Anno: Mutationem is a 2.5D/3D action platformer with light RPG elements. It was developed by Thinking Stars and published by Lightning Games.
The game takes place in the cyberpunk future of an alternate universe where cars fly, a good portion of the population has been turned into machines by a mysterious virus, and man-corn hybrids are trying to sell you their corn juice.
You play as Ann, a young woman who seems to work for some kind of jack-of-all-trades agency. She is afflicted with the terribly named condition, “Entanglitis,” which causes her to have dissociative episodes where she violently lashes out at anyone nearby.
The bulk of the story follows Ann as she searches for her missing brother, who disappeared while looking for a cure for Ann’s condition. The rest of the story is kind of a bonkers mess that involves shadowy organizations, Evangelion-style locations, and a reality-altering adolescent.
Also, there are dragons.
Now, I went into this game blind, knowing only that it was a cyberpunk platformer with graphics pulled straight from the PS1 era. It turns out, however, that the game was a lot more than that, and I’d like to share with you this bizarre, yet entertaining, little gem.
Anno: Mutationem has two distinct playstyles, and each uses a different dimension.
The first playstyle is in the 3rd dimension. This is where you explore, gather information, interact with most NPC’s, and further the story. In this mode, you cannot jump or attack, and your movement speed is limited to a jog (though you can hit L1 if you would like to casually stroll everywhere).
The second playstyle is the 2D platforming and combat. In these segments, you can run full speed, but your movement is limited to left and right. You are, however, able to jump and use your weapons—which is good, because this is where all the enemies are.
What really made Anno: Mutationem’s gameplay interesting, was how it would rapidly transition between these two styles.
As an example, you might be exploring a subterranean lab. You wander around in 3D mode, finding Items, and talking to some NPC’s who’ve been trapped there for a while. Then, you’re walking down a hallway, and BAM! the HUD elements pop up and you’re locked into the 2D combat/platforming mode. You mow down some bad guys with your hard-light greatsword, and then, suddenly, your person stops running and you can explore the next section.
This ability to switch between the two is what made the game’s areas interesting to explore. There were times when you could see more of the level behind a 2D segment, but you’d get to it using a 3D hallway.
Sure, sometimes it was clunky or seemed unnecessary, but the juxtaposition of the two is what kept it fresh throughout.
Just a Bunch of Junk
Anno: Mutationem has a metric ton of items to find… most of which are quite literally junk. The bulk of the items you pick up in-game are just trash items that you can sell for money or break down for crafting materials.
Honestly, this game was too short to include a crafting mechanic, and finding junk items all the time — as hilarious as some of them are — was never fulfilling in any way, shape, or form.
Pretty early on, the game establishes that you can buy weapons or you can craft them. Unfortunately, you can’t really craft anything of value, save for some consumable items, until you get near the end of the game and have acquired enough junk.
I appreciate what the developers were trying to do, but the whole crafting system felt pointless, and left me feeling disheartened every time I visited a workbench and couldn’t make any of the weapons I wanted to try.
Bills to Pay the Skills
Another element of the game that suffers from its short length is the skill tree.
Don’t get me wrong, I love making my character stronger and unlocking new moves, but most of the upgrades to health, damage, armor, and item carrying capacity were restricted to certain points of the game anyway and might as well have been rewards for beating certain bosses or for completing certain tasks.
You see, there are two types of unlockables in the skill tree. Actual skills, which require a blue currency that drops off of regular enemies, and upgrades which require red currency that the bosses drop.
Skills are mostly related to your weapons and give you different attacks, or improve upon attacks that you already have, while the upgrades merely increase your overall stats.
The problem with these two things is that the game is only about twelve hours long, so I felt like I was buying a new skill every few minutes, and even then only a few felt truly worthwhile.
I will say that, as a concept, I did enjoy the two-currency system, and think it could have worked well in a larger, less contained experience.
When I finished this game, I came away with a sense that I didn’t get enough combat, and at the same time, I didn’t get to explore as much as I would have liked.
The truth is that both elements were equally important to the overall experience, and breaking them down into two separate things is probably the wrong way to view the game.
Unfortunately, this is exactly how I perceived my gameplay experience. This made getting new weapons and abilities a bit of a letdown sometimes because I would really want to try out my new sword, but I’d have to go through a bunch of 3D segments to get there, and then the combat would literally be one hallway filled with worms… which squish fine under a greatsword, but aren’t all that thrilling to fight.
So, if you’re going to play this game, I recommend viewing the experience as a whole, and maybe don’t get too bogged down if you haven’t fought an enemy in a while.
Cons and Pros
I just needed a segment for all of the little things that didn’t fall into any particular category, or things that I just wanted to draw attention to.
- Bad translations, typos, and confusing dialog
- Too much telling, and not enough showing
- Most of the combat is simple (yet still fun)
- Some real bad voice acting
- Story beats that feel a bit out of place
- It was kinda buggy
- A solid, if convoluted and hard to follow, story
- An amazing array of dynamic and interesting sprites
- Some really good voice acting
- A great setting, and good use of various levels of graphics to convey the overall tone
- An assortment of interesting things to do and see
- Bartending minigame
- Fighting tournament
- The ROM videos
Overall, Anno: Mutationem is an alright game. It has a serviceable combat system that is enjoyable throughout, even if it’s a little buggy sometimes. The way they combined 2D and 3D elements was interesting, and somewhat impressive, but fell a little flat due to the game’s short duration. And the story was good enough to keep me entertained, but too confusing to tell what the hell was actually going on… I’m honestly still a little confused about some of it.
I’m giving Anno: Mutationem a cyber-tastic 7/10. This is, honestly, probably more than it deserves (which is probably closer to 6-6.5). But I really liked the amount of little things that they put in to make things interesting. Could they have spent that extra time making the actual game better? Maybe. But then we wouldn’t have a little horror ROM to watch from time to time.
Also, if anyone has any idea what a Mutationem is, please let me know. I’m not even sure I know how to pronounce it.