Animal Gods PC Review
When Animal Gods begins it shows off the game’s really nice art style which I have to say, I have never seen anything similar in another game. It has a really nice calm and relaxing tone that I was really into, so much that when the game started I didn’t realize it had, I was so enthralled. This is probably my favorite part about the game, the environments look amazing and the main character, Thistle, looks very cool. It also uses the environment to visualize the story by integrating words into the environment which looks nice but that is not used heavily until the end of the game.
I began to wander and explore around the world until I reached one of the “dungeons” of a god. There is the option to go down any of the three paths, the game never forces the player to go down a specific direction. Each of these “dungeons” grant Thistle with a power-up that will allow her to traverse an area, my first one being the cloak, which allowed me to dash as a little ball of light at a set distance. It was really cool, the first time that I became that ball of light and dashed around but once the obstacles started I realized that there was a giant problem with this game. Animal Gods is stuck between an action game or a puzzle game and it isn’t doing either in a fun way.
Thistle cannot fly through these obstacles at incredible speeds, this is something I realized very fast so I started to take my time with them, but the power up and obstacles are not designed in a way that make a player pause and think either. Instead, because of the set distance that the cloak’s flying abilities are set it is guesswork to figure out exactly where Thistle needs to stand to reach the other side of an obstacle. This causes a lot of frustration because when the player dies from running into the obstacles Thistle respawns at a point that is usually not at the start of the obstacle where the death occurred. So I go up to a poisonous river, attempt to make it across, fail, then go back again, maybe I make it this second time, but the next one I fail and I have to retry both of them again. This is a cycle that is consistent throughout the entire game.
Once a solid hold on the new ability is given then the game granted me an upgraded version of the ability which, for the cloak, meant that after dashing once if I hold the space bar I could dash across longer areas. Due to the upgrade, the game adds in longer areas to jump across with my new ability but it only makes the game more frustrating. To dash longer, it isn’t as simple as holding the space bar to charge it, instead Thistle must dash once, then charge, then make the long dash across an area. It isn’t as simple as just dashing anywhere to charge either because the abilities can only be used in certain areas, typically very small spaces where obstacles are placed. This leads to many deaths simply trying to charge the dash, but what makes it even more vexing is that it cannot be canceled. This was the area where the most deaths occurred, it was a complete fun-ridden area that made me afraid because I had only seen at least one-third of the game from that point.
Thistle also finds a bow and sword power-up through her journey which I can say similar things to the cloak about. There are a lot of obstacles where it is trial-and-error, but the areas that consist of combat mainly employs button mashing until unmoving enemies with tremendous amounts of health die. This isn’t fun at all. When the mechanic is introduced there are some small blocks that have to be cut down, and then when the charge attack is introduced it makes it so the blocks take longer to cut down. There is a little bit of variation on this with moving platforms and enemies with floating boxes around them but killing them is never really satisfying. The bow is very similar to the sword except that it is ranged so there are still many enemies with a lot of health, rotating crates, moving platforms and dissatisfaction.
At this point the art was really confusing to me, what I loved when I started the game had suddenly started to clash with the mechanical parts. The enemies are simple box images that only change colors and stretch when the take damage, sometimes they have an arm stretch out. The crates and poisonous rivers are the same, they just seem out of place against the nice looking environments. There are parts that feel like the complete opposite though, where the art actually feels like it is getting in the way of the game because it is trying to stay amalgamated. As you enter these obstacle-ridden dungeons the environments cause some trouble once you begin exploring. While it looks nice, there are times where it overlays over the explorable area and there is a false hope that you can get to certain parts, but you can’t see where you are going so you try feeling out every edge to see if you may be missing something. Also, the key story items in the game, journals, are interpreted as circles, which are also the checkpoints and boss damage points in the game. At the beginning of the game it is confusing because they just seem like part of the ground but after a while I just started to assume which circle meant what and most of the time it worked out.
Once the end of a dungeon is reached Thistle must fight one of the three Animal Gods to “release” them, essentially killing them. I found these parts to be the most disappointing because at one point they give the idea that the gods are not simply beings that are wreaking havoc but they feel remorse or they have become broken as time has moved on. This was only the case with one of them though, as the other two never revealed anything exceptional. Thistle comes to kill them and they aren’t happy about it. The fights that do occur between Thistle and the Animals Gods are more of the obstacles that were traversed in the earlier dungeon. If the Animal God is at the end of the cloak dungeon, you have to use the cloak to defeat the boss. It never feels like you are fighting against a powerful being though, for one they never give off a fearsome or even powerful vibe. When they appear they simply vibrate and make small, subtle growling noises. Secondly, during the fights the gods are never doing anything. Thistle is just traversing obstacles and walking to circles to hurt them. When one of them have been defeated, it doesn’t feel like an achievement, it just feels like the end of the dungeon.
It isn’t until the end of the game that all three of these powers can be used, and even by the end of that sequence it feels like the end of a tutorial. None of the dungeons or obstacles were thought provoking and none of them felt cool. It just felt like the game was setting me up to do something special but it never actually gets there. Even at the final boss fight, there isn’t anything much different from what was seen during the original three boss fights, which made defeating it not incredibly thrilling at all.
We play games to enjoy new experiences, so that we can do things that have never been done in our regular lives. Sometimes it is fun to play as a character that would likely not exist in reality, other times it is just really fun to find a game that does something new and is enjoyable to play. Animal Gods makes me feel empty after completing it in slightly over two hours. The gameplay is completely vacant of anything fun and the story tries to create a world through techniques that just don’t work. The art is nice and the music even has a zen-like quality to it but they cannot redeem the frustration that this game provides.