Animal Well (2024) Game Review – A pixelated world worth getting lost in

A pixelated world worth getting lost in

Next-generation graphics? You’ll find none of those in Animal Well. This title from developer Billy Basso is decidedly old-school. And when we say old-school, we aren’t necessarily referring to the type of game you would find on the SNES or Sega Megadrive back in the early 90s. Rather, we are talking about a game that wouldn’t look out of place on the Commodore 64 or the Spectrum 48K back in the 1980s. 

This isn’t to say the game isn’t beautiful to look at, however. With its colourful pixelated 2D graphics and bizarre, dream-like levels emblazoned with animal murals and plant life, it’s actually rather pretty, provided you aren’t looking for anything that will drop your jaw and cause you to declare it a graphical masterpiece. 

So, what is the game about? Well, it’s quite hard to say. You’re dropped into the game with no explanation of what you are or what you’re supposed to do. You simply control your character, which is best described as a blob, and explore the labyrinthine levels picking up objects and advancing through areas via the items you’ve been able to collect. 

Ladder fans are well-catered for here as you’ll be climbing up (and down) quite a lot of them. You’ll be jumping over platforms too, as well as cranking levers and avoiding various beasties that threaten to halt your progress. Hint: hedgehogs are not your friends!

The game is fun to play but it is rather frustrating at times. Within the first ten minutes, I was stuck in one of the game’s many rooms. I had successfully made my way over a large pool of water via a lift I had been able to raise. But then I encountered a problem – my way forward was blocked. I couldn’t return over the water because the lift was no longer there, so I naturally assumed the game was bugged and I would have to hit the restart button.

Silly me! As it turned out, there was a way forward, it’s just that I hadn’t manoeuvred myself into the exact spot needed to carry on. This part of the level was quite hard to see so I wasn’t being overly dim. As I progressed through the game, I encountered many other moments when I had to look at the screen closely to find the smallest of gaps to make my way onwards.

The game is full of tricky moments that often require you to have a specific tool at hand in order to progress.

In one room, for example, near the beginning of the game, there’s a beastie that wipes you out almost immediately when you set foot (not that you have feet) into a certain room. The screen flashes white to let you know you’ve been obliterated and then you’re sent back to the last save point. So, how do you get past this blasted nuisance? You need to pick up a firecracker that pops with a burst of colour and destroys the cretinous creature. 

Other items in the game include a bubble wand that helps your blob reach higher platforms and frisbees that can be thrown to activate faraway switches. Such items are useful for both traversal and puzzle-solving, so if you do get stuck on a level, there’s a chance you haven’t got what you need in your inventory.

Thankfully, you find a map early on in the game, so you should rarely get lost. That being said, you shouldn’t be afraid to go off the beaten path a little, as you may be rewarded with secret areas and collectables if you take the time to explore new areas. 

The game’s world is vast and complex but it’s fairly fun to explore. Along the way, you’ll meet various animals, some helpful and some not-so-helpful, including dogs, kangaroos, rabbits, and seahorses. Watching them frolic around the levels adds to the game’s charm and working out which of them are friendly adds to the game’s challenge. 

Occasional bursts of music ratchet up the tension when you’re forced headlong into an encounter with some of the nastier beasties. But otherwise, the game is relatively quiet, save for the sounds of nature and the pitter-patter of falling water that adds to the game’s atmosphere. The developers really capture the feeling of lost isolation, even though the abundance of wildlife means you’re never truly alone. 

Animal Well is available now for PS5, Nintendo Switch, and Windows. Those nostalgic for a game that looks and plays like like a platformer of old will love this one, as will anybody looking for a title that is decidedly surreal. It’s a frustrating game at times, requiring pixel-perfect precision, but with over 250 rooms to explore, there’s plenty of incentive to keep going, if only to see what weird and wonderful things the developers have in store. 

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  • - 8/10

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