Cyberpunk RPG with an identity crisis

Anno: mutationem is an overambitious love letter with one recipient too many. While the game has an interesting gumbo of ideas, its story buckles under the weight of doing justice to the very traits it’s trying to pay tribute to. Eventually, mutationemThe ending of does not provide a satisfactory or coherent tracing of this monumental endeavor.

The game is a side-scrolling pixel art action game with RPG elements developed by ThinkingStars. You play as Ann Flores, a “highly skilled, battle-hardened lone wolf” who hunts down the cyberpunk gangs and corrupt mega-corporations that have kidnapped her brother. Anno: mutationemnot to be confused with the cross-country skier anno Real Time Strategy Series, is the first video game from ThinkingStars. While mutationem does a serviceable job of building an intriguing world, its preoccupation with paying homage to the media that inspired it detracts from the story it’s trying to tell.

mutationem Openly refers to popular sci-fi anime and video games, including ghost in the shell, Bladerunner, NieR: vending machines, a little bit from drakengard 3, and Neon Genesis Evangelion. In game this feels more spread out over 18 hours, but in the 2 hour demo it felt like quick recalls. On paper, drawing these iconic features is a snap for a developer’s first video game, mutationem boldly goes beyond simply mirroring aesthetics, bringing their different “high-concept” ideas about what it means to be human into its plot as well.

I would liken this phenomenon to using all your favorite spices in a dish that is the first time you’ve never made them. Although these spices delighted your taste buds in their own dishes, when combined haphazardly they will only clash and overwhelm. The same circumstance occurs when mutationem turns its aesthetic references into plot points.

ghost in the shell, NieR:Automata, Neon Genesis Evangelionand the other media mutationem draws from its own heavy, esoteric tradition. mutationem binds itself by incessantly drawing comparisons to these other media. Plot points like GitS introspective meditation on the human condition, Bladerunner‘s commentary on transhumanism through cybernetics, and NGEis…everything (above all end of evangelism‘s third effect) take root within mutationemalso the story. While the argument that each piece of media is a remix of elements pleasing to a creator hasn’t escaped me, mutationem becomes a cover poorly adapted to his inspirations instead of rocking to the rhythm of his own story beats.

Ann stares in confusion at symbols drawn on a chalk board in a secret laboratory.

you tell me
screenshot: Thinking Stars / Kotaku

That’s a pity, because under all these clues is buried mutationem‘s own unique premise. Interesting story elements – like the game’s poverty-stricken population suffering from the Mechanika virus, a disease that slowly turns people into robo-zombies – are eventually jettisoned to give the game more time to brainstorm ideas to edit other media. because mutationem seems afraid to stray far from his inspirations, which are themselves imperfect, but fails ThinkingStars to tell his own story.

Spoiler alert image for the review of Anno: Mutationem

Just when you’re expecting the game to pay off your detective work and hard-fought battles against mecha and hordes of cybernetically-enhanced militias in an attempt to connect its disparate ideas, it gives you a lackluster ending. similar to NGE, mutationem builds up to Armageddon, but its final boss comes out of left field. Basically, the governmental organization in mutationem is SOUL from NGE– with all the muddled reasoning and imagery that implies – and they use technology from other dimensions to do so some and must use Ann’s power to pull it off. While the game pushes you to fight against Ann’s alternative. Dimension self, amok, you’re just fighting a dragon. I felt robbed of an epic fight with the rival character I assumed the game set me up for and offended by the obvious sequel lure.

The gameplay is ultimately disappointing. Be the unapologetic Devil May Cry A devotee that I am, games that reward skill-based combat with enjoyable feedback are a must. While mutations fight hints of being DMC‘s pixel art equivalent, it turns out to be a mix of hyped visuals and underwhelming grind. The game’s combat systems promise a depth that never materializes in gameplay. While mutationem allows you to customize, deconstruct and forge more powerful weapons with elemental mods and unlockable weapon skills, many of these cool bits only materialize right before the game’s finale. While you can access some of these abilities earlier through side quests, the game doesn’t do a good job of letting you know about them and seems to lead you into its convoluted main storyline.

Ann stands among the ruins of a red environment with mecha corpses and crucifixes on the ground.

never fullyend of evangelism.
screenshot: Thinking Stars / Kotaku

After a few hours, fights don’t really feel rewarding. Simply put, enemies are damage sponges. Once you finally break an enemy’s shield, which acts as their secondary health bar, you have a matter of seconds to whine them into actually doing damage before their shields recover. The rest is wash and repeat.

A simple answer to this conundrum would be to parry enemies more often, resulting in large damage increases. But the rewards for doing so are negligible and your enemies have confusing hitboxes; If you miss a parry, some of your health is wasted trying. I had to put a lot of effort into parrying bosses by queuing with their hits instead of letting them come organically. Instead of trusting the game to make my saves count, I developed an instinct to constantly dodge rolls because it was the only surefire way to maintain Ann’s health and deal damage.

While early boss fights are unique, mutationem‘s second half draws a halo 5 by throwing multiple versions of the same boss at you, and sometimes setting up two more straight after preparing the first for a final hit. Boss fights increasingly felt like wars of attrition rather than the fast-paced, skill-based battles the game advertises.

outside of combat, mutationem suffers from the same cognitive dissonance as that yakuza series, with its side quests and main missions that feel like two separate games. While mutationem‘s main quest comes across as an AI-generated anime sci-fi storyline, its side quests tell unabashedly crazy and heartfelt stories that characterize the people who inhabit this world. Have fun with mutationem came from the deviation from its main task. Avoiding paths or hallways that “looked like progression” led me to discover bizarre NPCs, all of whom had written dialogue and were given snippets of their experiences mutationem‘s dystopian cyberpunk society.

My favorite interactions have come from meeting a man with a manhole cover for his face living in a sewer, discovering the secret identity of a virtual pop idol, and witnessing the final moments of a robot in the sewers attaining enlightenment. These brief encounters left lasting impressions, making the underutilization of these fresher concepts all the more frustrating within its larger story. Rather than indulge in rich storytelling, I compiled a list of how many plot elements from other media matched which mutationem garnishes his story.

To make matters worse, the game introduces cookie-cutter villains who suffer from the annoying trope of making their intentions vague. Instead of just telling you what the heck is going on and what they want from Ann, they just say they’ll see her again in the worst archetypal anime villain style. These guys even look aesthetically identical and sometimes even mirror allies. While the second half of the game tries to curb this by introducing villains with bizarre new looks, the writing on these intricately designed doppelgangers is just as flat as their predecessors. Aside from the two main characters, the main character is boring and unimaginative, allowing the casual surrounding NPCs to breathe life into it mutationem‘s world.

A man with a corn cob for a head stands on the sidewalk holding a sign advertising corn juice.

Corn Man Rules.
screenshot: Thinking Stars / Kotaku

Storytelling and combat aside, there are two highlights in the game’s impressive artistic direction and the winning dynamic between its main characters. The breathtaking look of mutationem‘s set pieces almost supersede the media imagery it pays homage to. Ann and Ayane are really sweet too. Their banter between main quest and side quest content was worth the many brutal deaths and resulting outbursts of “C’mon man!” I screamed as I barely completed enemies.

As the first game by ThinkingStars Anno: mutationem boldly swings for the fences by throwing every cool concept it has at players. mutationems’ unbalanced focus in its story is its critical failure. One moment it’s an anime-inspired cyberpunk open-world RPG, the next a rigid, story-driven Metroidvania. But when it tries to meet in the middle, its pace stalls, stripping its second half of the charm of its wacky, world-building NPCs and replacing it with long stretches of exposure mediated by dry codices and vague anime archetypes with unclear motivations .

With the game’s ending hinting at a possible sequel, mutationem stands there as a messy first draft. When a follow-up comes, I hope ThinkingStars has the confidence to stand up boldly and tell its own unique story, rather than remain so tied to its inspirations. Cyberpunk RPG with an identity crisis

Curtis Crabtree

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