While Anomaly Agent’s dazzling colours and far-future setting may hint at a game on the cutting edge, the truth is that it’s more of a cosy soup than a bold experiment. Taking up the game’s controls is like lifting the lid on a pot full of familiar ingredients: Classic 2D beat-’em-up gameplay; crunchy pixel art graphics; offbeat cyberpunk humour; an ever-evolving suite of combos and abilities; the shopping list goes on. And while the resultant aroma may not send your mind to any exciting new places, like the best of soups it will provide a comforting feeling of warmth, and a wholesome gaming experience for the end of a long day.
Anomaly Agent sees you slipping into the stylish shoes of Agent 70, an employee of the much-maligned TDAY corporation who serves as a fixer for problems in the game’s cyberpunk multiverse. You’ll follow him as he jumps between dimensions via portals, sorting the anomalies he encounters in each new area like he’s the protagonist of a more pixelated Doctor Who. And a more violent one too, might I add: The Doctor would recoil in horror if he saw the body count racked up by Agent 70 in one level alone, never mind the often brutal methods by which he goes about attaining it. Perhaps that’s to be expected mind you: he is 23 ranks above notorious murderer Agent 47, after all.
Here Comes The Beatdown
This wanton destruction, or beat-’em-up gameplay in more standard parlance, is the meat in the Anomaly Agent soup, and it is seasoned to perfection. You’ll start off with a basic melee combo and an evasive roll, pulled straight out of the Dark Souls school of combat design, but before you know it you’ll be juggling double-jumps, ranged weapons, parries, and special moves all within the same attack chain, dodging back and forth between foes to keep those i-frames intact. It’s absolutely exhilarating when you’re in the zone, and the music does a brilliant job of reinforcing the feeling of flow that such complex encounters bring.
The enemy selection in the game plays to this system’s strengths. There are only a few different enemy types, but each feels distinct enough to make you alter your approach. Melee opponents can generally be parried for an easy stun, for example, while those packing shotguns will need to be dodged through and punished from behind. No matter which foe you’re facing, however, they all have chunky health bars, letting you make the most of your expansive combat arsenal rather than going down to a few hits of a basic combo. Basic enemies can even merge with others to create more powerful versions, adding an extra layer of depth to the game’s frequent multi-enemy encounters.
A Difficult Situation
Such battles can be thrilling, but they’re also where some of the game’s most notable cracks begin to show. Enemies ready up and deliver attacks incredibly quickly, which makes for tense fights in groups of one or two, but frustrating messes in groups of three or more. Trying to deal with multiple melee foes at once while a ranged enemy takes shots from across the room is a situation that’s hard to come away from unscathed, and a single mistake can quickly spiral into an unfair death given the game’s lack of i-frames on damage.
It can be frustrating to die nigh-immediately to a large group, with no clear indicators of what went wrong or even what ultimately killed you, but thankfully the game is quite lenient in the rest of its difficulty design. Your health is fully restored with each new room that you enter, and dying will only ever send you back to the start of the room that you’re in. This means that, unlike the beat-’em-ups of old, Anomaly Agent is not an endurance marathon but rather a series of short sprints. You don’t need to prove you can survive a full 20-minute stage here, just the 2-minute section you’re in right now. This is a lovely concession to modern difficulty preferences and, combined with a lack of a lives system or any real penalty for death, contributes greatly to the cosy feel we discussed earlier.
Tale As Old As Time Travel
Another major factor in this is the game’s story: the rich stock in our increasingly tortured soup metaphor. While it would’ve been easy to lean into the edgy, cool-guy power-fantasy side of cyberpunk, Anomaly Agent instead chooses to embrace the genre’s potential for the offbeat and the bizarre, presenting a selection of characters that wouldn’t feel out of place in a sci-fi sitcom. You’ll meet a perm-sporting wrestler who longs to face you in honourable combat, a flatulent dwarf that can be kicked across rooftops, a seemingly omnipresent cybernetic bartender, and many more besides.
The scenarios in which you meet these characters are excellent too. In one mission you’ll be infiltrating a nightclub that took the term ‘laser light’ a little too literally, while in another you’ll be battling an army of hooded clones on hoverboards as you try and shoot down an enemy zeppelin, dodging bombs all the while. As soon as I found myself ducking and dodging down a tightly-packed corridor while a giant Monty Python hand followed in pursuit, I knew I was in safe hands. Quite literally.
Talk Of The Town
There’s frequent banter between characters to enjoy as well, and this, too, is strong throughout. Agent 70 serves as an excellent audience surrogate, constantly questioning his bizarre circumstances in humorous fashion. You’re often given a choice of dialogue options for responding to characters, and some of these actually play into one of the game’s most interesting ideas: emotions as currency.
Certain dialogue choices will grant you either positive or negative emotion points, depending on whether you were polite or rude, respectively. These can then be exchanged for maximum health batteries (think Zelda’s Heart Pieces) or extra coins at the game’s skill-selling robots. It’s not a terribly deep system, and you’ll soon learn to be as polite as possible, since extra maximum health is more valuable than extra coins, but it’s still a very cool sci-fi concept, and one that could likely be expanded in a future update or sequel.
There are certainly more complaints I could level at Anomaly Agent. I could dive into the low-impact skill tree, or the janky platforming sections, or the short overall length of the game, but to do so would be missing the point. The game’s simplicity, both mechanical and systemic, is a huge part of its appeal. This is the video game equivalent of your favourite comfort food; a tried-and-tested soup recipe that has remained unchanged even as countless generations have come and gone.
Anomaly wouldn’t recommend a beat-’em-up game, but Agent sands off the genre’s rough edges while adding a bucketload of heart, providing a smooth ride throughout without ever feeling patronisingly easy.
If you’ve had a tough day, and the soup on the stove still has a while to go, then give Anomaly Agent a shot – and lose yourself in a simpler world. For a little while, at least.
- Substantial beat-’em-up gameplay
- Excellent pixel artwork
- Banging soundtrack
- Clever and funny story
- Can be frustrating at times
- Combat could do with being slowed down
- Short overall run time