Animal Well

Animal Well

released on May 09, 2024

Animal Well

released on May 09, 2024

What lurks beneath the surface of this deceptively minimalistic adventure? In Animal Well there is more than what you see. Explore a dense interconnected labyrinth, and unravel its many secrets. Collect items to manipulate your environment in surprising and meaningful ways. Encounter creatures both beautiful and unsettling, and try to survive what lurks in the dark.

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Very frustrating but also incredibly satisfying. Got to the credits and felt like leaving it but maybe I'll drop back in to find all the extra eggs at some point.

Somehow I forgot to review this!

I think my favorite parts of this game were post-credits when I was exploring and trying to find all the little odds and ends I missed previously. It’s a smart game! Just a different kind of smart compared to Tunic.

I don’t feel the urge to see the story all the way through because there is no story. That makes it hard to stay motivated in seeing all the endings.

Items are great! Loved the creativity in all the items.

I've recently fallen in love with this novel concept that's floating around with different names: knowledge-based games or metroidbrainia.

Games where, instead of obtaining new objects or abilities to get to new parts of the world or beat some enemies, as in titles in the metroidvania genre, you need to learn something in order to progress.

Metroidbrainia then is more of an extra coating for the main genre of the game. Here, Animal Well plays like a metroidvania, and has some metroidbrainia moments scattered throughout. I'd say the knowledge you gain isn't as earth-shaking as something in, say, Tunic, because, when it happens it doesn't recontextualize a concept to a fundamental level, instead it provides a shortcut of sorts most of the time.

The creativity in Animal Well is overwhelming. The items you get to use are so unusual and the uses you can give them are so fun to discover. The level design is amazing and there's a constant sense of "was that always there" throughout the game.

Meticulous observation will get you far here. However, there are certainly obtuse puzzles that I struggled with a lot. Sometimes I had the right idea on how to solve a puzzle but was missing the where or the when. I'd say the game would benefit hugely of a little more "tutorialization", as in having areas designed to learn more advanced techniques, without an actual tutorial screen. The game does have some of these areas but they weren't really obvious most of the time.

This ecosystem that Billy Basso has created is extraordinary. It feels lived-in, it has such a sense of scale, it is beautiful and menacing. Graphically, I just love how it looks and have done it since the first time I saw it. The sound of the game has not grown on me that much. It's mostly environmental sounds, with almost no music tied to anything except for specific moments, animals and areas. I understand the approach and it's probably the most fitting one for what they were going for. Still, I would have loved to have an actual soundtrack to give it a listen now that my journey has ended.

My conclusion is, this is one for the ages. Take it slow, you can only play it first once. If you have someone that has already played it to help you out when needed but not to spoil you right away, that's probably the best way to experience it.

Now, an additional note
When I watched the video from videogamedunkey announcing he was getting into video game publishing, I got incredibly excited, I even got emotional and shed some tears. He's one of my favorite YouTubers and knowing he was fulfilling one of his dreams with his lovely wife, just warmed my heart. Also, I trust his taste in video games, so I just knew that whatever came out of it was gonna be good. It's safe to say that many of us just didn't expect something THIS good. I'm glad to be here near to the release of the game, instead of years later as that's how I usually play most of the time.

Played on Nintendo Switch.
Ending 1: 16 hours, 35 minutes.
Ending 2: 26 hours, 2 minutes.
Total playtime for some "extra cleanup": 28 hours, 31 minutes.

Great game with riveting atmosphere, fun exploration and gorgeous visuals. A lot of the puzzles are very satisfying to uncover on your own, but without consulting the internet many times, my dumb ass probably wouldn't have gotten through this.

As fun as the gameplay and exploration are, there are certain elements about the game that hold it back. Fast travel is something that absolutely could have been implemented better. The amount of time I've spent with this game just jumping all over the map to get from point A to point B over and over again was frustrating. Constantly giving you roundabout ways to your destination, while inherently Metroidvania-like, felt cumbersome. Every time I needed to reach a destination, of course it's never that easy. Have to travel through an additional five rooms just to get to that destination a different way. It got a bit annoying at times.

Overall, still a mighty impressive game and worth playing if you like the genre.

As a personal aside, this is yet another game in which I've abandoned my platinum trophy journey. I've been finding myself at an interesting time in my gaming career where grinding out collectibles is near insufferable to me. I finished the game with 33/64 eggs and cannot bring myself to find any joy in grinding out the rest. Maybe one day I'll revisit and pop those final trophies, but until then, my focus has been on playing games, beating them if I like them and then moving on.

(EDIT: After a night's rest, I booted up the game and got the platinum today. Heheh. I still got it.

Platinum Trophy #141
Platinum #4 of 2024 )

I think this is the best metroidvania I've played since Ori 2. For comparison, it's more Axiom Verge 2 than Axiom Verge, which might not be everyone's cup of tea, but it's so well made that the lack of combat shouldn't be a deterrent.

The sense of mystery and discovery is masterful. The look is low-fi (8-bit?) at first glance, but it proves undeniably fresh, modern and beautiful as you progress. The first "layer" is perfectly satisfying if you want to stop there after seeing credits, but I can't imagine not wanting to explore more, at least for a few hours. Each new item discovery is exciting since each opens up new possibilities for exploration.

i feel like i should fw this more than i do i'm sorry to say