Anuchard Review: A Dead Ringer For GBC Games of Yore
For those of us of a certain age, the Game Boy Color was a modern marvel – essentially a portable NES, its colorful screen (and casing!) was home to some pretty stellar games. Three Legend of Zelda games: Oracle of Seasons, Oracle of Ages, and Link’s Awakening. And, of course, there was Pokemon Gold/Silver, Magi Nation, Shantae, and many, many more. Considering the little handheld only had two action buttons, there was a surprisingly addictive quality to many of these games. I bring up my ancient gaming history because Anuchard, from stellarNull, has the look and feel of a GBC classic. Blending dungeon crawling and city building, Anuchard feels like a love letter to the spunky little handheld.
A Cliche But Decent Story
Anuchard has a decent enough story. In days long past, the land of Anuchard was practically a utopia, floating amongst the clouds, and watched over by five guardian spirits. Then without warning, everything came crashing down – literally. Anuchard fell to the earth below, and shattered, leaving only a fraction of its previous glory intact. Inexplicably, the other parts of Anuchard that survived became twisted and warped, transforming into a dangerous labyrinth known simply as the Dungeon. The descendants of the few survivors lead modest lives farming and scavenging what they can from the Dungeon.
For those who wander into the Dungeon to try and bring spoils back home, danger abounds, and few ever return. For those who fall in the Dungeon, a statue of their likeness mysteriously appears back in town. Life may be depressing, but remains largely unchanged for years. Until you awaken your powers as the Bellwielder, the prophesied hero who will bring the guardians back and restore Anuchard to its former glory. While the story is perhaps a little cliche, it was, on the whole, enjoyable. My biggest problem with the story itself is the dialogue feels clunky at best, and poorly translated at worst. It left me puzzling over sentences more than a few times, which really detracted from the experience.
Simple Controls, Repetitive Dungeons
Gameplay is where Anuchard should shine, and it mostly does. There are essentially three gameplay elements that repeat themselves throughout the game: exploring the Dungeon and defeating its boss, rebuilding the land of Anuchard, and completing side quests. When exploring the Dungeon, there are two objectives: recovering any lost souls (remember those statues back in town?), and defeating the boss. If you can successfully navigate the Dungeon and return home with any souls you’ve found along the way, their corresponding statues will be revived, returning lost Anuchardians to life. The Dungeon changes its configuration and puzzles based off which soul or which guardian spirit you’re tracking down. Puzzles require you to use the bell to activate switches through a small variety of means. Unfortunately, while the puzzles start off enjoyable, they quickly become repetitive. The base formula is: activate x number of switches to open a door and progress to the next area, and the only tweaks are how you activate said switches.
Combat is similar to exploration: it begins as an enjoyable mechanic, but quickly becomes very, very repetitive. You have two methods of attack: a regular attack, which is just a simple swing of your bell, and a heavy attack which also doubles as a dodge. The heavy attack in particular will be utilized heavily as you progress through the game, as most enemies will have a shield, and the only way to break it is by slamming them into the wall with your heavy attack. You can also collect energy from cutting down grass, breaking pots, and defeating enemies. Fill up your meter with this energy and you can erect a small spire that will temporarily heal you. Thankfully, the monotony is broken when you battle a guardian, as these fights in particular are challenging and very entertaining.
Rebuild a Shattered Land
City building is another important aspect of Anuchard. While you’re exploring the Dungeon, you’ll find strange gems that can be used to restore and upgrade Anuchard. Some of the projects are simply superficial, such as adding plants and decorations, while others will provide permanent combat upgrades. It’s a neat little touch that gives you a reason to explore the Dungeon a bit more than you might otherwise, and it is rewarding seeing your village get spruced up.
Finally, there are the side quests, which ended up being my least favorite part of the game. There is a bulletin board in town that has poorly worded (or perhaps poorly translated) clues about missing people that you may find in the Dungeon and folks around town who need assistance. While it seems like side quests wouldn’t be much of an issue, their poor wording doesn’t always make it obvious what needs to be done, and because the dialogue is not the best (again, this may be a translation issue), it all just feels like a slog.
Glorious Pixel Art
Artistically, Anuchard is everything I want in what feels like an updated GBC game. Lovingly pixelated, cute, quirky character sprites, and the guardians in particular look downright awesome. There are even moments of pixelated beauty that had me stopping just to enjoy the view for a minute or two. The soundtrack is perhaps repetitive, but catchy and thoroughly enjoyable. Honestly, I found very little fault in the actual aesthetic of the game itself.
Where I did find fault was in the repetitive nature of the combat and the Dungeon itself. Anuchard falls into the trappings of those old GBC games – everything starts to feel the same after a while and there just isn’t enough variety. While it worked great 20+ years ago, it just doesn’t hold up well against today’s games.
A Familiar Game With Familiar Trappings
As a whole, Anuchard is a fun game. It’s quirky, it’s perfectly pixely, and it combines city building and dungeon crawling surprisingly well. Unfortunately, the game gets bogged down by repetition, repetition, repetition. Even when puzzle solving elements build off the fundamentals, it just isn’t enough of a change to the mechanics to keep it from eventually starting to feel like a slog. While undoubtedly a solid game, Anuchard is unfortunately just a little too mired in the past.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC; Publisher: Freedom Games; Developer: stellarNull; Players: 1; Released: April 21st, 2022; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $14.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.