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Animal Well

Animal Well

One man can clearly do more good in the indie genre than our wildest imagination allows us to believe. Petter has fallen under the spell of Animal Well...

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I have a real weakness for genre mash-ups, especially if I didn't expect in advance to be thrown into a mix of genres, mannerisms and vignettes that might not normally be mixed together. Of course, I remember how extremely excited I was about The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay when it became clear that the Swedish studio Starbreeze mixed first-person action with stealth with obvious role-playing elements and created what still stands as the best Swedish game of all time. Animal Well, created by the indie developer Billy Basso, is not Swedish. It also has absolutely nothing to do with Riddick or RPGs, but it's a rather unique genre mix that I can't really understand now that no one came up with before.

Animal Well is on the face of it a fairly typical Metroidvania, steeped in pixel-based atmosphere and with lots of precision jumping, but it's also a game full of exciting exploration and it's also a very good puzzle game. All of these different schemes are mixed together in a way that makes obvious nods to Castlevania, Metroid and Braid feel charming in a way that I didn't expect beforehand.

Animal Well
Animal Well
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In Animal Well, you assume the role of the world's best explorer, who in this game is a nameless, shapeless little pile of shit. Your job here is to explore dozens of underground caves and in these caves you have to jump, climb, swing and dash your way over all sorts of obstacles and solve loads of mechanically intricate platforming puzzles in order to avoid all the animals lurking in the underworld and reach it surprising, surprising ending. The path there is fickle and varied, and there's pretty much no part of this lovely little adventure that doesn't throw things at me as a player that I'd expect. I really understand that the development has taken almost seven years (!), partly because the indie guy Billy Basso (who makes up the one-man studio Shared Memory) had no real help with any part of the game, but also because it is really noticeable that every small portion of the environment, every puzzle and every enemy encounter is designed with care, thought and superb dexterity.

Perhaps the best part, in addition to the charm of the design and the mix of game types and manners, is undoubtedly the game control and its mechanics, where Basso has talked on several occasions in various developer videos about how he created his own game engine precisely to be able to shorten the amount of input lag between what is pushed in in the form of button commands and what actually happens on the screen, and it shows. Clearly. Rarely have I played a 2D game containing thousands of precision jumps that feels as smooth and contains as much precision as Animal Well does, erasing any expected frustration when I happen to miss a ledge, or one of the many bubbles I inflate to then be able to use as a ledge

Animal Well
Animal Well
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The graphics are super cool too, in just the right way. The pixels are of 8-bit size and the coloring is dark with a focus on dull purple tones and lots of dark green details, which I really like. The only thing I might not really like is the lack of music. Initially it builds atmosphere, not least because the environmental sounds are brilliant in their design, but after a few hours it really starts to be felt that this game would benefit from more atmospheric music, for longer periods. Minus that, I have no complaints about this lovely indie gem.

09 Gamereactor UK
9 / 10
+
Lovely design, Great controls, very atmospheric, Challenging in the right way
-
Needs more music
overall score
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Animal Well

REVIEW. Written by Petter Hegevall

One man can clearly do more good in the indie genre than our wildest imagination allows us to believe. Petter has fallen under the spell of Animal Well...



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