HomeReviews3.5/5 ReviewAnomaly Agent Review

Anomaly Agent Review

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In an age of countless retro throwbacks, only a handful of rare indie titles like Celeste and Hollow Knight have truly managed to modernize their respective genres with new takes on classic ideas.

In many ways, Anomaly Agent looks to similarly breathe new life into nostalgic beat ’em ups with its hyper-stylized combat, robust skill trees, and unique RPG-inspired mechanics. However, while Anomaly Agent does manage to give the genre’s combat a nice punch up, storytelling and overall presentation hold it back from being truly great.

anomaly agent review 1
Get kicking as the Anomaly Agent

Anomaly Agent is a 2D sidescrolling action game with a pixelated cyberpunk aesthetic. The time-bending story follows Agent 70 as he fights a cast of eccentric baddies in an effort to restore order to an anomaly-filled world. As it relates to gameplay, Anomaly Agent is a tough-as-nails throwback to quarter-eating arcade beat ’em ups, but with some modern flourishes.

Unlike its retro inspirations, however, Anomaly Agent is quite forgiving thanks to abundant checkpoints and frequent health restoration. Virtually every new area restores health and serves as an updated checkpoint for the level, so starting over never feels too grinding.

From moment to moment, Anomaly Agent is all about surviving until the next checkpoint. Waves of enemies are fought using hand-to-hand combat, long-range weapons, button-mashing combos, and powerful abilities referred to as “anomalies.” These methods of melee are all upgraded through various skill trees that are unlocked through Anomaly Agent’s in-game currency, which is collected by beating down hordes of foes.

Unlockables range from more routine – upping damage, increasing magazine capacity, and even reducing the amount of time it takes to recharge special attacks – to truly meaningful in terms of changing the way I approached combat. For example, certain upgrades can power up parries to shock or even poison enemies. Stunning enemies, in particular, is a quite useful skill as these foes can be blasted halfway across the screen thanks to powerful counterattacks. Not only is this an effective means of combat, but it also results in one of the most satisfying-feeling combos in the entire game.

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Jedi vibes.

Additionally, some rewards are based on dialogue options: For those who want to play as a sort of a straight-up hero, supportive reactions can be traded in for even more in-game currency to unlock various skills. However, more sarcastic responses grant players access to additional health bars to remain on the battlefield just a bit longer.

That said, I found this mechanic to be a bit of a catch-22 as I often answered questions based on the upgrade I wanted to unlock, rather than the response I deemed to be appropriate for the situation. Additionally, I don’t truly see the correlation between being supportive and gaining new skills or being sarcastic and increasing vitality. For this reason, while I do find this sort of RPG mechanic to be a novel addition to the beat ’em up genre, its implementation often comes across as more of a gimmick rather than a core feature.

Short but effective platforming puzzles are incorporated throughout to both break up combat sections and even ramp up the difficulty of otherwise routine enemies. This change of pace is a welcome one, as it helps to disguise some otherwise monotonous level design that largely plagues the genre.

Anomaly Agent looks and sounds how nostalgic fans likely remember classic genre touchstones such as Streets of Rage and Battletoads. Still, while combat feels like it has been masterfully modernized beyond its historic inspirations, Anomaly Agent’s presentation feels more like a blast from the past rather than a needed rejuvenation. The lack of diversity when it comes to level design is only further hampered by repeat visits to various maps.

Not to mention, rare but still too frequent frame rate drops occur when enough foes appear on the screen at the same time. This sort of thing doesn’t typically affect my enjoyment of a game, but it, unfortunately, resulted in occasional but frustrating character deaths that felt out of my control.

anomaly agent review 3
Wanna dance?

Additionally, character design itself feels a bit generic as a whole. Faces aren’t particularly pronounced, making it even harder to connect to these quirky personalities. It doesn’t help that the game often substitutes exposition for character and world-building, making it even more difficult to form any sort of attachment to the story or its cast. This issue rears its head in a late-game decision that heavily affects the story but ultimately feels a bit empty.

The few exceptions to generic characterizations can be found in the forms of the bosses who have just as much attention poured into their personalities as they do their combat. Each routine wave of enemies puts your combat skills to the test, but these encounters feel like pop quizzes leading up to the boss battle’s final exam. These fights are memorably challenging, forcing players to utilize all of the skills they have unlocked and mastered up until this point in the game. Like the generous checkpoints and health regens, these boss battles are also forgiving – but not easy. Thanks to some pronounced personalities, character design, and thrilling combat, these boss battles are easily some of Anomaly Agent’s highlights.

Thanks to a finely-tuned combat system, Anomaly Agent is a solid beat ’em up throwback that’s, in many ways, better than the retro titles that inspire it. Lackluster character and level design, along with an exposition-heavy story, hold Anomaly Agent back from true greatness, but it is charming and challenging enough to see its roughly 5-to-6-hour campaign through to the end.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Frantic but fun combat that sets a new standard for the genre
  • Meaningful skill trees that change how I approached combat
Cons:
  • Forgettable character and level design
  • Exposition often trumps character and/or world-building
  • Occasional performance issues
Info:
  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, NAISU
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, Switch, PC
  • Release date and price - 24 January 2024 | £12.49
Bobby Anhalt
Bobby Anhalt
Bobby has been an avid fan of video games since the '90s. While Bobby has a real soft spot for Metroidvanias and JRPGs, he is a true genre-agnostic gamer who will give just about any title a chance. The only thing he spends more time doing than playing games is writing and talking about them. He has been covering the gaming industry for several major online publications since 2015.
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Frantic but fun combat that sets a new standard for the genre</li> <li>Meaningful skill trees that change how I approached combat</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Forgettable character and level design</li> <li>Exposition often trumps character and/or world-building</li> <li>Occasional performance issues</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, NAISU</li> <li>Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, Switch, PC <li>Release date and price - 24 January 2024 | £12.49</li> </ul>Anomaly Agent Review
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