I’ve been pondering over how best to describe Anomaly Agent for the best part of a day now. What initially looks like a two dimensional side-scrolling beat-em-up hides so much more behind its stylish pixel art veneer. Going in, I expected a variation of the classics of my youth: the depth of Double Dragon or a touch of Turtles in Time. Whilst there is a hint of some of that nostalgic gameplay in Phew Phew Games latest offering, it is more. So much more.
Taking the mantle of Agent 70 in a futuristic, cyberpunk world, you are tasked to track down and take on four anomalies threatening the world in this fast-paced action platformer. With an ultra smooth move-set that gives me flashbacks to Dead Cells, you’ll be viciously punching and shooting your way through wave after wave of enemies, weaving your way through deadly obstacles and choosing your own narrative path. After the initial prologue, I was genuinely delighted to find that I could make dialogue choices during the conversions with both friend and foe. I could shape the story and in doing so would be awarded in the form of an emotional currency.
This currency can then be spent on the skill tree (yes, in a platformer!) to allow you to mould Agent 70 to your whim. Offering simple upgrades such as a health boost from happy currency, or a boost to your coin total from sad currency, to the more advanced such as poison bullets, or boosts to your more powerful melee attacks, there’s room for individuality, creating an avatar that suits your own specific playstyle.
With an array of acrobatic moves and powerful combos, the game controls like a neon-lit dream. Responsive and nimble, which is exactly what you’ll need it to be, when the screen becomes frantic with enemies throwing punches left, right, and centre; bullets whizzing overhead, and electrical death traps careening across the screen toward you. You’ll unlock unique devastating anomaly powers you can unleash on the hordes of androids sent to destroy you and gain just a few moments of desperately needed breathing room. Believe me, you’ll need it.
Leave two basic enemies for too long and they’ll merge together into another level of angry, gun-toting goon, bigger and badder than before. This game pulls no punches, even on normal difficulty and I found myself staring down the barrel of a continue screen on more than one occasion.
This is not a button masher. This is a game that rewards considered play: a parry here, a dodge roll there. Knowing when to get up close and personal and when to pop shots from a distance is a must. I knew that more often than not, death was the result of my own actions. Panic and start palming the gamepad and you will be harshly punished. On the other hand, get it right and there’s one hell of a deep satisfaction in taking down a screenful of bad guys in mere moments. The feeling of pulling off a flawless combo, bouncing from foe to foe in disco dance of death is just oh so good. Whilst tough at times, there is respite in knowing that you will receive a full health boost at the start of each level section, or that an untimely death won’t send you back more than a few moments, ready to jump back into the fray once again.
For every action-packed screen full of angry androids, there’s a platforming challenge; a button-pressing puzzle: a lost child to rescue, or a cheery barman to chat with. There’s never a dull moment in the four to five hour run time and it’s this constant gameplay variation and a time-bending story full of twists and turns that kept me coming back for more. There’s just so much here, much more than I ever expected to find in this style of action game, with new ideas being thrown at you until the closing credits. There’s a whole lot of love packed into the relatively short length of Anomaly Agent and it seeps out into every moment.
So, back to my initial question. What is Anomaly Agent?
It’s a genre-bending, time-twisting, gun-toting, knuckle-crackin’ badass of a game, waiting to chuck you around and leave you breathless on the floor, ready for round two. It will make you shout. It will make you swear. It will make you consider the cost of a modern controller before you stop yourself and place it gently on the floor next to you but, in the end, you will enjoy every frantic moment, every story beat, every synth stab, and you will come out better for it.
Frequent variety in gameplay styles
Catchy synth-y disco tunes you’ll be humming along to
A surprising depth of narrative
New game plus awaits for those with a sadistic streak
A few fairly unforgiving difficulty spikes
Spongy boss fights can go on a just a little too long