Animal Gods PC review

A beautiful-looking Zelda-like indie adventure, Animal Gods doesn't quite live up to the intrigue of its premise, Ewan writes...

Animal Gods is a lovely looking indie game with an atmospheric soundtrack and a story to tell. Unfortunately, that’s about all it has going for it. Uninspired, basic, and unrewarding gameplay let down what really could have been an incredibly stylish effort.

The story is interesting enough. A girl named Thistle sets out to release three Animal Gods and return peace to her homeland (or something like that). There are notes and diaries scattered across the map that fill in this world with a little more background detail. Sadly, the fact that you find a lot of these notes out of order, coupled with having no place to save them and look back over them later means you really won’t care enough to try and piece the story it tells back together from memory alone. I certainly didn’t.

Each of the three temples (which you can tackle in any order) offer you a different ability to use in that specific area. Snake gives you a sword with which to kill enemies, Lion lets you dash to avoid streams of poison, and Spider grants you a bow and arrow with which to solve puzzles and kill enemies (from slightly further away than with the sword). So far, so Zelda.

Unfortunately, the fact that each temple focuses on one set gimmick and nothing more makes them incredibly tedious to get through. Imagine playing a Zelda game, and finding a dungeon where every room was the same block puzzle, and you’ll start to get an idea of how repetitive Animal Gods can get. You’re essentially asked to do the same thing over and over in slightly different rooms, until you get to the “boss” which basically involves you doing exactly the same thing again but in a larger room. 

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At this point, however, I will say that the Gods themselves, like the rest of the game, are beautifully designed. Sadly, a good looking Lion God does not make for an engaging game all by itself. Who knew?

When Animal Gods does start to feel challenging, it’s never in a way that reflects some kind of ingenious or particularly fiendish game design. It’s one of those games that feels difficult because of awkward controls and bad design. In short: when it’s hard, it’s usually because it’s bloody fiddly.

For example, in the Lion God’s temple you need to dash through beams of poison to make progress. Naturally, these beams of poison are all over the shop, and you need to make sure you position yourself in exactly the right place each time to avoid dashing too far and colliding with another beam of poison, or going over the edge (either way results in death that takes you back to a checkpoint). There were plenty of times this got frustrating, and very quickly stopped being fun and started to feel like a chore.  And again, because each temple makes you stick to one style of play, it becomes astonishingly easy to pick up on these flaws and learn to hate them. You’ll be relieved to see the back of each dungeon, and not in a “Hurray, I did it!” kind of way.

The Snake God temple swaps Lion’s fiddly puzzle platforming (if you can call it that) for utterly dull combat. You pick up a short sword and are expected to take out the monsters within. These monsters are in fact nondescript, non-threatening blue squares that move along a fixed path, and react to your attack in no way. There is zero challenge in working out the right place to stand to avoid them and simply pressing the attack button until they’re done for.  It’s much the same with the bow in Spider’s temple, except in that instance you have to dodge projectiles as you shoot. 

The final challenge combines all three elements you’ve picked up on your quest, but by then it’s too little, too late. With this last dungeon finally mixing it up, we’re granted a glimpse at what could have been a pretty decent little game, but as it stands, all I felt when the credits rolled was relief that I would never have to dash through another beam of poison for as long as I live (barring any weird real life events of course).

To be honest, I could have happily wandered through the great looking world of Animal Gods, discovering the central mystery, if only the game were punctuated by moments of interesting or even vaguely entertaining gameplay. In this instance, we can’t help but suspect that telling the story was the priority, and the gameplay was a simple afterthought – a necessity to aid the tale that’s being told. What we’re given is so basic that you can’t help but feel a little cheated. 

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There’s nothing wrong with putting story first in a videogame, but when the rest of the game (y’know, the actual parts where you play) suffer this much, you might want to look at redressing the balance.

As it stands, Animal Gods isn’t terrible, but with such charming visuals and a genuinely intriguing premise, it could have been much, much more. That’s the real tragedy here.

Animal Gods is out on Steam now for PC, Mac and Linux.

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2 out of 5