Animal Well

Posted:  May 09, 2024
SDHQ BUILD SCORE: 
Full StarFull StarFull StarFull StarFull Star
SDHQ CONTENT SCORE: 
Full StarFull StarFull StarFull StarFull Star
Cloud Saves

Review

Animal Well was provided by Billy Basso/Bigmode for review. Thank you!

I think I have mentioned it many times in my articles and reviews, but I am a sucker for gorgeous, colorful visuals. I don't need anything to be extremely detailed, but if you make things look nice and very colorful, especially on an OLED screen, you have my interest. That's how Animal Well hooked me initially. I remember seeing its first trailer on Video Game Dunkey's YouTube channel, and I was blown away by its beautiful display and tantalizing artwork in the background. I knew right then and there that this was a game I wanted to play, and after playing it, I can say it's one of my favorite metroidvanias to play on the Steam Deck.

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Let's get the obvious topic out of the way first, the visuals. I mentioned a moment ago that I love the art style and vibrant colors, which rings true throughout the game. Each area is littered with haunting backgrounds and colorful lights, which illuminate the area in various vibrant colors that make each simplistic tile pop with detail. The designs of the animals you encounter all feel unique, adding to the dark, enchanting atmosphere you will traverse, which is enhanced further with the eery sounds. I don't think there was ever one area where I didn't stop for a moment just to let it sink in...unless I was chased by a shadow or crow...then I ran like hell. But when I could just take a moment, it was wonderful to watch the flamingos underneath me or the iguana above me sticking its tongue out, trying to eat me.

Animal Well also cleverly uses physics to make the world feel a bit more alive. It can be something as simple as blades of grass moving as you walk by, smoke clearing from firecrackers, or vines hanging from the wall that contort to your body as you walk by them, but I loved each use of physics here. There were multiple levels where I would just stay in the vines and move back and forth to watch them flow with me, and I loved it.

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At its core, Animal Well is a Metroidvania, so you will be going from room to room, getting new items, and backtracking to use those items and unlock new pathways. Unlike other metroidvanias, though, the focus is less on action and more on how you can use the items you get to interact with the environment. The world is littered with environmental puzzles that require clever use of each item or some platforming skills, but each one feels distinct from the others. Whether it's timing bounces on bubbles to get to another side or using a slinky to hit buttons and make it move boxes as you run past them, it's just wonderful.

The game uses a lot of physics to gauge how animals move and how your items will behave, and as a sucker for physics in video games, I was all over this. You need to think about how you use your items, as well as how they will react to the environment. Whether it's throwing a firecracker to scare off shadows or choosing to drop a slinky in a specific spot to make sure it hits a button to open a door, you will need to think about exactly what you will do.

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I also love that the game feels very nonlinear. I could collect items in a random order and not feel like I was missing anything. There was almost no direction at all during my play. I would just look at the map, see an opening in the side of my area, and follow it. When I would backtrack and go the other way, I would learn that I could have gone the other way without being stuck. There was no set path for me, I could just explore freely to discover on my own, and I loved it.

There are also tons of secrets scattered throughout the world, which require you to look at the world and think about what you see. And when you find the secrets that are meticulously crafted, it feels extremely rewarding. Experimentation and exploration on your own are encouraged without punishing consequences, and it just adds to the experience.

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There really isn't a story to the game, but it doesn't feel like it's missing from Animal Well. The world design had me questioning whatever was going on, and the more I played the game, the more I fell in love with the world. The extent of the story is you hatching in a flower and going spelunking in a well. But in the end, the story isn't the main attraction, and I didn't feel like it was lacking for it.

Then we have how it plays on the Steam Deck, and boy, is it wonderful.

Animal Well - Steam Deck Performance

By all standards, Animal Well is perfectly suited for the Steam Deck. It is a Metroidvania, isn't super demanding on any system, and the gorgeous visuals pop on the OLED model of the Deck. Playing this on the device was a blast, but it has one issue: it drains way more battery than it should. Playing this at 60 FPS without changing settings will cost you around 13W - 14W of battery drain, which is massive for a game like this. Luckily, we can fix it.

By setting a TDP limit of 5 and the GPU Clock Speed Frequency to 800, we can reduce the drain from 14W to 8W on average. On the OLED Steam Deck, this adds around 3 hours of battery life, and we continue to get a stable 60 FPS. Animal Well can't go over 60, so there's no chance of playing at 90 FPS, but we don't need to. Everything feels amazing the way it is, and with those tweaks, portable play is a treat!

Accessibility

In the settings, we can turn on and off the scanlines, which make it look like we are playing on a CRT TV, reduce the flashing, toggle vibration, swap the confirm and cancel buttons, and change language.

The game doesn't support 16:10 resolutions, so there are black bars above and below, but it blends in because of the game's style. We do have controller and cloud save support, but no HDR settings.

Conclusion

Animal Well captivated me when it was announced, but I wasn't prepared for how wonderful it would be to play. Billy Basso spent 7 years working on this game alone, and it feels like it culminated into a unique experience you won't find in another game of the genre. The incredible visuals, environmental puzzle-based exploration, and secrets that we may not find for years all keep the mystery of Animal Well alive and kicking. And with how well it can run on the Steam Deck, I believe Animal Well is necessary for Deck owners to have in their libraries. Trust me, you will not regret it.

Our review is based on the PC version of this game.

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SDHQ's Build Score Breakdown

Animal Well is an incredible, unique metroidvania that is a must have for those with or without a Steam Deck.

Content

Gameplay: 
Full StarFull StarFull StarFull StarFull Star
Graphics: 
Full StarFull StarFull StarFull StarFull Star
Story: 
No StarNo StarNo StarNo StarNo Star
Sound: 
Full StarFull StarFull StarFull StarFull Star
Fun Factor: 
Full StarFull StarFull StarFull StarFull Star

Build Score

Performance: 
Full StarFull StarFull StarFull StarFull Star
VISUALS: 
Full StarFull StarFull StarFull StarFull Star
Stability: 
Full StarFull StarFull StarFull StarFull Star
Controls: 
Full StarFull StarFull StarFull StarFull Star
Battery: 
Full StarFull StarFull StarFull StarFull Star
Noah Kupetsky
A lover of gaming since 4, Noah has grown up with a love and passion for the industry. From there, he started to travel a lot and develop a joy for handheld and PC gaming. When the Steam Deck released, it just all clicked.
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