Every so often, a game comes along that doesn’t necessarily fit a particular genre. That’s what we have here with Mato Anomalies from Arrowiz Games and Prime Matter. See, it’s a game that plays as a mixture of a graphic novel and a turn based RPG, which is not a combination I have come across before.
I guess the question we will want to try and answer here is two fold – does the blending of the genres work, and does a good game come out of the mixing?
Being part graphic novel, you’d expect the visuals of Mato Anomalies to be pretty good, and you’d be bang on. The way that the game looks very much depends on where you are, and who you are playing as. The first person we play as is a detective, and he deals with the regular, day to day world of the game. His job is to talk to people and gather information, and this is all done by the medium of static cutscenes, occasionally by comic panels that move the story along. The flip side is the world on the other side of some Rifts, as here a shaman is sent in to explore and engage in combat.
The look of the two different realms is very different, and while the real world is slightly seedy and run down, the demon realm (more or less) can be shiny or grim, depending on which section we are in. All in all, Mato Anomalies has a strong visual appeal, and the sound works well too, with good tunes and well acted dialogue on display. So far, so good, the mixture seems to bubbling nicely.
Next we need to look at the narrative, at what we are trying to achieve here, and pretty simply, we are trying to save the world. Doe, the detective, is sent on a mission in the city of Mato, ending up on the other side of a Rift where he soon discovers that his gun is worse than useless against the creatures he meets. Luckily, Gram, the wandering shaman, finds him and saves his life, using his sword to attack the enemies and dispatch them quickly. As time passes and the two unlikely companions get to know each other, a friendship/partnership is formed and they decide to make a stand. It’s down to Doe to find the Rifts, and it is then down to Gram, and the people that he rescues as he explores, to clear them out and figure out how to close them. Again, the story makes a lot more sense playing it as the actual gameplay is reflective of the very different characters that we control. So far, so interesting.
In terms of the gameplay itself, and reflecting the graphics, this is again the very cliche ridden game of two halves. Looking at Doe’s side of Mato Anomalies first and we find that there is a lot less jeopardy here, as he merely has to follow clues from various different sources, before finding a Rift and letting Gram know where it is. This is done in a classic sort of visual novel territory: we approach people and then try to use the correct responses in conversation to further the story. The city of Mato itself is not only split into different zones, linked by a railway system that operates as a fast travel system, but is also home to various people who need help with side quests; taking part in these is a good way of gaining items that Gram can make use of. Doe is also the only one who can buy supplies in the real world, and even sell items that Gram picks up that are of no use. It’s safe to say that he is pretty vital to the success of Gram’s mission.
Gram has an entirely different approach to things once he enters a Rift. As you explore the other world you will see monsters dotted about the place, and, as is usual in an RPG, approaching them will cause a fight to occur. What happens then is pretty much the same as any turn based RPG ever, with various attacks that can be used, beating each other back until the first entity to run out of HP is declared the loser. Usually this will be the enemy, as Gram seems to be a lot stronger than the basic enemies. Of course, there’s always the threat that a boss is just waiting to come along and stomp in real soon.
As Gram expires, he can find various items in boxes to pick up, and even rescue other people who have become trapped in the Rift. Of course, having been trapped for a while, they aren’t in the best mental state, and so have to be roundly slapped about to get them to snap out of it. After they are freed, they can be added to the team, and having more than one person to share the aggro from the enemies and also to deal out the damage is a very good idea.
The contrast between the two areas, and between the two different game styles, is quite pronounced in Mato Anomalies, and yet the two halves of the game meld almost seamlessly, working very well together. You could say that this is the video game equivalent of venison and chocolate: two ingredients that shouldn’t work together and yet they do. I for one am a big fan of what the developers have done here, as they’ve delivered a game that works cohesively and you soon come to care what happens to the characters you interact with.
Mato Anomalies is a game that shouldn’t work, but does work very well indeed. It isn’t massively long, and some of the side missions do feel a bit like padding to extend the run time, but the strength of the story running through it, and the fact that the characters you control are interesting in their own right, makes this a game that comes highly recommended.
Mato Anomalies is on the Xbox Store