Anno: Mutationem is an overly ambitious love letter with one too many recipients. While the game has an interesting gumbo of ideas, its story buckles under the weight of living up to the very properties it attempts to pay tribute to. Ultimately, Mutationem’s ending fails to deliver a satisfying or cohesive pursuit of this monumental undertaking.
ANNO: Mutationem puts you into the role of a young woman named Ann Flores, a master at combat who can be quite moody at times. She’s suffering from a rare illness called Entanglelitis, one which caused her to distance herself from her family in the fear of hurting them. To suppress the illness, she’s given a special combat suit called GROM that also enhances her physical abilities. During one of her daily routines, Ann hears that her brother, Ryan has gone missing and we learn that he’s trying to find a way to cure his sister’s Entanglelitis by any means necessary. Teaming up with a self-proclaimed super-hacker named Ayane, Ann takes up the task of finding her brother before he meets a terrible fate.
The huge, colorful cast of characters represents both one of Anno's most visible strengths and weaknesses. There's limited voice acting, but where it pops up, it's really well done. Especially Ann herself, voiced in English by the fantastic Suzie Yeung, who comes across as a confident and driven young woman trying to make sense of a mysterious and traumatic past. The dialogue writing itself, though, isn't quite as impressive. There are a lot of times where what's being spoken doesn't match up with the written captions on screen, and far too many conversations felt like rushed exposition that wasn't presented in a very naturalistic way.
The gameplay ultimately disappoints, too. Being the unapologetic Devil May Cry devotee I am, games rewarding skill-based combat with gratifying feedback is a must. While Mutationem’s combat hints at being DMC’s pixel-art equivalent, it proves to be a mixed bag of hype visuals and underwhelming grind. The game’s combat systems promise a depth that never plays out 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 near 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, seemingly railroading you into its convoluted main plot.
It’s a good thing the traversal controls are as good as they are because they also play a role in combat. You’re able to attack, jump, and perform a dodge roll to avoid danger. The fluidity of the controls goes a long way to make the combat more enjoyable. Attacks can be canceled by a jump or roll, allowing you to gracefully transition a combo into the air with a successful launch and also avoid any cheap hits from enemies. When an enemy is about to attack, a bright red spark can be seen just before their attack starts. Just like all the best action games, this makes parrying attacks much easier and it also means it’s entirely your fault if you happen to get hit.
Excellent, punchy side-scrolling combat against diverse and interesting enemies is almost enough by itself to make Anno: Mutationem an easy recommendation. When you add in the neon urban sprawl of Skopp City, bursting with flavor and character around every corner, it gets even easier. An unwieldy plot and less than amazing script show that if the project was missing one thing, it was probably an editor. But none of that stopped me from thoroughly enjoying all the things it did well.
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