Anoxemia Review

I think it was back in 1997 when I had my chance to play Super Mario 64 for the first time. It was a terrific experience that blew me away in every possible way. It was dynamic, fun and groundbreaking in every sense. However, there was a particular stage that gave me an experience that I will never ever forget: The Jolly Roger Bay. My goal was to venture down into the depths of a lake where a sunken ship rests. The music was beautiful and tranquil, but as I slowly descended into the lake, I had this irrational panic attack. Maybe it had something to do with the dark murky green colors in the depth, or maybe it was the slowly depleting HP (oxygen), as I submerged deeper and deeper. Then, I almost had a heart attack, when a monstrous eel came out from the ship as I got closer…

That was me, as a kid, for the first-time ever, experiencing fear induced by atmospheric oppression and the darkness of the deep. Since then, my perspective of underwater stages in games has changed forever. The ambience of the deep can simply induce the feeling of suffocation and fear even in an innocent game like Super Mario 64 without even trying hard. So naturally, I had my curiosity at a peak for Anoxemia, a story driven 2D side-scrolling adventure game developed by Badland Games with an interesting premise of exploring the darkest depths.

In this game, you play as Dr. Bailey, tasked with the collection of mutated plants near a sunken military base. Unfortunately, everything went south as soon as the mission started. Dr. Bailey and his autonomous operation drone called ATMA, lost contact with the main ship and were trapped in the deepest part of the Blue with limited oxygen supply and energy source. However, this setback did not seem to mar the determination of Dr. Bailey, who was adamant about completing his mission and it is your job as the player to guide him.

When I said you play as Dr. Bailey, that is technically not true. You're actually controlling the drone, ATMA. It is practically the “cursor” of the game and Dr. Bailey closely follows wherever it moves. You have to guide Dr. Bailey through deadly obstacles such as underwater mines, killer submarines and spikes traps in order to collect the mutated plants. Usually, a stage is cleared when all the plants are collected and you are teleported to the next stage, with the exception of some stages where you have to guide Dr. Bailey to a certain spot in the map to continue.

ATMA has more functionality than a light source. It can activate sonar to find the objective items, breakable walls and possible threats. It also has a harpoon equipped to pull boulders and later, it gains the ability to shock murderous submarines to submission so that Dr. Bailey may safely traverse. A stage in Anoxemia typically consists of a puzzle-like environment where the player must use these functions to overcome obstacles. 

Here, I had my first gripe with the game. More often than not, I found myself in a situation where ATMA’s harpoon was not working as intended. For example, there was a current which was too strong for Dr. Baily to swim through, so I had to pull down a boulder to stop the current. However the boulder was considered too heavy by in-game physics engine and only budged a few pixels when I tried to pull it with the harpoon. Using the harpoon consumes energy and the stage restarts when the energy is depleted. Frustrated, I tried shooting the harpoon from every possible direction and scoured the stage for anything that I might have missed. Out of the blue, after a few resets and some angry groans, the harpoon decided to work and the boulder slowly rolled down and let me clear the stage.

I also noticed that I sometimes receive “Harpoon + 5%” items from optional treasure chests, which, I assumed, increases the strength of harpoon. Does that mean I have to collect these “optional” chests so that I can solve a mandatory puzzle? In that case, the game design is extremely questionable since you could get stuck simply because you missed an optional chest three stages ago.

Talking about treasure chests, they are the most annoying component of the game. This is likely to be first game that made me I feel annoyed whenever I saw one. When ATMA gets near a chest, the percentage of a successful open rate appears. Once you press the interact button, the game will halt for about three to four seconds. The chest may or may not open in accordance to the success rate. This quickly became frustrating when you try to open a chest with a success rate of 20%, and if you’re unlucky, you could ended up staring at the screen for a good 20-30 seconds while ATMA is stuck “processing…” the chest until it opens. This has no other function I could think of than to effectively annoy the player. Imagine playing The Legend of Zelda and that every treasure chest has a success rate attached and you have to waste 30 seconds to open a chest to get a blue rupee.

Overall, I had a mixed feeling about Anoxemia. The game is, by no means, terrible. It has a rather interesting story, although told in a minimalist style. It successfully evokes the ambience well with both music and aesthetics. However, I found myself unable to invest in both story and the environment. There is foreboding presence in the deep, but instead of being pressured or scared, I am just largely annoyed by the glaring flaws in the game design. If one could overlook these frustrating factors, this could be a somewhat enjoyable adventure game with a unique premise and solid puzzles. Unfortunately, these infuriating shortcomings require a great deal of willpower to overlook. 

Lv-99 simple sheep