Mato Anomalies Review %

Mato Anomalies developed by Arrowiz Games caught my eye a while ago and publishers Prime Matter were kind enough to send us a review copy of their turn-based RPG/Visual Novel/Deck-building hybrid.

Initially Mato sees you take control of two main protagonists, Doe, a smart mouthed private detective tying to make a difference in his city and Gram, a mysterious hobo-ninja (or Shaman as the game describes him) who seems to be linked to the strange goings on. As you play you’ll gain more characters join your party. The Butterly was my favourite even if she does say ‘guy’ far too much.

If theres one thing I can’t stand in gaming, or any sort of narrative, it’s a slow build. We all know why we are here, let me get sleuthing and battling, we have mystery to uncover and turn based battles to enjoy. Well, I need not have worried, Mato Anomalies has almost no build up. Bamm, you’re thrown into the story and world at an almost daunting pace. This for me, at least, was fantastic, it instantly gave me a sense of what life in the City of Mato was like. Fast, dangerous and if you don’t keep your head up, you’ll get knocked down.

The game is set in a ‘Neo cyber punk’ version of Shanghai and the developers made a decent effort at introducing colloquialisms and also provide a glossary, unfortunately the games narrative shifts drastically from chapter to chapter. As a result the story feels disjointed and I very quickly lost interest in what was actually going on. The visual novel style through which 99% of the narrative, character interaction and world building take place was a large part of this. You can explore Mato in small sections and complete side quests, visually the games art stye is spot on and exactly what you’d expect, it’s also a treat to look at. 

Each chapter of Neo Anomalies seems to hit on a different political or social issue, but does so in such a heavy handed manner that my eyes almost rolled to the point of nausea and I just became frustrated reading page after page of stilted dialogue that wouldn’t sound amiss in a 6th form common room. 

That lack of slow bulid I mentioned earlier does have it’s drawback and in Mato that sacrifice is world building, the city looked cool (blader runner inspired everything here) but other than the odd passing comment you don’t really know all that much about the world your uncovering mysterys in.

It’s not all frustrating though as while the world and themes may disappoint the games protagonists are varied, likeable and simply put charming. Each character feels fully realised and were the main factor in why I kept playing for as long as I did. 

Mato Anomalies spends the first hour of the game hurling mechanics at you and essentially trying to explain the game through some rather poorly executed tutorials. The games core mechanics are fairy standard, when in control of Gram (and the rest of the party) the battles agains’t the dark tide are what you expect from a Turn based RPG. Mind/Hack battles while you attempt to uncover clues as Doe are simple enough in execution “Reading the card, explains the card”. I’ve played a lot (some would say too many) table top card games over the years, so I picked it up quickly but I do think the Mind/Hack tutorial in particular seemed to just assume a level of familiarity some gamers may not have. Not to mention that like all card games luck of the draw is a huge factor, some battles would be a breeze some would end in frustration as the hand of cards you happened to draw was in that moment useless.

The card playing element also disappoints visually, it;’s just a static screen thats barely animated at all, which is a wasted opportunity. In the RPG elements of the game animations are fluid, enemy design is interesting, varied and resonates the core theme of each chapter. 

Speaking of the RPG sections, there an are some cool features. Cooldowns on abilities in dungeons persist between battles which is a really nice tactical touch, it doesn’t add a huge amount of depth but its feels good when you don’t use your multi hit attack at the end of a battle and finding it ready to go in the next battle in which you’re suddenly outnumbered. 

Each dungeon reflects the core theme of the chapter in it’s design, for example chapter 1 is all about wealth and greed, so the dungeon floor floats above mounds of cash and stairwells are flanked by arrows moving upwards that bring profits and stocks to mind. Beyond that theres little to the RPG mechanics that even those new to the genre wouldn’t recognise. 

Put simply, Mato Anomalies is part visual novel, part RPG and part deck building game and achieves all of them to variying degrees of success but as a combination fails to inspire or delight. Not only that the game sees to prioritise the ‘Visual Novel’ aspect over the gameplay given that you can hit Auto battle during turn based battles and let the game play itself and skip the Mind/Hack deck card battles entirely.

Mato Anomalies isn’t a bad game, it’s just mediocre which I found so much more frustrating, theres so much wasted potential here. I wanted to love this game and I kept going and going hoping it would suddenly find a way into my heart, but unfortunately it never did. One thing it did do was put Arrowiz Games on my radar and I’ll be sure to keep my eyes peeled for future projects. Furthermore, Mato Anomalies could be classed as a budget release which while not complete removing my frustration does make me a little more forgiving. 

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