As a kid, some of my favorite games combined side-scrolling platforming with beat-’em-up-style combat. As much as I enjoyed Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog, I spent most of my youth replaying Streets of Rage or Aladdin for the Sega Genesis. Something about these games clicked: the music, the visuals, the gameplay. It all worked together in perfect harmony.
That’s how I feel about Anomaly Agent; everything works together like a loving marriage. The retro-inspired graphics are the first thing to catch your eye, but it will be the combat, which delivers a modern approach to the classic side-scrolling genre that keeps you coming back for more.
Anomaly Agent Is One Of The Best Indie Games I’ve Ever Played
What’s truly remarkable, though, is how entertaining the story is. Whether it’s the twists and turns, the time-loop-focused narrative, or the well-written characters, I had just as much fun watching cutscenes as I do chaining combos in combat. Furthermore, the game offers a dialogue system that, albeit brief and somewhat shallow, still delivers tangible rewards to help strengthen your character. Seeing these rewards over the game is a pleasant surprise instead of giving you different narrative endings. There’s nothing wrong with branching narratives, but that’s not the type of game Anomaly Agent is. It’s all about the combat, and boy does to shine.
The game focuses mostly on combo-based, hand-to-hand combat but throws in some platforming. Anomaly Agent isn’t afraid to throw new ideas and gimmicks at the player, but it never feels overwhelming. There’s a natural flow and progression in place. You start with basic attacks, are introduced to ranged attacks, can perform basic combos, and are eventually given special abilities to help defeat more powerful enemies. Despite being a side-scroller, the game has a lot in common with Hollow Knight. It lacks the Metroidvania aspects of the popular indie hit, but the concept of dodging/parrying enemies and unleashing devastating attacks is alive and well. The platforming is also remarkably smooth and fluid. There are never any frustrating moments in these platforming sections, and instead, it all flows together extraordinarily well.
What can be frustrating at times, though, is the occasional difficulty spike. Powerful enemies or dangerous boss attacks are well telegraphed, but it’s easy for things to be lost in the shuffle. Thankfully, the checkpoint system is here to save the day. There are no frustrating moments of replaying the same section over and over because you keep dying to a boss. Instead, the game throws you back right where you were, letting you get back into the melee sooner rather than later. It’s an understated and subtle design decision, but one I’m thankful for. It makes these difficult battles that much more enjoyable. I’m relieved because I was able to come out victorious rather than being happy, I never have to play through that section ever again.
What’s most impressive is how developer Phew Phew Games shows an impressive amount of restraint in the game. It’s incredibly easy for a game like this to be stretched too thin. Anomaly Agent refuses to overstay its welcome and instead focuses on delivering nonstop entertainment. Some sections drag on a bit, but they are few and far between. Most of the game can keep up the pace.
Anomaly Agent Nails The Feeling Of Old-School Side Scrollers
Anomaly Agent ties the room together, evoking the feeling of playing those classic side scrollers. Yes, it talks the talk, but it also walks the walk. The only thing missing here is the blinking alert that tells you where to go next.
The only thing truly missing here is the ability for co-op play, but honestly, I’m not sure how well that would have worked out. Still, it’s nice to see a mini-revival of the side-scrolling genre. Anomaly Agent may not be as pure to the beat ’em ups as, say, Shredder’s Revenge, but I’m okay with it evoking more of the Hollow Knight feel. For as much as I love games like Streets of Rage, it often feels like I’m just mashing buttons. There’s a rhythm and dance that exists within Anomaly Agent’s combat that helps elevate it above everything else.
The icing on the cake is how well the game performs on Steam Deck. This is an experience I love to play on my couch or in bed, and I’m thankful for the Steam Deck compatibility.
Anomaly Agent honestly wasn’t a game on my radar, but it should be on yours. Yes, the stylish visuals will be the first thing you notice, but the game is so much more than that. Combat is a dream that rivals most AAA games on the market today. I can’t understate how enjoyable the writing is; I’m someone who normally glosses over dialogue in these types of games. I’m not here for the lore; I’m here for the combat. Anomaly Agent’s writing had me glued to the screen.
In a world where most hyped releases feel underbaked, Anomaly Agent delivers. Don’t miss out on it.