March 10, 2023
There aren’t a whole lot of games that have popped up in my life more times that Mato Anomalies. My first preview of the game happened to line up with the arrival of my Steam Deck, which meant the first game I covered using Valve’s delightful little handheld was this stylish RPG. Then a few months later I got the opportunity to check out even more of Mato Anomalieseven more of Mato Anomalies and previewed my experience of a later chunk of the game. Now the game is released (fully verified on Steam Deck) and this is probably the last time I’ll write about this ambitious indie title.
The neon futuristic world of Mato Anomalies may be pleasing to look at, but under the surface things aren’t so pleasant. There are corrupt businesses and gangs lurking in the slums of Mato, and some slightly more otherworldly occurrences too. Mysterious rifts are appearing throughout the city, and those who stumble into them will be greeted by monsters known as Bane Tide. That’s where our private investigator protagonist Doe meets his slightly sinister co-star Gram, and their wild adventure begins.
Things go off the rails pretty quickly for this duo, with mind hacking, new party members and a whole lot of nonsense. It doesn’t take long for the story to really go overboard with the made up words, and there’s a whole lot of story and narrative to get through before you get to deal with the monsters and mysteries of Mato Anomalies.
Gram is the only one who can take on the Bane Tide initially, so when you go jumping into a rift you’ll need his turn based attacks to survive these slightly generic monsters. The combat isn’t necessarily mind blowing, but choosing from a variety of attacks and abilties on your turn is engaging enough. The best thing about all your abilties (and about the combat in general) is that instead of using mana or skill points to unleash your powerful attacks, they are free to use as long as you don’t mind waiting a few turns for them to cool down before using them again.
Every time you level up a character you’ll unlock points to put into the skill tree, which will provide plenty of stat boosts and upgrades for you to experiment with. Some of the most impactful upgrades will reduce the amount of turns you need to wait after using your more powerful attacks, and when combined with a few power boosts you’ll be taking down Bane Ride with ease.
There are all the usual JRPG systems to take advantage of outside of battle too. You’ll find new equipment for Gram and the other misfits you gather on your adventure, as well as gears that provide buffs to the party when you slot them into a grid you’ll find in the menus. Each gear provides different effects based on how many other gears they are joined to, and as you level up you’ll get extra slots to add to. It’s a nice system, interesting to mess around with without being too complicated.
The turn based combat is only one half of Mato Anomalies, the other half is the mind hacking that Doe can use on people hiding secrets from the gang. This sci-fi trope is represented by a card game you play against their psyche, where you’ll need to whittle down their mental score with your attack cards while dealing with regenerating bugs that refuse to go away.
In theory I love the idea of card game elements being a big part of the game, but in practice Mato Anomalies throws a load of overly complex mechanics at you in your very first of these mental battles and continues to make things more confusing as you progress. The difficulty of the mind hacking is so much more extreme than any of the turn based combat (while also taking far too long thanks to the regenerating bugs) and there were far too many times where I’d have to repeat these encounters over and over again to try and get a lucky win.
When you aren’t slashing demons or playing brain cards there’s plenty to do in the city of Mato. Side quests are around every corner in the city, ranging from fetch quests to missions that send you off into a rift. There are also plenty of shops to explore, and opportunities to chat with your party to get to know them better.
When these activities were available on my terms I really appreciated it, but too often in Mato Anomalies you’re expected to travel back and forth from one location to another and have lengthy (and often dull) conversations with different unimportant characters. The pacing is just far too slow, especially with the story being so underwhelming.
Mato Anomalies is a perfectly fine JRPG, but it doesn’t do a whole lot that’s worth getting excited about. The cooldown focused combat is enjoyable and upgrades are satisfying to unlock, but a story that’s hard to comprehend and some pacing issues make it a tough one to recommend putting dozens of hours into.
A stylish and ambitious RPG
Combat is enjoyable
The gear system works well
Mind hacking is too complex and the card battles take too long
The story is convoluted and there's too much of it
Lots of trekking from one person to another
Mato Anomalies is an ambitious and stylish RPG, but one that ultimately has too many issues to really recommend.