Animal Well — all is well

I’ve been playing Animal Well over the weekend and am really happy with it. The vibe is great, the exploration solid, the abilities good fun.

So far, it’s been filled with (secondary) uses for abilities that stop me in my tracks and make my eyes grow wide with wonder about how to apply them elsewhere. It’s an intoxicating feeling.

It helps that this game also manages to dip into a “warm dark” liminal atmosphere. Its neon blue over black colour scheme is delightful and the pixel art complements it wonderfully.

The atmosphere is good enough to make me recollect an under-appreciated metroidvania called Knytt Underground. It too dove into “warm dark”, focused on exploration, and dabbled in metroidvania abilities that were very different. To a certain extent Animal Well feels like an unauthorized sequel.

Are there negatives? Well, you shouldn’t expect a full-fledged combat system. This is even less combat focused than Axiom Verge 2. That game however, kept combat as its bread and butter. Animal Well ignores it mostly.

That means the game might feel empty or simplistic from moment to moment. You walk around and solve a puzzle here and there. Some people may miss some meat next to their potatoes.

For me it works. The game manages to mix up stuff constantly; if the exploration doesn’t keep me occupied, a new encounter with a yet unseen animal definitely will.

Most importantly though, it makes you feel clever. Often delivering that feeling of you breaking the game even though what you’ve just done was always the intention of its design. That alone makes it a great addition to the genre.