As a genre, puzzle platformers have gone through many permutations. First gaining mainstream success in America in the 1990’s with Lost Vikings and Wario Land 2. These games laid the groundwork for modern puzzle platformers like Braid and Fez, where the puzzles are solved by players manipulating the actual game world in some way. As popular as these games are now, it’s a safe bet to say that none of them would have gained any mainstream notoriety without release of Portal in 2007.
Portal took puzzle gaming out of the 2D world of sidescrollers and put it in a fully walkable, first person 3D world. Now, imagine a parallel universe where everyone has goatees and Portal, instead of creating a demand for original puzzle platformers, soured everyone on the genre due to frustrating gameplay, clunky controls, and a lack of any clear goals; Anomaly 1729 would be that game. I want to say at the top that I will be drawing many comparisons between Anomaly 1729 and Portal, I normally wouldn’t do this since I feel that a game should be judged on its own merits, independent of any other game, but Anomaly 1729 is so clearly trying to ape Portal, and spectacularly failing at every turn, that it is impossible to talk about the one without bringing up the other.
In Anomaly 1729, players step into the shoes of Ano, a newly cognizant… Program? Glitch? It’s unclear. But anyway, the game begins with Ano gaining self awareness in Phiohm, a tron-like, virtual world that somehow looks worse than the world in the original 1982 film. Upon gaining consciousness, Ano meets Yuler, an omnipresent being who explains the game’s backstory and main objective. Unfortunately, what Yuler says is indecipherable to the player, the scrolling subtitles are written in a coded language that is slowly translated bit by bit, as the player activates terminals that are scattered through the game.
Each time Ano finds a new terminal, some words and phrases of the coded dialogue become written in english, giving the player small pieces of the story each time. This learn through exploration mechanic is a nice idea that’s been effectively employed in many games, such as the aforementioned Portal, but in Anomaly 1729 this mechanic becomes one of the game’s biggest missteps. Anomaly 1729 gives players no instruction or tutorial, this is somewhat forgivable, since the controls are the basic, WASD to move and the mouse to aim and fire. But what’s less forgivable is the lack of any sort of context for what you are doing or why.
Remember in the beginning of portal, where you’re just a test subject who’s been given a series of simple puzzles to solve, with the promise of some tasty cake as a reward? This was the Portal team poking fun at other game developers’ tendency to make every game’s objective to basically save the world, it was a fun subversion to make Portal’s stakes (at first) so low, that it still intrigued players enough to keep making their way through the game. But Anomaly 1729 errors by giving the player no stakes, the game is basically saying “hey you, go solve this puzzle,” “how do I go about solving this puzzle?” “I’m not telling you” “Okay, well why am I solving this puzzle?” “I’m not telling you that either, now go have fun playing Porta– er I mean Anomaly 1729.” This lack of drive or motivation is perhaps the biggest piece missing from Anomaly 1729, the game never gives the player a reason to want to push forward. From a narrative standpoint, the game seems to feel that letting players discover the world of Phiohm is enough to keep them playing, but the bits of information that are doled out to the player are never interesting enough for this to be effective.
I know that some people are not as concerned with the story as I am, many people just want to know if the game is fun. Well I can assure you that it is no fun at all. The puzzles in Anomaly 1729 all follow the same basic format; you enter a room and use your Mega Man arm cannon, which can fire either blue or red projectiles (where have I seen this before) to manipulate the room; by rotating the center of gravity so the wall becomes the floor, or to activate moving platforms. Rotating the room sounds like it could be a cool puzzle mechanic, but the games puzzles often require a frustrating level of precision that, when combined with the game’s clunky controls, make solving a puzzle more about luck than skill. The puzzle design in Anomaly 1729 also feels unsatisfying, too often I’d be rotating the room just to see the general layout, only to find that I had inadvertently solved the puzzle without even trying, this would also happen when I’d be stuck on a puzzle, I’d be lost with no idea of how to move forward, rotating the room this way and that, trying to see if I had missed something, only to have the exit door appear in front of me. Anomaly 1729 never gave me that feeling of satisfaction that comes from figuring out B when a puzzle needs you to go from A to C.
Anomaly 1729 is a game that is trying to ride Portal’s wave of success but ends up sinking to the bottom. I wish I had something positive to say about this game but between the uninspired story, boring design, and unsatisfying and often frustrating gameplay there’s not much here to recommend. If you’ve been craving a game to fill that Portal sized hole in your heart, I’m afraid you’ll have to keep looking.
Last Updated: June 16, 2016