Animal Well game review. A hit of the independent scene or a bragged average?

Animal Well game review.  A hit of the independent scene or a bragged average?

Animal Well is one of the highest-rated productions of 2024 so far, which may come as a shock to those outside the industry. Will a game that looks like a relic of the past have a chance in December’s plebiscites for the best titles?

Every self-respecting gamer knows well that playability will always be more important than graphics, and a great idea can make up for technical shortcomings. Wherever, but in the world of computer games it is not the appearance, but the character that matters.

Playability > graphics

In the graveyard of forgotten titles, we can find many productions that once boasted beautiful graphics and visual fireworks. Every player will remember dozens of “ugly ducklings” that, despite the inaccessible interface or repulsive graphics, managed to attract us for hours and remain in our hearts forever.

Animal Well definitely doesn’t fall into the former category. A casual person might assume based on the screenshots that this is a game created sometime in the early 1990s. Today, a street gamer would probably not even give a chance to a title with such a small color palette and such visible pixels.

Animal Well is a spring hit

Fortunately, Reader, we are in the know. We know what the retro gaming trend is all about and we are not afraid of the term pixel art. Taught by experience, we do not judge by appearance. Encouraged by the nickname VideoGameDunkey (a respected YouTuber who released this gem of the indie scene as part of Bigmode), we give Animal Well a chance.

Why am I writing this as if Animal Well wasn’t one of the most talked about releases of the year, universally praised by reviewers, appreciated by gamers, with “overwhelmingly positive” ratings on Steam and a crazy 91 score on Metacritic? I do this because I know that not everyone has to be up to date and interested in games to this extent. I’m trying to reach people who have encountered this title for the first time.

How to encourage someone to give a chance to such an unusual game in 2024? Not only the graphics are old-school here, but also the gameplay. Animal Well doesn’t guide us, we often have to draw the map ourselves, and having to discover the game’s mechanics on our own is both delightful and frustrating.

It’s a game made “the way games used to be made.” Putting great faith in the player’s mind and his ability to creatively overcome obstacles. A simple example: we cannot easily defeat our opponents by jumping on their heads or hitting them with a sword. We have to avoid them using the items we have, the use of which we are not sure of.

We learn everything ourselves, and the pieces of equipment we find sometimes have several uses. What’s worse, the game has a relatively open metroidvania structure, so each player will acquire individual items in a different order. The Internet is full of reports in which someone found the basic item only after a few hours of play.

Animal Well frustrates and delights

While playing with Animal Well, I was tempted several times to look for a solution to a problem on the Internet. I was angry at the long wandering in the maze and having no idea what to do next. However, each time I was warned by my fellow players that by using the hints, you would lose the essence of Animal Well. And I listened, closed the browser tab, and returned to my search.

The greatest strength of the first Bigmode game are the moments when we shout “eureka!” and hit our foreheads with an open hand. Those moments of revelation when we finally figured out the solution to a problem or found a hidden passage. A momentary admiration for the ingenuity of the game’s author and a pleasant feeling of “breaking” an unyielding opponent.

Animal Well is likeable, but it can also be very upsetting. Sometimes we have the solution right in front of us, but for some reason we forget about it and it will be difficult for us to find the same place on the map again. There are metroidvanias that lead us through the maze painlessly (Ori), there are also those where we run a bit (Hollow Knight). The game described here belongs to the second group and not everyone will like it.

In the game described here, there is no combat typical of the genre, which makes running through numerous levels more enjoyable. Here the enemy are environmental puzzles, it’s more of a logic game, although sometimes dexterity is also useful. Ultimately, I managed to complete it after 22 hours, and several of them were spent searching for the “right” ending. However, it is so fancy and complicated that I recommend it only to the toughest players. I honestly admit that I gave up here and after watching the “true ending” videos, I was happy with my decision.

Animal Well is not a beautiful game, but you can enjoy it. Graphics are more of an element of the gameplay here, and over time we learn to look at everything we see differently, because it can significantly help us achieve our goal. Similarly with music, because the sounds in this game are sometimes worth listening to not only for the aesthetic experience.

Will Animal Well encourage creators with their own vision?

This game puts gameplay first, subordinating all other elements to it. It doesn’t matter what it looks or sounds like, what matters is why it does it this way and not another. Everything here may be a hint, but it may also be a misdirection. There may be secrets everywhere, but ultimately we’re running around the maze like a madman, feeling every wall and throwing a spring into every tank.

If other reviewers’ praises haven’t convinced you, this text probably won’t convince you either. Maybe it will even discourage those who don’t like to puzzle over unclear puzzles and get angry when they get lost in the game for a few hours. Animal Well, although it may seem similar to other low-budget metroidvanias, is not an ordinary game. He does many things differently and goes his own way.

I don’t think it’s necessarily the best indie game of 2024. However, it will certainly be remembered and may influence other creators, encouraging them to take a bolder, more individual approach to their productions. Thanks to Animal Well, Billy Basso should also gain a lot of recognition and funds to create another title. I am convinced that it will be worth waiting for.

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