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Animal Well: Animal Well- The Kotaku Review...

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Published Time: 09.05.2024 - 17:04:47 Modified Time: 09.05.2024 - 17:04:47

These are often the types of questions that get answered very early on in a game, usually by a character telling you what exactly is going on. That is not the Animal Well way. In addition to not giving any clear answers, it’s a game that’s always forcing you to ask new and weirder questions. Just when I thought I’d climbed Everest, I soon realized I’d barely reached the summit. Animal Well


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I can’t tell you Animal Well’s best moments. That’s because doing so would spoil the magic of discovering them for yourself, and because I still haven’t uncovered all of them yet either. I went into Animal Well hoping for a fun, evocative trip through a beautiful, lo-fi underground labyrinth. What I got was so much more. It’ll blow your mind. You’ll obsess over it. And then it’ll blow your mind all over again.

On your journey across the map, unlocking new as you earn new abilities and figure out new tricks, you encounter everything from tiny glow worms to towering ostriches. Penguins slam through stalagmites to reveal new passages. Chinchillas can be mesmerized to walk onto pressure plates that open the gates blocking your path. Each interaction builds out the possibilities until your mind is racing and you’re experimenting with what you can do in ways that feel absurd until they somehow work. There are also more than a few that are absolutely terrifying. Survival horror this is not. And yet…

There are several phases to playing Animal Well. The first is trying to get a basic understanding of its rules. Can you die? Yes. Are you supposed to kill things? Not exactly. There are treasure chests everywhere. What are you collecting? Eggs, it seems, though it’s not obvious why or what they’re for. Eventually there’s the growing sense that the map is roughly separated into four main with a special flame trapped in each one. Maybe grabbing them will unlock something?

These are often the types of questions that get answered very early on in a game, usually by a character telling you what exactly is going on. That is not the Animal Well way. In addition to not giving any clear answers, it’s a game that’s always forcing you to ask new and weirder questions. Just when I thought I’d climbed Everest, I soon realized I’d barely reached the summit.

Every screen is bursting with lively pixel art. Plants rustle as you walk by, waterfalls flow in the background, lamps swing from side to side when you bump into them, and a thin mist suffuses every zone, warping the surroundings as it floats by. Combined with the eerie, minimalist soundtrack and occasional ghostly howls of animals, it has the effect of a bustling, picturesque ecosystem that looks like an 8-bit terrarium housed in the sewer. It would be impressive if it were just for show, but like everything else in Animal Well, each part of it obliquely suggests its own little history, and offers a potential clue to unraveling it.

You don’t have weapons and there’s no conventional combat, but you do accrue a quirky toolbox of items that help you traverse the titular well and its hazards in new and uncanny ways. Some rooms are dark and home to ghosts you can exorcize with the help of firecrackers. A wand lets you blow bubbles that float into the air and provide a platform to jump off of. Think of it as Animal Well’s unique flavor of double-jump. A disc can fly back and forth across chasms to hit switches. A slinky can walk down steps to activate buttons that move platforms on a delay. It all works together for excellent puzzle platforming wrapped in vibrant retro vibes. But that’s only the start.

Even when other animals try to kill you, gnawing away at your pitifully small heart-shaped health meter, these violent acts, and how they vary from creature to creature, end up revealing something else the environment and how to navigate it that you never expected to find. Nothing in Animal Well was put there by accident, though the game is masterfully designed to make you feel like it was, as if you’re rummaging beneath the dirt of a magical rain garden rather than being painstakingly nudged through lone designer Bill Basso’s mind cathedral seven years in the making.

Screenshot: Shared Memory /Bigmode

Indie developer Shared Memory and publisher Bigmode, the newly formed label from Jason “videogamedunkey” Gastrow and Leah Gastrow, invited reviewers, content creators, and other early players to secret Discord ahead of launch. There dozens of shared hints, collaborated on puzzles, and poked at some of the furthest edges of Animal Well’s mysteries. It was one of the best ways to experience the game, harkening back to the days of swapping cheat codes and talking which bushes to burn in the original The Legend of Zelda at the playground during recess. And uncovering all of the game’s secrets will no doubt require a herculean community effort from more than just a single Discord.

That wasn’t the case with Animal Well. It helps that the game isn’t constantly trying to kill you. The platforming is also pretty forgiving. Falling into water is a no-no but you’re simply returned to the last ledge you were on without losing any health when it happens. The of the game where you need to really think fast and execute with precision are few and far between and totally thrilling. “Aha!” I gasped late one night when narrowly surviving a particularly harrowing ordeal after way more do-overs than I care to remember. But I will remember them. I will remember them all. There’s no doubt in my mind that Animal Well is one of the best games of the year. It’s also one I’ll never forget.

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