Animal Well review
Image via Billy Basso and Bigmode

Review: Animal Well Involves Thoughtful Platforming

When Metroidvanias and platformers place players into hostile environments, we often also get means to defend ourselves or fight back. Animal Well involves a different approach. We’re dumped into a dark, atmospheric space with occasionally hostile or foreboding elements with no means of attack, which makes for an interesting, thoughtful approach to exploration.

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Animal Well begins in a foreign environment. Players begin their life as a small, blobby sort of creature with teeny legs. They hatch in a series of darkened caverns with water, animal, animal spirits, and the remains of statues, structures, and switches. An ethereal squirrel marks the first encounter. Is it a friend? A guide? Just a resident who happens to inhabit this space? You’re left to your own conclusions. (If you recognize the name Nifflas or Knytt, expect a similar sort of adventure.)

In this situation, it works. Our avatar is a baby and newcomer to this world, just like we are. It knows as much as we do. The first few rooms act as a tutorial, minus actual tutorial elements. We learn our limitations. We can walk, jump, and climb. Find a phone? It can be used to save. We may happen upon an item like a match, which can later be used at a designated space to provide light for a darkened area. Firecrackers seem to grow like plants, and can be used to illuminate areas or distract more hostile entities. That squirrel from earlier? It might appear in a room as a hint that you’re wandering into a series of spaces that could lead to a notable encounter or acquisition.

Said acquisitions end up being keys to new abilities or opportunities in Animal Well, much like in Metroidvanias or platformers. After a few aquatic encounters in one region that also helped me understand how bubbles could be used to access otherwise unreachable spaces, I found a chest with a bubble wand. This meant I could backtrack to a past place, which previously was off limits, and use the wand to finally jump up. 

In one space, there were two switches that would need to be flipped one after the other to eventually allow me to jump my way up to a higher place by causing blocks to disappear and reappear. It was impossible to do so alone and with my current equipment. After I got the disc, it could ricochet between the two switches to allow me to platform my way to a new room. Because we’re left to our own devices, you need to experiment with these remnants left behind to understand what we’re now able to do.

The thing about it is, while the atmosphere is interesting and there are moments when I felt a bit challenged, there were times when I felt a bit bored when walking through the Animal Well caverns. Some light backtracking can come into play, say when you find certain items you didn’t have access to before. A few situations might feel threatening. But only a handful really tested me, and in one of those cases it was more because of the layout of the space and platforming ask than the being in front of me. 

Admittedly, what I liked best about Animal Well were the renditions of animals. I appreciated encounters with each one. Were they peaceful? Could I make use of them somehow to advance? Would one be my enemy and require some sort of technique, platforming skill, or item to surpass?  It made running through places I’d already been or spaces that were otherwise a bit bland more interesting.

Animal Well is a minimalistic experience that is about taking in the things you see around you. Yes, there’s platforming. You definitely need to keep roaming around and experimenting to find out which way you should go and where helpful items to progress may be. If the idea of being plopped in a foreign place that is ominous with no explanation and residents that may or may not want you there sounds appealing, Animal Well will prove an interesting trip and reward you with secrets to uncover.

Animal Well is available for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, and PC. 

Animal Well

Explore a dense, interconnected labyrinth, and unravel its many secrets. Collect items to manipulate your environment in surprising and meaningful ways. Encounter beautiful and unsettling creatures, as you attempt to survive what lurks in the dark. There is more than what you see. Switch version reviewed. Review copy provided by company for testing purposes.

If the idea of being plopped in a foreign place that is ominous with no explanation and residents that may or may not want you there sounds appealing, Animal Well will prove an interesting trip.

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Jenni Lada
Jenni is Editor-in-Chief at Siliconera and has been playing games since getting access to her parents' Intellivision as a toddler. She continues to play on every possible platform and loves all of the systems she owns. (These include a PS4, Switch, Xbox One, WonderSwan Color and even a Vectrex!) You may have also seen her work at GamerTell, Cheat Code Central, Michibiku and PlayStation LifeStyle.