While Mato Anomalies is ambitious, it never gets good at any of the things it tries to make me engaged. Sometimes it’s a really good thing to have a lot going on for players to interact with. It may keep the player from getting bored—diversify the experience, perhaps? But sometimes, a game can throw way too many different ideas into one hat, where the player is literally pulling mechanics out randomly, unsure of what to expect next.
Mato Anomalies follows this model, unfortunately, with a mixture of turn-based dungeon combat, card-battling, visual-novel-esque dialogue, live-action cutscenes, full-fledged comic-book sections, and even more. It’s a hodgepodge. While fans of titles like Persona or Shin Megami Tensei may come into Mato Anomalies with a bit more patience, it simply is a rough ride from top to bottom.
Doe—our main protagonist—is a run-of-the-mill private eye looking to do his job and help people. Until one day, he gets swooped into the world of demons and monsters known as the Bane Tide, where with the help of an exorcist named Gram, this pair and their band of eclectic friends can resolve the problems happening across the Shanghai-inspired town of Mato. While the story isn’t dry, it just doesn’t quite hold up. I regularly found myself growing tired of the often long-winded visual novel sections, where the characters’ personalities just never get interesting enough to get attached.
“While Mato Anomalies is clearly an ambitious game, it becomes a jack-of-all-trades—not great at anything due to being spread too thinly across all these mechanics.”
Traversing Mato can be monotonous, as most areas of the city look and act similarly, with a random vendor off to the side and NPCs doing very little. Getting from point to point in order to jump into the next dungeon or card-battling section just isn’t worthwhile, as Mato is quite empty.
Once in the dungeon sections of the game, things get a little better, but quickly show how similar each time entering one will be. Basic pathways connect you with the demons-in-waiting, where getting to a button to unlock a “puzzle” or finding your next save or health section is about as robust as it gets. Combat is fun once you unlock a full party, and the singular health bar for your entire group is a mechanic I haven’t seen before. Still, at the end of the day, it’s your run-of-the-mill JRPG-type stuff with very little differentiation between enemies—attacks, healing, cool-downs, etc.
The card-battling in Mato Anomalies took me by surprise, as there were already several mechanics and design choices happening, but might be the most interesting part of the game. Using a Mind/Hack ability, you are interrogating a victim from within their mind, where you use cards you’re drawing to inflict damage, shield up, or the like.
With demon orbs defending the culprit with various abilities, such as forcing you to discard with every attack or healing the enemy, you’ll need to prioritize which orbs you knock out first so that you can focus on the main target, all while having these abilities given to you randomly. There’s a good bit of strategy here, but it also feels a bit out of place and tougher in comparison to the rest of the experience.
While Mato Anomalies is clearly an ambitious game, it becomes a jack-of-all-trades—not great at anything due to being spread too thinly across all these mechanics. It lost me on the story front, wasn’t interesting in its combat and dungeon sections, and doesn’t offer a world I really care about. The card-battling segments were the most enriching, but other games do that better too, which makes traipsing through the muck to get to them unnecessary. Hardcore fans of the genre might find it scratches the itch between releases, but otherwise, Mato Anomalies doesn’t make the cut.