Anomaly 1729 is the debut title from the independent development team Anvil Drop. The title saw a lengthy period of development, initially debuting back at E3 2013, before eventually seeing release via Steam on December 31 of last year. It’s a fairly straightforward 3D puzzle-platformer, set in a neon-lit technological landscape. The player is tasked with guiding a curious robot named Ano through a series of rooms littered with environmental hazards, with the simple task of exploring the world of Phiohm.
Although the game presents an array of different obstacles to overcome, Ano has a rather limited range of tools at his disposal. He is equipped with a nanite manipulation device, which enables him to interact with the environment in a number of different ways. By triggering certain objects with the device, gravity can be manipulated, platforms can be raised and lowered, and jump pads can be configured to attract or repel. While environmental manipulation forms the foundation of the puzzle design, there is also a significant emphasis put on platforming. While Ano has no problem moving and jumping, he has a rather floaty jump arc, which can prove difficult to pinpoint initially. It certainly comes with practice, but the platforming here requires a good deal of precision, which loose controls don’t really complement.
The game does an excellent job of presenting new mechanics clearly and slowly, so as not to overwhelm the player. The early sections of the game are fairly simple, and often focus on elements in isolation. Later on, all of the different functions and mechanics introduced through the five-hour campaign are brought together in some incredibly challenging and innovative ways. It’s an excellent example of logical progression, and although some puzzles seem rather weak in design and concept, the range of mechanics on display is diverse and interesting.
These mechanics are handled universally with a simple toggle from Ano’s tool. The gravity switches strewn throughout the chambers are simply shot with a pulse of energy, which triggers the rotation of the chamber around Ano. Similarly, shooting a platform can either halt it or reverse its movement, depending on the color of the pulse. It’s a simple system, and that makes new encounters extremely easy to understand. The puzzle never lies in how to manipulate the environment, but rather how to manipulate Ano within that environment. You may need to reverse gravity while standing in a particular spot so that you land on a particular platform, or align platforms in a particular way to allow access to a new area. Ano’s tool possesses a deceptively short range, so positioning is important. This range constraint is never explicitly mentioned, nor is it in any way conveyed to the player other than through trial and error, which proves rather frustrating.
While the introduction of mechanics is handled thoughtfully, the level design is unfortunately another matter entirely. There’s never any doubt as to what your options are, but the sprawling nature of the puzzle chambers, combined with the lack of gravitational constraints, make charting a course for your destination a considerably difficult task. The first part of solving any puzzle in Anomaly 1729 is figuring out just where that exit door is hiding. As the chambers get bigger, and more elements start clouding your vision, it becomes markedly more difficult to establish your bearings. Initially, there’s a sense of wonder to the design of these rooms, as they possess an almost otherworldly aesthetic, but if the design of the level is disrupting the presentation of the puzzle it contains, it can be rather distracting.
This problem is further enhanced by the presence of small interim sections. These small stretches of levels exist between major puzzle chambers. While they initially serve as a welcome change from the mental exertion of their adjoining rooms, they too eventually suffer from the same design bloat as the chambers. In certain cases later in the game, multiple chambers feed back into the same interim section. Without any clear indication as to where the next chamber lies, it’s easy to make a wrong turn, which can often lead to an unwilling abandonment of progress, or just aimless wandering until you regain your bearings. The checkpoint system is rather lenient and can serve to rectify that issue, but relying on such an ability should not be required. Towards the end of the game lies a series of incredibly difficult puzzle chambers. In my experience, solving these puzzles did not trigger a checkpoint, which caused a significant issue when I got myself stuck in one of the later rooms. A simple indication for progress, or perhaps more varied terrain, would go a long way toward making progress both more clear and more satisfying.
With the generally rather monotonous level design, the bulk of the progression comes from the occasional delivery of story. Shortly after beginning his journey, Ano is contacted by a disembodied voice, known as Yuler. The two share your standard master/AI relationship dynamic, with Yuler essentially trying to curb Ano’s curiosity in an attempt to protect him. As the story progresses, it becomes apparent that Yuler knows more than he’s letting on, which just serves to fuel Ano’s curiosity. Eventually, Ano shifts his focus from simple exploration to figuring just what this world around him is, much to the disapproval of Yuler. In terms of narrative, Anomaly 1729 follows typical sci-fi conventions, right down to the major reveal at the conclusion.
What it lacks in originality though, it makes up for in delivery. At the onset of Ano’s journey, he possesses a limited understanding of the local language. When Yuler communicates, you can read only what Ano can comprehend, which means you’ll see significant gaps in the dialogue until you expand your vocabulary. A range of terminals lie scattered through the world of Phiohm, and through interfacing with these terminals, you can read more characters. It’s an interesting mechanic, but it does have its flaws. Being completely unable to read early dialog makes it difficult to comprehend any part of the story. On the flip side, most of the terminals lie in the early stretches of the game, meaning there’s no real consequence to this decision. You miss a few paragraphs of dialog, most of which is entirely inconsequential, and you continue on your journey. I feel that if such a system is to be utilized, it should be fully committed to. New Game Plus exists, and carries over your established vocabulary, so an option exists for those interested in the story.
From a presentation perspective, Anomaly 1729 is rather hit-and-miss. The general design of the puzzle chambers, combined with the neon aesthetic gives an interesting vibe to the world. However, the simple, repetitive textures and monotonous color scheme grow old rather quickly. The lighting effects are also rather wonky. With the majority of the puzzles taking place in enclosed rooms, lighting is generated from the objects within, as well as from Ano himself. Most lights gently pulse, which is occasionally districting, but adding other light seems to interfere with the effect. It wasn’t uncommon for the lights to completely fade to black for a short period following my interaction before slowly returning to normal. The gently pulsing light combined with the somewhat excessive use of motion blur left me feeling somewhat nauseous throughout my playthrough, and I’ve had no issues with photosensitivity in the past.
The sound design follows a similar suit. A lot of the time, you won’t even notice the gentle techno beat underscoring your every action. It never feels inappropriate though, and the general ambience it brings is certainly welcome. Anomaly 1729 possesses a strangely mild atmosphere despite the mentally demanding puzzles on offer. The understated music definitely adds to that and is complemented by the soft hum of the environment around you. The ambient noise is well-crafted and equally minimalist.
There’s an interesting philosophy that basically states that you can tell you’re doing a good job if nobody knows you’re there. Anomaly 1729 seems to embody this philosophy. A lot of its better elements are specifically designed so that you don’t notice them. This even plays into the delivery of the story. When I was playing through the game, I was so utterly engrossed (and occasionally thoroughly frustrated by) the puzzles that I didn’t take much notice of the surrounding elements. It’s only from this retrospective position that I can see how all of those elements came together to make an intriguing experience. It has its flaws, from the generic story to the confused, misdirected level design, but Anomaly 1729 presents an engrossing puzzle-platformer experience. The sprawling, intimidating nature of the world of Phiohm is occasionally an outright pain to navigate, but there are some great ideas at work here.