Animal Well Review – A Psychedelic Twist

Animal Well Review

With the influx of Metroidvania titles flooding digital stores, the genre is at risk of saturation. Although the aesthetics differ, many titles stick firmly to fundamentals that evoke a sense of familiarity. Animal Well looks to buck the trend with its quirky take on conventions, helping the retro-inspired adventure carve its own identity. While maintaining the essence of the genre, Billy Basso’s unique approach to design captures an original, fresh, and exciting take on the formula.

You spawn in a strange and unusual world without knowledge of where to go or what to do. Thanks to the nonlinear design, you can venture out in any direction to discover what secrets await. Exploration is at the forefront. You are encouraged to wander down every path and are rewarded for doing so. Each avenue fleshes out the rich, interconnected world which aids backtracking across the distinctive biomes. With so much to see and discover, there’s always a new trail to trek when you stumble across a barrier.

Time to Play

As you progress, you will gather items that allow you to solve the array of puzzles that you encounter. Each playful toy can be used in different ways, expanding its scope. For example, rather than acquiring the ability to perform a double jump, you receive a bubble wand. With this, you can blow a bubble, leap onto it and then jump to your desired location. While in essence, it’s the same skill, the wand offers more variety and strategy. You will need to decide where to blow it and time your jump as the bubble slowly ascends. This adds a refreshing twist to a conventional mechanic and this continues throughout. Other items you collect also use mundane objects in zany ways, giving you a range of methods to tackle segments.

Puzzles differ, challenging you to assess each situation from different perspectives to continue. Most areas rely on a new item but then slowly intertwine others to create satisfying and rewarding moments. Due to the nonlinear design, you may venture down one area only to realize that you are unable to go further due to not having the correct item. This adds real freedom to the experience and can also make certain areas harder to maneuver through. Although this does mean that you’ll revisit regions several times, the well-designed map allows you to place markers and notes so you know exactly where to return.

No Time to Fight

The game removes combat and focuses on puzzles and platforming. This results in tense enemy encounters as you have to navigate past them through the use of items, speed, or stealth. This refreshing approach shines as the game continues to introduce new and innovative ways to tackle confrontations. Bosses also require you to think outside the box to overcome the situation. The level of challenge is perfectly balanced due to the thoughtful design. While you’ll often get stumped, it’s worth it for that eureka moment where everything makes sense and you can progress further on this trippy adventure.

As you have to balance on bubbles, scurry under blocks and much more, it’s vital for the controls to be responsive and Animal Well delivers. Every aspect of movement is tight which makes traversal a joy. My only gripe is how you select your items. In a handful of segments, you need to quickly change from one ability to another. Since this is tied to your shoulder button, a mad panic ensues as you frantically cycle through to your desired item. A radial menu would have eased this and allowed you to quickly select the item you were looking for.

A Hallucinatory Episode

The 8-bit aesthetic heightens the strange art direction to add an unsettling, trippy vibe to the game. Ethereal animals trot around the background and abrasive musical cues accompany the action, making your bizarre journey down the rabbit hole even crazier. There’s something intoxicating about the whole presentation even down to the CRT scan lines that take you back to yesteryear. While I undoubtedly have a fondness for the era it’s emulating, the manner in which it interprets this is brilliant and adds to the addictive nature of the game.

Animal Well is a refreshing twist on the Metroidvania formula. Its tight platforming and clever puzzles make each exhilarating trek to distinct regions a blast. Although the retro-inspired art direction and odd presentation may not resonate with everyone, the originality and charm that imbues the game make this trip to the absurd a must for fans of the genre.

***A PlayStation 5 code provided by the publisher***

The Good

  • Clever Puzzles
  • Tight Platforming
  • Lots to Discover

The Bad

  • Switching Items
  • Art Style May Not Appeal to Everyone