I will always have a soft spot for Namco’s arcade heritage, even if I didn’t grow up in that era of gaming. My earliest memories of playing any form of video game (outside of Tiger Electronics) stem from Saturday morning sessions of Dig Dug on the Apple II. My folks had the game lying around, and I discovered it at the age of four. My grandparents also had a smattering of games for the PlayStation (which they primarily used for Irish folk music), including a handful of Namco Museum titles. Arcade compilations featuring a ton of trivia and old promotional materials as a bonus probably don’t seem like much today. Although for a child of the early ’00s with limited internet access (and no knowledge of emulators), it was pretty mind-blowing. Even now, the cheesy CG cutscenes and the synthwave music solicit warm memories of a better (and far less crazy) time.
Naturally, Cruise Elroy’s debut title was a no-brainer for me. Annalynn, which was released on Steam back in January for a mere $4.99, is essentially Shovel Knight for the “golden age” of gaming. It wears its inspiration on its pixelated sleeves with pride and doesn’t cut any corners when it comes to authenticity. From the bezel art that appears on the corners of the screen to the sound design, this screams classic Namco and (to an extent) the early “black box” NES games.
As such, Annalynn‘s primary focus is on the core gameplay. If you’ve ever wondered what the maze-based Pac-Man games would be like as a side-scrolling platformer with sprinkles of Donkey Kong Junior, you can stop daydreaming. Annalynn takes place across sixteen different boards. Your goal as the titular character is to clear the board of coins while avoiding a gang of snakes. Randy, Candy, Handy, and Mike will assault the player from holes on top of the screen or through the various caves dotted across each board. Since you have this magical ability rarely seen in the arcade days called “jumping,” you’ll rarely find yourself getting sandwiched in the same way Pac-Man does. Yet, these guys are still lethal to the touch unless you get your hands on a red ruby, which is Annalynn’s equivalent of the power pellet. Fittingly, the snakes will temporarily turn blue and ready to be kicked off screen Mario Bros. style once Annalynn snags a ruby.
The boards don’t just change in appearance and scale as the player progresses, however. The new mechanics and setpieces introduced as the player completes them are like Donkey Kong or Donkey Kong Junior. Boards 3 through 6 introduce vines that function identically to the previously mentioned game—also teaching the player that the snakes can drop down from above if they’re hanging out above specific platforms. Switches that trigger flames, crumbling platforms, and even ice blocks show up later. Last but not least, there’s a definitive conclusion as opposed to a “kill screen.” The snakes eventually decide they’ve had enough of your crap and conjure up a killer robot (as depicted in one of the Pac-Man-like animations spearheading each set of levels) that you’ll need to defeat at the very end to finish the game.
It can be finished in about half an hour or so on your first playthrough, thanks to unlimited continues. You’re going to get the most out of Annalynn by approaching it in the same way you would an arcade game. That is, clearing it on a single continue (1CC) or simply seeing how high of a score you can rack up. The only punishment you’ll get for running out of your (very) limited stock of lives is having your score halved. So if you’re looking to see things through to the end, it will be an incredibly short-lived experience. Going for a high score or 1CC is where the game truly shines, as the basic scoring principles and means of acquiring extra lives are directly carried over from Annalynn’s inspirations. Still, I appreciate the flexibility offered. Like Cuphead, you can make this game as straightforward or as tricky on yourself as you want, and that’s always a win in my book.
Once you clear the main game at least once, you’ll gain access to a “practice” mode that will allow you to master each board individually. Getting a “perfect” score (as in kicking all four snakes per ruby, getting the food item bonus that appears in the center, and clearing the board of coins without dying) will award you with a new color palette for Annalynn. Although I would’ve liked this to be available from the start, it’s still an excellent inclusion for bite-sized play sessions and a means of training for an entire 1CC run.
Overall, I’ve struggled to find any real faults with the game, especially at its asking price. The game is a rare example of what you see being precisely what you get. The only feature I would have liked to see is widescreen/21:9 aspect ratio support because, as it stands, you can only play the game in 4:3 or 16:9. The game is also PC only for the time being, but I would gladly pay the Switch tax to have it on the go as it’s an ideal fit for Nintendo’s console/handheld hybrid. This developer has started off with a bang, and I can’t wait to see their next project, whether that’s more Annalynn or something completely different.
>The classic arcade/Namco aesthetic has been nailed in every aspect, from the character design to the AI (the red snake even chases you down like Blinky!)
>Is “arcade hard” but has modern sensibilities to balance things out
>Distinct worlds and gameplay mechanics assure that the core gameplay never gets repetitive (as it might in actual early arcade games)
>No 21:9 support as of the current version (and this is more of a nitpick than anything)
Annalynn is a definite hidden gem among Steam’s trillions of indie games. It’s incredibly refreshing to see a retro-inspired game that reaches back further than the NES and manages to fire on all cylinders. The fact that this isn’t on modern platforms and mobile devices is almost a crime- it’s a perfect fit for the Nintendo Switch in particular.