Not going to lie, but I am a sucker for a sleek cyberpunk aesthetic, a dystopian world filled with neon-lit streets and futuristic gadgets. This is exactly the vibe that ANNO: Mutanionem emitted when I set my sight on it for the first time. It was previously released on PC and PlayStation consoles back in March of this year but has now received a long-awaited Nintendo Switch release. While ANNO excels with its beautiful pixel art direction and visceral combat, it falls a bit short on the narrative it attempts to tell. Nonetheless, it is an indie game with a lot of heart and makes a fantastic addition to your portable console library.
“The world of Skopp City feels lively and animated, filled with a colourful cast of characters that aid you along the way.”
Set in a futuristic town known as Skopp City, ANNO: Mutationem has you playing as Ann Flores, a combat-ready warrior searching for her lost brother. You see, Ann suffers from an explained sickness known as “Entaglitis” which makes her go berserk and gives her fighting prowess. Her brother went missing after trying to search for a cure. A story that starts off with an enticing premise soon turns into a confusing mess with too many random characters and scenarios introduced without proper context setting and buildup.
Most of the story is delivered through text bubbles and environment interaction, with main portions accompanied by excellent voice actors. The dialogue sounds great in English, Chinese, and Japanese, and that’s not an easy feat for an indie game of this budget. The world of Skopp City feels lively and animated too, as you meet a colourful cast of allies and family members to aid you along the way.
“Combat in ANNO: Mutationem is fluid and effortless as you chain together combos.”
Gameplay is split between 2D side-scrolling combat and 3D rendered exploration. You seamlessly switch between the two, which ensures that immersion is never broken between gameplay segments. Fighting starts off quite basic with a melee attack from your sword, a ranged attack from your pistol, a jump and a dodge roll. It isn’t until later into the game when you unlock more abilities via the skill trees or obtain better weapons that combat gets a lot more interesting.
You’ll also be able to dismantle any junk you find to get raw materials and build new modules to upgrade your equipment. Franky, the possibilities are endless! Combat is fluid and effortless as you chain together combos to take down a great variety of enemy types and bosses. You’ll fight everything from gigantic nasty meat blobs to rock crabs. This level of variety coupled with the satisfyingly frantic combat makes each encounter feel fulfilling and fresh. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for platforming, which feels a bit stiff and sluggish and really provides nothing innovative in terms of gameplay mechanics.
“World building is an extremely difficult task to do right, but the developers have done a truly amazing job with ANNO: Mutationem.”
Pacing is diversified with open-world-esque roaming. This free-form exploration has you speaking to citizens, taking on side quests, or interacting with various environmental objects. There are even mini-games where you make cocktails as a bartender to earn money. It’s a silly and small detail, but one that goes a long way in making you feel like a true resident of the world. Walking down bustling streets, talking to shop owners, or just slowing down and enjoying what the city has to offer really helps to add to this sense of immersion. ANNO: Mutationem has a warm and cosy feeling to it, and exploring its world is a genuine joy. Oh, and yes, you can even pet a cyber corgi. How cute!
Developer ThinkingStars truly blew it out of the water when it comes to art direction and audio design. The pixelated neon cyberpunk aesthetic is one of the best I’ve ever seen in a game. Cityscapes and level layouts are intricately designed with immaculate attention to detail. Everything you see, from the letterings on a sign to the facial expressions of an NPC, seems handcrafted and intentional.
World building is an extremely difficult task to do right, but the developers have done a truly amazing job with ANNO: Mutationem. Just thinking about the myriad of people to interact with and hidden collectables to find makes me feel an overwhelming sense of admiration for the development team. Furthering this sense of worldbuilding, and adding to the beautiful visuals is a phenomenal and immersive soundtrack that fits the futuristic vibes. Intense electronic synths and 8-bit beats make Skopp City feel much more lived in and alive.
“Performance on the Switch ran well both on handheld and docked mode, with the exception of some long loading times.”
What’s great about the Switch release is that all the bugs and fixes that were required to be addressed in future patches for the PC and PlayStation consoles are automatically included in version 1.0 on the Nintendo Switch. The game is more technically optimized, has an extra ending and even offers an easy mode for those looking for a more relaxing experience. Combat has been tuned, new game plus has been added, and a wallpaper mode is available for those yearning to admire the city without the in-game heads-up display.
Performance on the Switch ran well both on handheld and docked mode, with the exception of some long loading times, but that’s to be expected from the hardware. The developer truly cares about the game and it shows from all the hard work put into this charming little gem after listening to player feedback.
“ThinkingStars has managed to create a charming little experience that has me longing to return to the streets of Skopp City.”
ANNO: Mutationem provides a sublime indie pixel-art experience with a narrative that bit off more than it could chew. Regardless, it succeeds immensely in fusing a unique 2D 3D hybrid style gameplay with gorgeous environments to explore and a crisp combat system to learn. The ambition and scope of the game alone is respectable, and I really hope that the developers consider a sequel or expansion. ThinkingStars has managed to create a charming little experience that has me longing to return to the streets of Skopp City, just so I can beat up more mech dragons and construction cranes. If you’re still not convinced, there’s a free demo on the Nintendo e-shop for you to try out first!
ANNO: Mutationem is out right now for the Nintendo Switch. It costs $24.99 and has a free demo for those who want to try before they buy.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on Switch, code was provided by the Publisher.