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Animal Well review - a bizarre yet brilliant Metroidvania

Animal Well is one of the oddest games I’ve ever played, but it’s a bizarre yet brilliant Metroidvania that you need to experience yourself.

Animal Well Review: A collection of hedgehogs congregate around a lamp in a woodland area, with other animals watching from the shadows

Our Verdict

Despite its confusing fast travel system and misbehaving yo-yo, Animal Well is a bizarre yet brilliant neon-bathed adventure, characterized by tricky puzzles, intense platforming, and a host of cute animals - almost all of which are out to kill you.

A bird call echoes through a series of neon-bathed subterranean tunnels, reverberating off their stony walls. Another responds, further away this time, calling back to its comrade from deep in the darkness. Then pure, crushing silence. You are a lone blob in a vast world full of creatures with an appetite for lone blobs. From the onset, Animal Well makes you feel incredibly small and oh-so-alone.

This feeling follows you as you explore the various caverns that weave together to form Animal Well’s branching ecosystem. Dogs are giants, and climbing to the ceiling feels like ascending Mount Everest. A single animal cry feels like a roar, reminding you that you’re not alone in the seemingly never-ending void. Bigmode and Billy Basso’s Metroidvania game is ethereal, beautiful, dark, and creepy all at once.

Pixel waterfalls cascade into shimmering pools, vibrant greens and pinks contrast starkly with deep violets; the underground world of Animal Well is stunning. The map is largely split between four different animal zones: fish, dog, lizard, and ostrich, each themed around their specific species. The fish area, for example, has a distinct aquatic feel, whereas the dog zone has more climbing and is largely land-based.

They each have their own unique identity and feel just big enough. The puzzles you encounter and the items you collect in each area also reflect those overarching themes – everything in Animal Well makes sense while simultaneously making no sense at all.

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Speaking of items, you accrue quite a few during your travels. Simple human toys become essential to the blob’s survival: you can use a slinky to trigger buttons and hold them in place, for example, and the bubble wand allows you to create an ascending platform at will – although beware, it does eventually pop.

You’ll have to chain these together to solve fiendish, sometimes multi-stage puzzles, and that’s where things get exciting. One prime example comes early on when you steal a seemingly harmless disk from an eerie statue, summoning a huge, dog-like ghost in the process that chases you across the screen, following you from room to room. I was quick to replace the basic disk I stole with the mysterious M. Disk, holding the spectral pooch at bay. Turns out, however,  that the M. Disk is a quest item that I needed to take to the opposite side of the map. With nerves steeled, I whipped it back out of the shrine, summoning the nightmarish ghost once again, and map-spanning chaos immediately ensued.

Animal Well doesn’t just test your puzzle game skills;  it pushes your platforming abilities to their limits. After several attempts at learning the route by heart, having to juggle different items to get the M. Disk to safety, I finally bested my eerie stalker, sending it back to whence it came. The relief and adrenaline trumped any lingering frustration – it was akin to the rush you get when you beat the final boss in a soulslike game; it felt amazing.

Animal Well review: A small blob creature being chased by a huge cat-like ghost in a dark area

But to get there, I died. And I died. And I died. Yet, not once did I actually want to yeet my controller into oblivion. Why? Because completing anything in Animal Well feels like an achievement – and that sense of triumph is one you want to chase.

After all, Animal Well is hard, and it’s made harder by the opaque design. When you pick up an item, there’s no description of what it does, just that it’s now yours. There’s a lot of trial and error that may put more casual players off, but for me discovery is very much part of the journey. I uncovered so many fun techniques by throwing things at walls (literally) and seeing what stuck, and it’s what kept luring me back in – what if I tried this? Can I do that? Oftentimes questions led to more questions, but figuring Animal Well out is deeply rewarding.

As I watched the final boss fall (no spoilers here), a part of me was slightly deflated; I wanted more of those sweet little dopamine hits. But trust me when I say, there is, in fact, more to Animal Well. Defeating the final boss is just the start of an even more complex adventure, and while I can’t tell you too much about that right now, it’s certainly worth exploring everything all over again.

Animal Well review: A small blob stands next to an orb with a blue flame in it in a cavern with seahorse carvings and vines on the roof

One real issue I had with Animal Well was the yo-yo, which you can use to smash objects, hit buttons, and, in one instance, take a random rodent for a walk. However, it’s particularly unruly and difficult to use – especially for someone with a slight tremor like myself. I often find it flying off in the other direction, and getting it around tight corners was a struggle. Despite knowing how to solve a puzzle, I’d get sick of trying to thread the string through awkward-shaped gaps because it wouldn’t perform as expected.

I also wasn’t a huge fan of the fast travel system. There are two distinct methods, and while one is quick and useful, fast traveling from the central hub often left me perplexed, especially when first trying to active it, and then again when trying to remember where the fast travel points are situated. Thankfully, I was able to mark them on the map. I only later found out that there’s a much easier method of doing things (I won’t tell you what that is or how to find it), but given fast travel is a core system in such a sprawling game, I’d argue it needed a little more explanation to reduce the boredom and irritation of extended wandering.

Animal Well review: A colorful room filled with neon plants

And yet, despite my yo-yo woes, I can’t help but want to play the entire game all over again. There are puzzles I’ve still not finished and enemies I’ve yet to defeat. As the core game comes to a close and the endgame awaits, there are hundreds of enigmas still lurking in the shadows, waiting for an unsuspecting blob to come along and solve them.

Mournful meows beckon me; caged cats require my aid. An Ostrich in a hamster wheel caws out for freedom. Hedgehogs are causing trouble, just like my own. Only one blob can put an end to the chaos, and I, armed with my bubble wand and frisbee, will be there to save the day – even if I end up dying once or twice along the way.