ANNO: Mutationem has a lot of aspirations and ambitions to be the ultimate in anime style cyberpunk. There is a lot to like on the surface; sleek and dazzling neon soaked visuals that mix PlayStation 1 aesthetics with chunky pixel art, big dystopian cities and hack and slash action combat.
Everything in this game seemingly was set up perfectly to be a hit. It is too bad that ANNO: Mutationem fails to deliver the most basic aspects that make an enjoyable video game. It is hard to deny that the visuals and music do a lot to carry a game, but the core mechanics still need to support the experience.
Where does everything fall apart for this cyberpunk action adventure? The short of it is that it is a blur of bad. To better understand where the flaws lie, read on in our ANNO: Mutationem review!
Publisher: Shenzhen Leiting Information Technology Co., Ltd.
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Release Date: March 17, 2022
Price: $24.99 USD
There is no denying that ANNO: Mutationem is a very stylish and appealing looking game. The cyberpunk ambiance is expertly realized and leaning into the low-poly and chunky 32-bit pixel art style is a natural fit for a sci-fi dystopian setting.
Without the actual limitations of 32-bit hardware, ANNO: Mutationem can push graphics in ways a PlayStation could only dream of. Some shots of cities are dense with buildings, flying cars and countless neon lights that mix with a light hazy fog. This is all the pastiches of the cyberpunk genre everyone knows.
The rain-slick streets, holograms and ads that overwhelm the senses are all faithfully represented in this vision of a terrible future that fans obsess over. The mixing of big neon Japanese signs with English has always been a crucial pillar to the cyberpunk look and ANNO: Mutationem has it all in multiple city locations no less.
A lot of care went into the character sprite art and animation. Ann, the protagonist is designed with maximum sex appeal and has several different walk cycles that depend on what outfit she is wearing. Her night club dress is notable for her very provocative strut and how tight the outfit hugs her form.
There are many different NPCs and unique sprites for one-time characters. Inevitably, ANNO: Mutationem does recycle some spites, but it is kept to a minimum and it has to be expected with a game as ambitious as this. There are multiple cities and each one has to have enough characters to make them feel alive and it is achieved marvelously.
ANNO: Mutationem definitely looks amazing with its stylish presentation and sets expectations high when it begins. The story can be best described as a neo-noir cyberpunk mystery that gradually bleeds into SCP Foundation territory. The initial first impressions are strong and can easily fool gamers into thinking they are about to experience a very special game.
The narrative begins humbly with the disappearance of Ann’s brother, Ryan. The story compounds mystery on top of mystery as bits and pieces of Ann’s dark past begin to emerge. Plot threads related to a prior outbreak of a disease that turns people into metallic freaks and science experiments gone wrong drive up the stakes.
The story will lead Ann to various locations and dungeons with light metroidvania style exploration. No matter what, it always feels like she is following an invisible man where she is just a few steps behind. Clues to her brother’s kidnapping begin to suggest a much larger plot and complex plot than the early hours would lead on.
The production values are very polished and cutscenes will attempt some cinematic shots using creative angles despite the fact that the characters are entirely 2D. There was a lot of care put into the visuals and impressively; there are many instances of unique sprites that are used for one shot alone.
If ANNO: Mutationem was some kind of point-and-click adventure style game or visual novel, it would be an excellent example of its genre. There are tons of flavor text to read that fills out the world-building and adds a lot of character to the setting.
It is too bad that the developers were not satisfied with being a simple adventure game, because the action gameplay is embarrassingly pathetic. ANNO: Mutationem is torn between being two kinds of games: a slow paced adventure game with lots of reading/exploring or when it tries to be a 2D action-platformer like a poor man’s Mega Man Zero.
ANNO: Mutationem is divided into two kinds of zones that players move in and out of through out most dungeon areas; 2D and 3D. Ann can only fight or jump/dash while in 2D areas and in 3D areas, her actions are limited to hacking or inspecting objects/talking.
When actions have such a stark division; it makes connecting to the action impossible. When Ann can move around in 3D, all tension is deflated since the game is telling the player that she is safe and can’t fight.
If ANNO: Mutationem committed to being a good adventure game, there could have been opportunities for danger to happen during these moments. Sadly, only during the subpar 2D action is when anything dangerous happens. Ann’s controls in 3D is very fluid, but for some reason when in combat areas, she comes extremely stiff and unresponsive.
Attacking feels very delayed; Ann’s sword swings needed to be snappier and not leave her so exposed when finishing an animation. Dodging rolling is extremely unreliable and does not have the appropriate i-frames, has a cool-down that is too long and some button inputs do not reliably execute.
Enemy hit-boxes make no sense and will result in cheap shots from threats that were no where near Ann. Amusingly, the parrying has a much larger window than expected and this is probably to compensate the enemies that have poorly telegraphed tells that has no discernable audible cue.
One may think, “Perhaps the game gets better when Ann levels up a bit and gains better weapons?”, it does not improve. The game worsens as new elements are introduced; arbitrary item caps that require hard to earn leveling points to expand, which are better spent on stat upgrades and Ann’s ledge grab is unreliable and sometimes fails to work which leads to unfair falls.
Most battles never feel truly won. Boss battles are especially embarrassing since Ann can easily overwhelm them with her “devil trigger”-like ability which can last much longer when upgraded. Despite these cheap victories, Ann tends to lose in the following cutscene or the bad guy gets away.
The action gets broken up with really long and tedious treks through dungeon style levels that alternates between 2D and 3D modes. With fast traveling, it still feels long and exhausting to traverse the many hallways with nothing happening.
These tiresome dungeons only exist to facilitate the agonizing combat and platforming. ANNO: Mutationem would be a better game without any of it. If the combat was decent, this would still be an issue since action is far and few between the long and slow paced adventure sequences.
The music is at the very least excellent and matches the mood that every location establishes. Much of the score feels influenced by a mixture of Vangelis and Xenogears; upbeat and adventurous but also cool and smoldering synth. Melodies are catchy and very memorable.
Voice acting is also really solid. Casting and the type of voices feel like something from a 90s anime where every actor is playing an archetype. It is shorthand that works for a game that aspires for retro sensibilities.
The adventure gameplay is only slightly better than the combat due to some of the side stories requiring some of the most absurd leaps of logic in order to solve them. There are a few instances of kudzu-game design where players will require a guide to understand the basic actions the game is demanding and it is due to poor game design and incoherent localization.
ANNO: Mutationem is a grave disappointment. The initial premise, stylish ambiance and cool presentation promise a stellar indie action-adventure game. Sadly, it is a hopelessly sloppy game with terrible localization; often on-screen text does not match character dialogue.
ANNO: Mutationem was reviewed on PlayStation 5 using a copy provided by Shenzhen Leiting Information Technology Co., Ltd.. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. ANNO: Mutationem is now available for Windows PC (via Steam), PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.