I've spent my life playing (and enjoying) 3D Zelda games, but I've always had a harder time with the 2D installments. Even the critical darling Link Between Worlds failed to keep my attention back in 2013. But in that same year, a tiny game—a student project and largely the work of just two developers, Sean Han-Tani-Chen-Hogan and Joni Kittaka—took the 2D Zelda template and made something fresh, colorful, and utterly fascinating.
Enter Anodyne, one of my favorite games of the last decade. With colorful worlds, sharp commentary on gaming and fantasy, and a willingness to *go there* far more than any actual Zelda game, it's something rare and special.
It's incredibly hard to do this style of game well. The puzzle design needs to be on-point. The combat needs to be responsive enough but never twitchy. The worlds need to be interesting and bright (or dark in interesting ways). Good Zelda games are all about balance and pulling a player into something of a puzzle-combat-exploration flow state. So few developers have emulated the style competently, and even Nintendo screws it up a bit from time to time.
I'll never stop being thrilled that two young people were able to pull it off so beautifully, and successfully add their own surreal spin to it.
Anodyne gameplay footage used with permission by Sean Han-Tani-Chen-Hogan.