Like finding your way out of a Portal-o-Potty
HIGH It’s not hard to learn.
LOW It IS hard to stay interested.
WTF I haven’t seen this much blue since CNN projected the 2016 Presidential Election.
Oh, how I wanted Anomaly 1729 to be another Portal, but despite its best efforts, it’s a puzzle-platformer that falls well short of that lofty bar —not to mention its own intentions.
As has become de rigeur in puzzlers, there is little story setup, and the game’s challenges become the vehicle for inviting players into its quirky universe. All that’s clear is the basic premise—the game’s protagonist is a glowing blue humanoid named Ano, and the owner of an impressive, gravity-powered arm extension. Ano is curious about the world around him, and a disembodied voice does a decent job explaining the bare essentials. The rest is revealed methodically, puzzle by puzzle, with only the thinnest of narratives to keep things moving along. It’s a reasonable approach given the nature of the game, but without a strong story thread players might find themselves asking, “Why should I care?” more than once.
If they stick around, it’s soon revealed that each level is a room Ano needs to escape from, and the handy cannon hardwired to Ano’s rust-resistant forearm is the key to solving every last one. By shooting specific objects within each level, everything from single bricks to entire rooms can be manipulated until a path to an exit is found.
For example, a shot might twist things 45 degrees, or 90 degrees. It may flip something upside down or even reverse gravity. The cannon might even adjust the most minor of details, often out of sight of the player. As such, exploration and a keen eye for detail are an absolute must for enjoying Anomaly 1729. However, finding what’s changed becomes difficult within the limited visuals.
That’s because the visuals in Anomaly 1729 aren’t going to win any aesthetics awards, they won’t get nominated for any awards, and won’t even earn a ticket to a C-level cocktail party. It’s simply not interesting, visually, and it looks very last-gen, even for an indie title. After just an hour or so of play, the view becomes tiring and monotonous since every area is a samey collection of softly-lit blocks, tables and columns in shades of blue and purple. Given this issue, it’s incredibly easy to overlook minor changes in the environment, and overlooking something means delayed progress.
Making things worse is that as the difficulty of puzzles escalates, they begin to require multiple shots to create perfectly-timed and time-sensitive paths to the player’s goal. Each level requires dozens of repeat attempts after the triggers have been noticed, if they’ve been noticed at all. Couple this with ever-changing physics and surroundings, and it’s far too easy to lose perspective and get confused about where the entrance to the current room was. With that lost, it’s even harder to figure out the process of carving a path to the exit. It’s all extremely difficult and disorienting.
Perhaps this difficulty would be worth the trouble if there was a stronger narrative tying it all together, but the spartan storytelling barely registers, and hardly justifies the maddening journey players take to reach the ending. Despite the fact that Ano can’t die, he rarely gets sent back to prior save points, and he never has to beat a timer, Anomaly 1729 became a tremendous source of controller-heaving anger for me.
While I believe developers Anvil Drop wanted to create a puzzle title that had players thinking and processing potential solutions long after they shut down the game, they’ve just created an overly-frustrating indie romp with little reward for hours of trial and error. I’m sure some are bound to cry, “Don’t be so hard on a $15 indie title!” but Anomaly 1729’s few good ideas are hampered by a ton of bad design and questionable decisions. While I can imagine how Portal may have inspired the team to expand on its concept, in the end, all I wanted to do was play more Portal.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Anvil Drop, LLC and published by Black Shell Media. It is currently available on Windows/PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher, and was reviewed on PC through the Steam platform. Approximately 7 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: The game is not currently rated by the ESRB. There are no offensive words or actions in the game, making it highly family-friendly. However, players under 13 years of age may find the title overly frustrating and unforgiving.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: While game music enhances certain aspects of the action, there is nothing preventing deaf and hard-of-hearing gamers from enjoying the title.
Remappable Controls: Certain control functions are remappable.
Colorblind Modes: There are currently no colorblind modes available in the options.