Sometimes I play a game that knocks me out emotionally through its strong storytelling, such as Stranger of Paradise or Endwalker. Sometimes I play a game that keeps me thinking about its various mechanics and wanting to “git gud” such as Elden Ring or Resident Evil 7 Speedrunning (specific, yes, but we all have our interests, ya know?) Very rarely do I play a game that keeps me thinking about its visuals above all else — something ANNO: Mutationem has managed to do. ANNO seems set to enjoy its own quiet brand of success, and it’s well-deserved — striking visuals and tight combat combined with a decent story make for a fantastic experience…if you can sidestep its few flaws.
The story of ANNO follows Ann, a woman with innate combat prowess and more than a few personal issues, as she tracks down leads to find her brother Ryan and in turn hopefully learn more about the mysterious illness that plagues her. This illness, called Entangleitis, drives the plot — Ryan is hunting for information that may lead to a cure, which leads Ann around the game trying to find him.
While the game borrows heavily from popular cyberpunk works, most notably games like VA-11 Hall-A (even shouting them out in one location) and movies like Blade Runner, what surprised me was how much it seems to borrow from SCP as well. I’m not terribly familiar with each individual SCP except certain funny ones (1319 is a banger). However, I know that the big bad in the story, the Circle Consortium, resembles the SCP foundation to the point where I wonder which bosses are modeled after SCP entries. It’s not really my fault that I didn’t catch more of this however, as I was distracted in a wonderful way by the main draw of this game — the visuals.
Pixel art is very distinct when used properly — games like Undertale spring to mind, but I also like to mention games that use 3D art with a pixel shader, such as Dead Cells. ANNO is closer to the latter, featuring beautiful pixelated animations that the screenshots in this review don’t do justice. Characters breathe, animations flow, and the life of the cities you visit are striking and gorgeous. I don’t normally pause to appreciate visual assets too often, only taking a handful of screenshots here and there, but ANNO left me stunned in this regard.
The combat is pretty tight for a platformer action game. “Dungeons” will regularly have you snapping from an environment explorable in 3D to a 2D side-scrolling metroidvania seamlessly — never once did I feel confused or lost as to whether I was in exploration mode or combat mode. While one weapon in particular felt a little stronger than other choices, the twin-blade fused into the twin-glaive, all of the weapons felt like they served a purpose — even Ann’s giant laser cannon near the end-game.
The biggest gripe I have with ANNO is the translation/localization. As someone with a small background in localization, I know how the sausage gets made. I can’t really fault the developers for the problems — you have a spreadsheet-like platform such as XTM or memoQ where lines of dialogue are posted in their native language, and your translators (or more commonly freelancers) do their best to translate the dialogue into a target language. If you aren’t a native English speaker, a lot of tiny mistakes and errors can sneak by. It feels like as the game progresses, more and more of these translation errors become apparent. Especially in the side-quests and data logs.
While the story does leave plenty of breathing room to enjoy the world, the story pacing in the game felt off. While I can’t say I ever lost track of Ann’s goal, which was to find Ryan, the jump from scene to scene gave me proverbial whiplash. The locations were interesting and beautifully detailed, don’t get me wrong, but ultimately it overshadowed the plot — to the point where I found myself wondering how exactly I managed to jump from fighting a construction mech with rockets on a freighter to trawling through a secret base filled with Class D personnel. The game was over before I knew it. While that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it did leave me wanting more character development.
ANNO: Mutationem is a beautiful game with good combat and decent story, marred by some unfortunate translation issues and story pacing. It’s a fantastic indie title, and for $25 is well worth your money. The developers clearly put a lot of love into their world, and it definitely shows through. There are some rough patches, however, and they stick out a little more prominently in a game that is otherwise quite polished. The game demands your attention when it comes to both encounter design and main story threads, but doesn’t quite reward that attention with how the story pans out. It’s definitely worth a purchase — and I eagerly look forward to ThinkingStars next title.
8.5 / 10
|Absolutely stunning pixelated art and narrative design, the world feels alive
|Great combat systems with free-flowing attacks and plenty of choices
|Wonderful story themes and overarching plot…
|…however, story pacing is off and feels rushed at times
|English translation is sub-par and distracting, noticeable in many areas
Gamepur team received a PC code for the purpose of this review.