, 3 October 2013

Hallo Halloween II: The Bloodening / 'Anodyne'

Once again, Halloween's on the way -- and I'll be providing, in the run-up, some examples of seasonally relevant culture-y stuff that you can make use of to keep yourself entertained while hiding from trick-or-treaters and their inhuman demands. Kicking off this week with independent developer Analgesic Productions' surreal action-adventure game Anodyne.

Looking at Sean Hogan and Jonathan Kittaka's 2012 game, Anodyne, there are quite a few aspects of it that that don't necessarily make it look like the most obvious choice of game to be looked at in relation to Halloween. The game's got a relatively prominent sense of humour; on the surface, it draws comparisons more to an old Legend of Zelda game than to, say, Silent Hill or Forbidden Siren; and there are plenty of moments that could be seen as lightly whimsical: for example, the girl with a bike called Wares, and a bear called James who asks you not to defecate on his berries.

Of course, in talking about how Anodyne contrastingly has many other elements that create a sense of unease (and in a way, too, that makes these aforementioned lighter aspects contribute to this dark atmosphere), I'll make a little reference to a compelling old online urban myth I read about a few years ago about a haunted Majora's Mask cartridge.What interested me about that (to get quite wanky about it) was how, like any good ghost story, there were depths to it that, through the supernatural elements, had some resonance with real life -- this idea of someone, in adulthood, revisiting something representative of the carefree innocence of his childhood and finding it tainted with the death and sadness that people grow to realise is an inherent part of existence.

I have no idea whether Hogan and Kittaka are aware of this particular 'Creepy Pasta' (there's nothing that conjures up fear and dread like a famous and widely-appreciated staple food), but I definitely think that their game shares, to some extent, this same vibe of 'corrupted childhood artefact'.

To gamers of a certain age (i.e. my age, and a bit older), aspects of the game's presentation and gameplay will likely evoke nostalgia. Probably bringing back memories of playing old Super Nintendo games, or maybe - if you're closer to my age - of playing something like the old Pokemon games on the Game Boy.

Further comparisons with such games (specifically something like Zelda) can be seen in the premise and storyline of Anodyne: travelling and puzzling through a variety of dungeons and environments, with the objective being the seemingly simplistic one of having to "save the Briar from the Evil Darkness". It is here, in the unfolding of this storyline, though, where a player will also first notice the 'haunting' in all the nostalgia and apparent traditionalism.

Emerging from the apparently simple and traditional 'fight the evil force' storyline are an array of fascinating, cryptic mysteries. You'll come to play through increasingly strange and imaginative settings (I don't want to spoil these -- though the monochrome world alone makes the game very suitable for Halloween playing); meet a cast of eccentric, bizarre characters and enemies who serve to compellingly complicate any search for clarity with regards to what's going on; encounter commendably nuanced suggestions of heavy narrative themes that include murder, loneliness and suicide; and, after the credits roll, you have the chance to experience the game world in a thrillingly innovative new way.

All of this (coupled with the excellent soundtrack by Seagaia) serves to create and maintain this really effective atmosphere of melancholy, unease and deliberate 'brokenness' throughout the entire game; emphasising the creeping surrealism of its darkest moments, and skilfully undercutting the moments of lightness, humour and naivety. Is the ever-shifting world of Anodyne its (with this in mind, perhaps aptly named?) protagonist's attempt to escape the pressures and stresses of the adult world by trying to retreat into a dreamlike fantasy representative of the 16-bit video games of his more carefree childhood days?

I, frankly, don't know... and it doesn't really matter whether or not you 'figure it out', because the challenging, yet addictive, classically-styled gameplay is accessible, entertaining, and never alienates; helping to form a complete piece in which the player is able to experience, analyse, and - importantly - enjoy Anodyne's unique complexities at his/her own pace.

Great stuff.

Anodyne (Analgesic Games, 2012)
Available for £6.99 from Steam here --


On a similar note...

Lone Survivor
(Superflat Games, 2012)

Jasper Byrne's 2012 independent survival horror game, Lone Survivor, is - like Anodyne - a fever-dream-esque experience that similarly works a constant air of unease and danger through Silent Hill-esque dilapidated environments, a relentlessly surreal and bleak storyline, and experimental survival-based gameplay mechanics.

Available for £6.99 from Steam --

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