Animal Gods is classified by its developer, Still Games, as an action adventure title inspired by The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. This is partially true; its top-down perspective and dungeon-focused design certainly recalls memories of Nintendo’s classic. However, in practice, Animal Gods is really more of a puzzle game disguised as an action adventure. It has adventure elements, sure, but most of the game involves using your abilities to solve puzzles in each dungeon.
Speaking of dungeons, Animal Gods has three main dungeons and one final dungeon that ties everything together. Each of the first three are built around a theme. In the beginning, you’ll be given a power (sword, bow, or teleportation dash) which will be used to progress through the dungeon. Halfway through each, your power will be upgraded to allow you to solve more complex puzzles. The dungeons can be tackled in any order and, as such, the powers from each don’t carry over and can only be used in the area in which they are acquired – excepting the final dungeon where all can be used simultaneously. The pacing of each dungeon is slow and deliberate; your moves must be planned carefully. Thistle, the protagonist of Animal Gods, can only take one hit before reviving at the last checkpoint, turning even simple encounters with enemies into a methodical puzzle that must be solved.
Unfortunately, the design of some of these puzzles could use some work. The combat puzzles often involve lots of waiting for the enemy (of which there is only one type) to get into position so that they can be dispatched, before then waiting again for the next one. All enemies must be killed before moving on. The teleportation dash is a great idea in theory – a dash that teleports Thistle forward and across deadly poison rivers – but in practice becomes somewhat frustrating. Teleporting across multiple rivers often requires very precise placement of your character and more often than not simply turns into a game of trial and error. In addition, Thistle’s hitbox is slightly off from where you’d expect it to be, leading to unexpected deaths when you thought you’d be safe.
None of the powers acquired in the dungeons can be used on the overworld, which can be a little confusing. No prompts are given that your powers have been disabled, and the only way you’ll know is that the key reserved for that power does nothing when pressed. Things get a little more confusing when you realize there’s no map in the game, making navigation between dungeons a little harder than it needs to be. Visually, all 3 dungeons are very similar to both each other and the world map, with the only indication that you’ve entered a dungeon being that the screen zooms in. This makes for a visually coherent world but further complicates the navigation when it’s hard to tell areas apart.
The visual design of Animal Gods is striking. The entire world is rendered in an abstract, geometric design reminiscent of the bronze age in which the game takes places. The titular Animal Gods themselves are particularly well realized. It’s a unique look that isn’t seen very often; I can’t think of any other game that uses a similar style. Unfortunately, the Animal Gods looks its best in stills. The animation, while competent, has very low frame counts, with Thistle’s walking animation being a three-frame loop that quickly gets repetitive. While the environments look beautiful, they are more often than not empty, featureless, straight pathways that lead from one location to the next.
The music, too, is memorable – soft, moody tunes that create atmosphere and blend in perfectly with the world the developers were trying to create. In my opinion, the soundtrack is the best part of Animal Gods.
Lastly, we come to the story, which is presented through a series of journal entries found throughout the environment. Despite a slow text-scrolling speed, these are enjoyable to read and are very well-written. Unfortunately, these are found out of order, and piecing them together without any option go back and read the entries you’ve already found makes the story confusing, which is a shame when it’s written so well.
As a whole, Animal Gods has a lot of ambition but seems unfinished. A visit to the game’s Kickstarter page confirms this suspicion; screenshots from the original pitch show multiple enemy types, different gameplay mechanics, and an even more striking visual design – all of which was cut out of the final version. The game was originally planned to be released in Fall of 2016, giving it a total of two years in development. That time was later cut in half, leading to Animal Gods feeling less like a completed game and more like a framework from which a full game could be built.
In the end, if you’re looking to be wowed by visuals and music, give Animal Gods a try. Otherwise, I’d suggest you give it a pass.
Animal Gods review code was provided by Still Games.