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Review: Anno: Mutationem is a Moody Cyberpunk Sendup on Switch

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Anno: Mutationem

Ever since Anno: Mutationem debuted in 2019 as part of Sony’s China Hero Project initiative, it has kept fans’ interest through its unique cyberpunk aesthetic. Even after the neon-drenched “classical” cyberpunk style made something of a comeback in recent titles, its fusion of 2D pixel art and low-fi 3D models helped it stand out in an increasingly similar-looking field. Now that the game is out, developer ThinkingStars finally has the chance to prove that there’s substance behind the style.

If you’ve been following this game, you’ll likely find its initial menu image (which I use above) pretty familiar: It was the most common picture available of Anno: Mutationem prior to release. It’s an evocative setup, with protagonist Ann Flores perched like a race queen on a fancy LED-festooned car, backed by the neon glow of a thousand city signs. True, it’s a very archetypal cyberpunk image, but the pleasure of actually playing the game is finding out there’s a whole world and setting backing up the familiar, appealing vibe.

Anno Mutationem

Ann survives the troublesome day-to-day of Skopp City doing odd jobs and mercenary work. She’s a bit of a lone wolf, usually operating solo and only accompanied by her partner Ayane, a genius hacker who appears mostly as a hologram. That distance doesn’t tamp down on their relationship, and their banter and interactions are a much brighter highlight than any amount of detailed sci-fi lore.

Ann is mostly stoic, and for good reason: She’s a cybernetic combat specialist suffering from an enigmatic condition called “Entanglelitis” that causes her to go berserk and hurt anyone near her. Good in a brawl, bad for society. But her interactions with Ayane really soften Ann’s stony exterior,  making both of them more appealing. It’s all sold quite effectively by their voice performances and cutesy animations.

Their bond also makes the main narrative of Anno: Mutationem easier to be present for. There’s a lot of detail to the Skopp City setting, referenced in dialog and scattered about in collectibles, but it’s not always easy to parse. Details have a habit of flying over the player’s head (or my head, at least), and some story threads that seem important fade into the background by the time you clear the campaign’s twelve or so hours.

This isn’t helped by the fact that, at least in handheld mode, the game’s text is difficult to read. Anno: Mutationem suffers from that tendency of Switch ports not to scale their UI for the size of the screen in handheld mode, which makes for a lesser experience when playing portably. Thus I recommend enjoying the game docked, if you can. I also noticed that loading times were noticeably longer on Switch than when compared to my brief tests on the PC and PS4 versions of the game. They’re not egregiously long, but definitely longer.

The game runs just fine, otherwise, though. Gameplay in Anno: Mutationem is divided between combat and non-combat sections. In non-combat sections, Ann can freely explore the area, in a 2D/3D side-scrolling hybrid style. This is where most of the story happens, with side quests, cutscenes, dialog, and even mini-games. Ann can play little video games, hack doors and locks, and even sling drinks at a bar, complete with cheeky references to cyberpunk fellow traveler VA-11 Hall-A. Combat takes place in a side-scrolling platform action style. Players will guide Ann through stages and slice through enemies with combinations of guns and melee weaponry. There’s a bit of strategy to scanning foes and finding out the right weapon needed to breach their defenses, and it can get pretty hectic when lots of enemies are on screen at once. Sometimes this causes problems, as you’ll occasionally want to aim at a flying or hovering drone-type foe, only to waste precious gun ammo shooting at the nearest baddie instead.

Ann and Ayane

The combat is undergirded by a crafting and upgrade system, but in honesty this aspect feels undercooked. Everything’s way too expensive, so by the time I finished the game I’d only accumulated enough resources to upgrade a couple of times. Anno: Mutationem might’ve been served better by a simpler system that simply doled out upgrades rather than letting players try to earn it through a system too deep for a game of this length and linearity.

Ultimately, though, these are minor gripes. Anno: Mutationem is a gorgeous-looking sendup of classic cyberpunk anime, with a narrative, characters, and combat that easily backs up its stunning aesthetic and visuals.

Anno: Mutationem is available on Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, and PC.

Anno: Mutationem

8

Food for Thought
  • Get yourself a genius hacker girlfriend who appears as a holo-drone to dote on you.
  • The game doesn't outstay its welcome, but honestly could've used a couple more hours to help close out the narrative better.
  • Love the red-and-blue "Nintendress" exclusive Switch costume.
    If you want to know more, check out Siliconera's review guide.
    Josh Tolentino
    Josh Tolentino is interim Editor-in-Chief at Siliconera. He previously helped run Japanator, prior to its merger with Siliconera. He's also got bylines at Destructoid, GameCritics, The Escapist, and far too many posts on Twitter.