Mato Anomalies Review
Mato Anomalies is one of those games that seemingly came out of nowhere. I had never heard of this title before I got the chance to preview Mato Anomalies last year. I immediately fell in love with this turn-based RPG despite its flaws. Does the final game live up to my hopes, or did it break my heart? The answer is a bit complicated.
Something is rotten in the cyberpunk city of Mato. A mysterious drug called HANDOUT is being smuggled through interdimensional Rifts. The naïve detective Doe stumbles into one of these Rifts while investigating. He’s immediately attacked the Bane Tide, monstrous creatures born of human emotion.
Fortunately for him, the heavily tattooed urban shaman Gram appears to slay the monsters and drag him to safety. Unfortunately, the Rifts keep appearing near places of great suffering… and, as I said in the preview, Mato is an oppressive, capitalist hellhole full of human suffering. The pair must pool their skill sets if they want to save Mato.
Let me start by saying that I really enjoyed Mato Anomalies. However, it’s not a subtle game. Everything is driven to the extreme in Mato. Business moguls engage in human sacrifice. Unions are the last bulwark of safety for workers trapped in dystopic conditions. Aimless delinquents beat the homeless to death to vent their frustration. Students study themselves to death. And monstrous thoughts create literal monsters that must be vanquished to free the people who created them.
In short, Mato Anomalies is a game about being crushed under the weight of modern life. It’s about the constructed nature of the economy. The fear of being eaten by monsters is rivaled by the fear of being unable to support your family. The government mercilessly exploits and buries its citizens. People do terrible things to survive. I love this story and the troubled characters who drive it. However, if you don’t want a game with strong opinions about society, this is not for you.
The game also uses several interesting storytelling techniques. These include voiced comics, deliberately blurred graphics, and some strikingly cinematic FMV cutscenes. I got the impression that developers were trying to experiment with as many stylish storytelling mediums as possible. Some of these experiments paid off. Others really didn’t.
Mato Anomalies is very Hit or Miss
Mato Anomalies tells a fascinating story in a really confusing manner. It throws around new terms wildly and leaves important story developments offscreen. But what is shown is deeply compelling and the characters are always fun. This may not make Mato Anomalies a good game, per se, but it is definitely an enjoyable one.
The game’s greatest strength is its atmosphere. The city of Mato is scarred by the past and haunted by the future. Android cops drag protestors to underground experimental facilities. Towering antique staircases lead to swanky hotels. A towering hologram looms over a little old woman who will happily buy your stuff. And everywhere you go, there’s a tactile sense of fear. Even so, the streets are full of people just trying to live their lives. The cyberpunk city is a classic video game setting, but Mato is especially lovingly realized. And since most of the game takes place there, it has to be.
There’s voice acting in English, Japanese, and Chinese, and some of the English voices are pretty solid. I’m especially fond of Gram and Butterfly. The side characters tend to be more cartoonish, and Doe is still pretty wooden. Unfortunately, characters never shut up during battles, and it’s easy to get sick of hearing them.
The music and sound design are pretty nice. The haunting tunes that play as you wander the bowels of Mato add to the loneliness and alienation. And the stirring battle themes almost make up for hearing Gram say “The art of war,” for the hundredth time. Sadly, the animations are stiff and the lip movements are completely out of sync with the English voices. At least you can pet the cats and dogs now.
Experimental Doesn’t Mean Fun
Mato Anomalies’ more experimental elements either work really well or not at all. I love the verticality of the level designs, for instance. I adore being able to climb a lookout and see halfway across the level. This makes navigating much easier and backtracking more fun. And the surreal monster designs are great–I want more of them. However, not everything works out nicely. The voiced comics have panels appear at random. And one cutscene was so blurry I thought my graphics card was malfunctioning.
The dungeon crawling still reminds me of Shin Megami Tensei. Surreal imagery, winding labyrinthine levels, and lots of hidden treasure? Yes please. Unfortunately, there are also plenty of backtracking and teleportation points to keep track of. And while combat starts out easy, it rapidly increases in difficulty. Grinding becomes mandatory after you get three party members.
The visuals of Gram running around the swirling hellscape where mind and magic collide are stunning. His design looks completely at home in the insanity of the Lairs. Even when placed beside the confusing and sometimes ridiculous Bane Tide. Unfortunately, enemies don’t really move on the map. As a result, although some encounters are optional, most fights are required to progress. And as in the preview, Mind/Hack is still harder than any of the game’s actual combat. This is bad news for people who don’t like card games. Progress requires them.
If you’re in the mood for biting social commentary and atmospheric dystopian cyberpunk, play Mato Anomalies. Otherwise, you can safely skip this title. It will make a certain kind of gamer very happy. I certainly had fun in the city of Mato.