Cyberpunk has seen a major resurgence as of late, in no small part thanks to the release and many patches for Cyberpunk 2077. It’s not hard to see why; the unique visual style popularized by 1982’s Bladerunner will always remain timeless! It gave us a what-if scenario of what a highly technological dystopian society could have looked like. While the cyberpunk style is mostly rooted in western stories, there have been times when the east has taken a crack at making their own interpretation of it. Of course, there’s the anime classic Ghost in the Shell, but we can add another to this list and that is ANNO: Mutationem.
ANNO: Mutationem is an action-adventure game developed by ThinkingStars and published by Lightning Games. Right off the bat, the game’s sense of style is very striking, choosing to mesh 2D sprites with lush 3D worlds. It definitely has flash, but is there substance behind it?
ANNO: Mutationem puts you into the role of a young woman named Ann Flores, a master at combat who can be quite moody at times. She’s suffering from a rare illness called Entanglelitis, one which caused her to distance herself from her family in the fear of hurting them. To suppress the illness, she’s given a special combat suit called GROM that also enhances her physical abilities. During one of her daily routines, Ann hears that her brother, Ryan has gone missing and we learn that he’s trying to find a way to cure his sister’s Entanglelitis by any means necessary. Teaming up with a self-proclaimed super-hacker named Ayane, Ann takes up the task of finding her brother before he meets a terrible fate.
I’m just going to say this upfront: I absolutely loved this story! The game sets up a very intriguing mystery, with many curveballs and fun scenarios being thrown at you. While the themes you might expect from a cyberpunk world such as a controlled society and the rise of an underdog are present, the overarching theme of ANNO: Mutationem is one that is truly heartwarming.
At the game’s core, this is a story about family and the lengths one will go to try and protect them. Ann’s entire motivation is saving her brother, but conversely, Ryan’s motivation is to cure his sister’s illness. Despite the dark backdrop and hellish locales you’ll travel through, this emotional center gives the entire plot much more weight and helps keep the story much more engaging.
To some, Ann can come off as your stereotypical tsundere, but she’s written to be a much deeper character than a simple archetype. She may be a no-nonsense badass who can casually defy gravity, but she has reasons why she tries to remain distant from others. She’s a solid protagonist, one whose quest I was more than happy to see to the end!
Throughout Ann’s journey, she’s joined by her friend Ayane, who is a shut-in hacker who projects herself as an interactive hologram. Ayane is the polar opposite of Ann; she’s a bubbly girl full of energy and regularly flirts with Ann, even to the point of calling her ‘darling.’ Some may find her irritating, but I found Ayane to be a great source of comedy and serves as a fun foil against Ann’s serious demeanor.
One more thing I should mention is one of the game’s influences, and it’s one that I adored! ANNO: Mutationem takes large inspiration from an online community called the SCP Foundation. For those unaware, it is a website that acts as a database for a fictional foundation that aims to secure, contain, and protect anomalous objects and lifeforms called SCPs for the safety of humanity. While it’s not necessary to know anything about the SCP Foundation to enjoy the game’s narrative, those that do will be ecstatic to see how the game adapts the original source material!
ANNO: Mutationem has two types of gameplay: exploration and platforming action. As you explore through these technicolor wonderlands, you have full control of Ann in a 3D environment. This goes against what you’d normally expect from a game with a sprite-based art style, but the environments are designed in layers, so it doesn’t take long to get used to. The only issue is whenever you have to move towards the camera, but the game’s map helps direct you in the right direction, so you’ll rarely get lost.
These aren’t barren environments either; each of the hub cities is chocked full of characters to interact with, shops to visit, and side quests to complete. Speaking of side quests, these are some of the most fun side quests I’ve played in years! Other than the typical rewards you get like items and experience, some of the more unique aspects of the game can be found here. One side quest has you solve a mystery surrounding missing people in an apartment complex. Another has you take part in a street fight. Another (and my personal favorite) requires you to mix cocktails at Ann’s sister’s bar, and the list goes on. Those are just some examples, but it just goes to show how uniquely designed some of these quests are, and they aren’t even tied into the main story!
While exploring, you’ll sometimes see a computer or digital device that requires you to hack it in order to access it. This opens up a small mini-game where you rotate circles with gaps in them to get a key through the middle. This puzzle quickly outstays its welcome and gradually gets tougher as you progress. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, but each of these hacking mini-games has a time limit. This puts you under a lot of pressure in a moment where you need to use lateral thinking, so if you can’t solve it in time, you’ve got to start from scratch all over again. It’s like trying to solve a sliding panel puzzle in only 30 seconds and if you don’t complete it, you have to start all over again. It’s aggravating, and because this mini-game is regularly required to progress the story, it became my least favorite aspect of the entire game!
In stark contrast, let’s talk about the core strength of ANNO: Mutationem’s gameplay: the combat and platforming! These segments take place in a 2D world and Ann’s speed of movement is greatly increased. The platforming isn’t too tough at first, but eventually, you’ll have to deal with complex terrain and various traps that cause major damage. This isn’t much of a problem though, as the controls are pitch perfect! Movement feels very snappy and responsive and jumping to reach new areas is a cinch with the airborne physics being spot on for a platformer. It also helps that you don’t need to be 100% accurate with your jumps, as Ann is able to climb ledges when jumping towards them, avoiding the frustrations of constantly missing a platform.
It’s a good thing the traversal controls are as good as they are because they also play a role in combat. You’re able to attack, jump, and perform a dodge roll to avoid danger. The fluidity of the controls goes a long way to make the combat more enjoyable. Attacks can be canceled by a jump or roll, allowing you to gracefully transition a combo into the air with a successful launch and also avoid any cheap hits from enemies. When an enemy is about to attack, a bright red spark can be seen just before their attack starts. Just like all the best action games, this makes parrying attacks much easier and it also means it’s entirely your fault if you happen to get hit.
Combat is further deepened with the multiple weapons at your disposal. As you make progress through the story, you’ll gain access to a sword, a greatsword, and twin blades that can combine into a bladed staff. You’re only able to equip two short-range weapons at a time, but you can freely switch between them mid-combo with just a simple button press. This lets you switch between a faster-hitting weapon before ending your combo with a mighty greatsword swing. And then there are ranged enemies you can’t hit with your melee weapons. Thankfully, you can also equip a ranged weapon to take care of them. Enemy variety is pretty diverse throughout the game, as each location offers a variety of different adversaries and monsters to contend with.
Defeating enemies will provide you with resources to upgrade your combat suit and helps deepen the combat even further. Spending these points gives you more combo options, new attacks, and even a parry to tilt the odds in your favor. This helps keep combat fresh and freely lets you build Ann however you like by prioritizing your points to the combat options you enjoy using!
In between each platforming segment, I regularly found myself scouring every nook and cranny for straps and other items that were scattered throughout each location. Your scavenging efforts won’t go unrewarded, as you can dismantle these items to gain crafting items that let you create new weapons, items, or augmentation chips for your weapons. However, these same things cause the one and only issue with combat. Some enemies have a certain element, and various elements are weak to each other. By equipping an augment chip that is favorable against a certain element, you’ll deal much greater damage, making battles much easier and therefore less engaging.
The story will take you around 8-10 hours to complete, with completion time varying depending on how much of the optional content you want to complete. In regards to the game’s difficulty, it comes down to how much you explore the environment and complete side quests. If you’re just rushing through the main story, it’s likely you’ll have a decent challenge. If you aim to complete as much side content as possible, you’ll be more than equipped to deal with every encounter and outside of bosses, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any fight difficult. As for the bosses, they’re all fantastic affairs and are no pushovers! Each one has unique mechanics and serves as a perfect test of your reflexes and pattern recognition, making each of them the best part of ANNO: Mutationem’s action segments!
Undoubtedly, ANNO: Mutationem’s strongest element is its presentation, and it’s not hard to see why. From the moment you launch the game and go to the title screen, you’re bombarded with a glorious mesh of gorgeous 2D sprites in a colorful 3D environment! This isn’t a gimmick either; each environment is lovingly crafted with tons of small details that make each of them different from the others. From the bustling nightlife of Notics City to a bleak underground society that calls the sewers their home; each location is distinct and more importantly, memorable.
The game’s character designs are all fantastic; each of them is lovingly crafted in stunningly detailed 2D sprites! You can tell these took a lot of time to craft, as you’ll often find them shifting from one pose to the next rather than animating each individual frame. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, as this only occurs in cutscenes, but it does stand out when it happens.
But the game’s strongest visual feat isn’t its world or character design; it’s the lighting. Neon signs glow with life, the sun basks over the city in a warm glow, and various other moments will leave you in awe! What makes it even better is that all the 2D sprites are lit specifically for each location, helping add to the illusion of these sprites being a part of each 3D location. It’s incredibly impressive!
Unfortunately, this beauty wasn’t without a cost. Back during the game’s launch, ANNO: Mutationem was one of the most unstable games I’ve played in recent memory! Throughout my playtime, the game frequently crashed at completely random times, with me crashing no less than five times! What makes it worse is that the game uses a manual save system, so you’ll lose a bunch of progress just because of a crash you weren’t expecting! Thankfully, the game has received many updates since its launch and is far more stable, so the one blemish on this game’s performance has been greatly improved! Outside of that, the game mostly runs at a rock solid 60 frames-per-seconds, with the only stutters occurring during loading screens, which is an acceptable circumstance.
The audio is just as incredible as the visuals! The soundtrack mostly uses a soft techno framework, helping sell the cyberpunk setting and elevating each environment you traverse. I’ve actually listened to a few of these tracks outside of the game, which should serve as a testament to the quality of music! The game has multiple language dubs, with English being the default. The performances were mostly pretty solid, though if you’re not a fan of anime hijinks and the often energetic tones these series tend to have, you’ll likely grow tired of the voice direction pretty quickly.
I fell in love with ANNO: Mutationem and outside of a few shortcomings, it was a very enjoyable experience! The game’s fantastic story, strong gameplay elements, and high production values meld together to make a game wholly unique from anything else I’ve played all year.
Since the game’s initial launch, it has been released on more platforms since then, and I couldn’t be happier that more people are getting the chance to play it! If you’re a fan of action platformers, cyberpunk aesthetics, or a strong story with endearing characters, I can’t recommend this title highly enough! ANNO: Mutationem is a hidden gem in plain sight!
ANNO: MUTATIONEM IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to Lightning Games for a PC review code for this title.
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