Anoxemia is a single-player 2-D exploration game released by Badland Games. In a claustrophobic under-water setting, you control a drone leading a stranded scientific researcher around perilous obstacles to collect specimens for his work. Using a handful of different techniques, you unravel the mystery plaguing the ocean’s plants, and who the scientist really is. It plays with themes of control, and level repetition in a self-critical way, that reflects the traditional nature of platformer games (try, die, try again). This game is ideal for those with a passion for story driven platformers, and don’t mind somewhat tedious gameplay.
This story is told primarily through the scientist, who narrates what he is doing and seeing, with occasional comic-book style cut-scenes between the action. The story and the way it’s told are the most compelling parts of this game. The scientist is sometimes seeming self-aware of his position, though perhaps confused and disoriented by a lack of oxygen (a condition called, you guessed it, Anoxemia). The occasional quips like “I’ve been here before, or have I?” and “I need to collect as much oxygen as possible” not only imply the scientist’s perhaps deteriorating mental state, but also the meta criticism of game formats, questioning who is controlling what, whether the player has control, or the game itself. This questions appear in text form, sometimes changing the map itself to assert the developers control over the gamer. This dialogue between creator and audience is fascinating, but not enough to overcome what to me are glaring flaws.
Originally released on PC in 2015, Anoxemia now has a console port, which doesn’t always work splendidly. The controls seem much better suited to mouse and keyboard, where precision is easier than with analog sticks, and you often find yourself drifting into traps and bombs and spiked plants, forcing you to re-do the level all over again, no matter how much progress you’ve made. Which is classic platformer. But there is not a skill curve, and it does not have the pace of Sonic or Super Mario to keep you coming back for more. All it has is its story, which is interesting but not redeeming of disappointing mistakes. On level 17, just less than halfway through the 38 levels, I encountered a rock that was impossible to move, regardless of the provided skills (while looking this up I found another review that seems to have said the same thing on Xbox).
The level design is simplistic, artistically driven and haunting, but sometimes irritatingly repetitive. Only three of the first 19 levels look different from the rest. It’s hard to tell when opening the game if you have beaten the level already or not, because of so little distinguishing features.
There are other positives. The music perfectly reflects the isolation one feels gallons of water between you and unlimited oxygen. It is haunting how claustrophobic the music and the art make you feel. The color palate is pretty, with blues, greens and reds that change as you progress further into the story.
Here is the Anoxemia Console Trailer:
Overall, I think that this is a very well written and scored game, with a compelling concept and theme. However, it lacks the fundamental draw that a good platform game has: replay-ability.
I give this a rating of 6/10.
Anoxemia is available as a digital download for Xbox One and PlayStation 4.