I can’t report my time with AnShi in good faith without first mentioning the minor drama I had finding a compatible controller to play it. While one comes highly recommended by its store page, AnShi refused to recognise my PS4 controller, and so my first notable experience with the game involved rifling around for an alternative. It’s not a great first impression, particularly given that a mouse and keyboard are actually easier to use.
After this initial hiccup, AnShi kicked off with our unnamed alien protagonist crashing their spaceship into a nearby planet. I was immediately taken with their strangely charming design, like a distant cousin of Oddworld’s Abe found the rave scene and never looked back. With no means of escape, the only course of action is to explore… via a high-tech hoverboard, because of course!
Controlling the hoverboard felt too slippery for my taste, and thankfully the options menu includes adjustable sensitivity. However, this was only part of the problem. AnShi allows the player to move the camera, but when that camera also tracks the player’s every movement, moving both simultaneously makes it control like a three-legged dog on a slip ‘n’ slide.
In fact, AnShi’s camera is by far my biggest gripe. Navigating the planet’s rocky outcroppings sends the camera juddering along, and while it dilates to accommodate moving at speed, collisions cause it to abruptly snap to its starting position. This, combined with an unforgiving screen shake, could be a dealbreaker for players prone to simulation sickness. You can explore on foot, but there’s no good reason to do so. Cutscenes frequently force the player to walk, and only serve to emphasize how painfully arduous it is to navigate this way.
A bumpy ride
That said, I’ve never traversed an environment quite like AnShi’s. Kaleidoscopic flora twists and blooms in otherworldly shapes, and the architecture – great slabs of ancient stone interwoven with thick cables and strips of neon – is H.R. Giger without the body horror, a captivating blend of the primitive past and far-flung future. There’s a distinct impression of accidentally uncovering the remains of a long-forgotten civilization, with plenty of pyramid motifs driving the point home.
While AnShi unashamedly labels itself an interactive experience rather than a game, it’s easy to notice gaps where gameplay should be. Each level includes a communion with the ‘elders’, who present anagrammatic symbols to decode. I’d have loved an active role in deciphering this alien language; instead, the symbols arrange themselves automatically. Equally, AnShi flirts with the idea of environmental puzzles, but there’s little puzzling to do; no matter how complex it may seem, everything has a habit of solving itself.
The game is also scattered with collectables. Usually, I’d take this as permission to scour its environments, but I found myself repeatedly brought to heel by AnShi’s near-tyrannical linearity. Not only was I constantly bumping into invisible walls, but the game was also quick to close the path behind me. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with a linear path, I’d have appreciated more attention being paid to the illusion of freedom suggested by AnShi’s panoramic landscapes.
When are you in but out?
AnShi’s world captivated me, but without a clear purpose or end goal, the journey felt strangely hollow. It was AnShi’s soundtrack that put in the work, sweeping me up in an epic score that ascribed meaning to a narrative too skeletal to stand up by itself. AnShi’s soundtrack establishes the game’s tone rather than embellishing it, and at times it feels like the gameplay serves to capture its spirit rather than the other way around.
Parallels will be made between AnShi and Journey, which is a bit unfair. For a start, AnShi is the brainchild of a single developer. Second, the protagonist of Journey never had a hoverboard, which for AnShi, is a literal game-changer. I would caution anyone looking to recapture their experience with Journey to consider AnShi on its own uniquely alien merit, or otherwise brace for disappointment. Ultimately, AnShi wowed me with its otherworldly vistas and sweeping soundtrack, but its meandering plot left me wanting more.