Anodyne 2: Return to Dust

“Anodyne 2: Return to Dust” by Melos Han-Tani & Marina Ayano Kittaka.

“Nano Dust infects the islanders of New Theland, distorting their emotions and desires. You play as Nova, a Nano Cleaner who must explore the island, seeking out the sick and shrinking inside their bodies to suction up the Dust.”

I’ll be straight forward with you: I played the first “Anodyne” title back in 2013 when it was published and I didn’t find any connection to the game at all. Sure, the pixel art was charming, I loved the music, but with all due respect: The gameplay itself simply bored me. It just didn’t click. That’s why I was really sceptical if I should purchase “Anodyne 2: Return to Dust” and give it a try. I’m glad I did it, because it was one of the best buying decisions of my entire year. It was an absolute surprise.

Screenshot of "Anodyne 2: Return to Dust"

One of the many reasons why I adore this title is the wonderful combination of two different artistic visions, which is not just for show. To understand what I mean by that, it’s important to know the basics of the storyline: On a whimsical island, you will be born as Nova. Here she meets her two ‘guardians’ or even mother figures called C Psalmist and Palisade. They will not just guide Nova to the tutorial, but also give her an explanation about her meaning in life. Nova is a Nano Cleaner, which means that she has the ability to minimize herself to a particle-like miniature version of herself, so that she can travel into people’s bodies to go on a cleaning mission. With her vacuum machine she is able to suck off all the dangerous Nano Dust, which is consuming the suffering from inside and turns them into rude, sick and even violent persons.

Screenshot of "Anodyne 2: Return to Dust"

Nova can find her ‘patients’ by exploring the three-dimensional world, while the cleaning itself happens in the two-dimensional perspective. The bodies are built up as puzzle-filled micro dungeons, just like you know them from classic “The Legend of Zelda” titles. Anyway, don’t let this reference mislead you a bit! Even though the inspiration is clearly there, each person has a completely different dungeon with unique enemy creatures and puzzle mechanics, fitting their ‘sickness’.

For example, there is Misteria Waizel, an old bedridden lady with a passion for lampshades. You can feel that she is entirely alone in the universe of New Theland, so it makes absolute sense that in her body dungeon there are stages where you have to protect baby slimes from getting destroyed instead of fighting against them. Misteria is lonely thanks to her state, so of course she has a desire to protect somebody, which gets manifested in her puzzle design. Meanwhile, Bran Maligden is filled with hate and rage, so you will encounter fire shooting plants and burning monsters in there.

Screenshot of "Anodyne 2: Return to Dust"

In “Anodyne 2: Return to Dust” you will face odd and lovable characters, plot twists and secrets as well as the beautiful feeling of a main mechanic that is at least supposed to help people. But even though it might feel like it’s a pure wholesome game at start, you should be prepared to face the darker sides of this world. Like I told you in the beginning: This game surely is a surprise in many ways.