The rain patters on the roof above as Ann looks out of the window of her small apartment and sighs, thinking back to her dad and especially her brother. The slight pain in her left hand is a constant reminder of the years of combat training, something she has not practiced lately. Suddenly a light blue neon glares from outside and she hears someone at the door. Guess this is the start of a new day, another miserable rainy day in Skopp City. Ann gets up from her bed and wonders just what is awaiting her, outside this drab building.
ANNO: Mutationem is set in a sort of light cyberpunk future, the player follows Ann Flores, a true take-no-crap heroine who can take care of herself in most sticky situations. She is partnered with her trusty holographic friend Ayane. While the two are simply that, friends, there seems to be something more going on – perhaps a bit of flirting? Or maybe Ayane is just a bit whimsical. The premise of the game begins with Ann undergoing a small training session where she is reminded of her combat skills, then she goes looking for her lost brother under the constant rain of Skopp city.
ANNO: Mutationem’s combination of different types of gameplay and styles seems to work pretty well. There is a little bit of everything to please (mostly) everyone’s tastes. There’s crafting, gun combat, melee combat, exploration, a bit of platforming, RPG elements and some adventure as well. While it would be fair to say that none of these gameplay styles really stand out, their combination lends ANNO a solid pace and keeps things from ever becoming stale.
In combat it is possible to use two types of swords (light and heavy) along with guns, this can all be done on the fly since all weapons are mapped to a different button. Ann can also execute combo moves, use her shield, parry, throw grenades and use various items. By progressing through the game, Ann will also be able to unlock new moves and abilities, which will add a dash of Metroidvania to Anno: Mutationem, as one can go back to previously visited levels in order to access new areas.
Enemies don’t usually pose a big threat. Tougher ones will have a shield that Ann has to wear down before she can get to deal serious damage. Once the shield is depleted, it is possible to execute a deadly finishing move which will, usually, be enough to deal with most foes. Still, the bosses do have a nasty habit of spawning endless minions to attack the player and that can get grating after a while.
The flow in the levels does make them feel a bit in the realm of dungeon crawls, in that Ann will be stuck in a certain level until she reaches the end of the level boss and, only after defeating it, can she get back to normal exploration and story threads. There are two types of skill trees to unlock, one with base stats that can be improved (health, attacks, etc), and the other with special moves or abilities. Minigames are also definitely a thing, like hacking computers or bartending, they are not (usually) mandatory to proceed, but playing them might give us some bonus items and information.
What ends up becoming the biggest issue in proceeding through ANNO is, unfortunately, the narrative. While, at first, seemingly easy to follow, it starts to get quite muddled after a couple of hours. Honestly, in the end, the story is not more complex than an average anime series (true, not saying much) but it does leave one slightly perplexed. There are so many threads like Ann’s sickness, her relationship with her family, her mysterious past, various shady corporate dealings, and Ayane who is also apparently sick. Keeping track of everything might be a bit too much and skipping dialogue, after a while, might appear to be a tragic final solution.
What ANNO does incredibly well is its atmosphere and its combination of 2D and 3D graphics. While the rainy infused slightly decadent cybercity has been seen a million times, ANNO still brings its own artistic footprint with anime-styled characters and a well-thought-out design of the city and each of the levels. The two graphic styles also blend seamlessly and there is none of that typical frustration of having to switch from a 2D plane to a 3D one, as several games seem to feature. Exploring Metropolis and completing subquests might really be the best part of ANNO.
The Switch version comes several months after the original release, so lucky owners can have direct access to a version which has already been patched several times by the developers. It also provides a bonus New game + mode which greatly increases longevity. Overall, Anno on Switch seems to work pretty solidly, I did happen to notice a couple of slowdowns, but they were mostly during loading scenes, so nothing that would affect the gameplay.
While our drizzly trip to Skopp City might not shine in regards to gameplay and narrative, there is so much to appreciate in ThinkingStars’ cyberpunk game. An incredibly well-done melange of art styles, a perfect atmosphere and an overall solid mix of genres which helps players lock into an engaging flow of combat and minigame sequences. At the end, you can’t help but smile at the time we spent together with Ann and Ayane, perhaps wishing there was already a sequel…
Platform: [Switch], PC and PlayStation 4/5
Genre: Action Adventure RPG
Release date: May 2022
ANNO: Mutationem: ANNO: Mutationem provides a spicy melange of gameplay styles sprinkled with the neon-infused drizzle of a cyberpunk city. While the story could use some work, the atmosphere and perfect mix of 2D and 3D will keep most players well entertained. – Voxel Smash Staff