Not the most original idea, but a fun twist and good execution makes for a great game
Disclosure: An Xbox One download code was provided by the publisher for this review
Falling block puzzles are far from rare. From the main stays of the Tetris and Puyo Puyo franchises, to the less frequent series like Dr. Mario and Columns, these games are popular for a reason: they are easy to pick up, fun to play, and have a high skill ceiling. Anode retains these all-important qualities whilst adding its own twist to the gameplay.
The gameplay in Anode is perhaps most similar to Puzzler Fighter. Shapes made up of three blocks, each one of several different colours, are dropped into the bin. The colours can be matched with any of the eight adjacent blocks (including diagonals) to form chains. The diagonal matching allows long intertwining chains to be made, and the chain won't be removed from the bin until it is connected with a detonator gem. These can be either coloured, like the blocks, or neutral which will detonate all adjacent chains. Destroying a long (seven blocks or more) chain will award a power-up. In single-player, these help the player, for example, by removing half the blocks of a certain colour or adding a detonator; in multi-player, these can be used offensively, for example, by preventing the opponent from rotating blocks. As more chains are detonated, the game pieces drop more and more quickly, as one would expect.
So far, this is fairly unremarkable; pretty much all of these elements are fairly common in the genre. However, Anode has one more trick up its sleeve - the addition of coupler blocks that allow chains of different colours to be joined. Initially these are little more than an annoyance - all these weird triangular blocks keep appearing and junking up my well. However, as I become more versed in their use, they became indispensable tool in crafting long chains and avoid colours getting trapped in the bottom of the bin. It's a fairly simple addition, but made Anode feel like more than Yet Another Tetris Clone and added a satisfying twist to the familiar gameplay.
The previously mentioned power-ups can be saved until it is useful to use them. Multiple can be held at the same time, and the game's sidebar will list what the next triggered power-up will do. The only real problem I had with the game - and this is more my fault than the game! - is that I ended keeping power-ups until I was about to lose, then mashing the button, triggering them all at the same time, and hoping for the best. There's certainly a skill to using them properly, but deciding when to use, say, "Destroy half of the green blocks" isn't easy whilst also playing the game.
In general, Anode executes its ideas well, and the variety of modes is sufficiently broad. For single-player, there is the endless mode (keep going until the bin is full), time attack (highest score in a preset time), and a mission mode (similar to endless mode, but the goal is to complete specific tasks such as "Detonate three chains of four or more blocks"). There is, of course, local competitive play. Aesthetically, Anode keeps it simple: there are the menus and the game in the light sci-fi style, but little in the way of window-dressing. This is definitely a case of less is more though - the game stays out of the way and just lets me play. The music was unremarkable, but for this type of game I'm more often than not listening to my own music or talking to other people anyway, so this wasn't a huge mark against it.
I don't tend to comment on price, as value is inherently wildly subjective and prices fluctuate, but it is worth noting that Anode launched at only $4. With such a low cost of entry compared to many other games on the platform, enjoyable gameplay, and a competent execution makes this an easy recommendation. There were a few minor annoyances along the way - mostly learning how to use the couplers and power-ups effectively - and the lack of online multiplayer is a shame, but overall I greatly enjoyed my time with Anode.
Edit 2016-August-16: Added review code disclosure