Animal Gods, a video game by Still Games for the Wii U, is as if a meal is chosen from a menu based on the ingredients. While the parts each satisfy, the meal itself is not necessarily the culmination of said foods. This is an exotic meal of a game where I enjoyed the starch, vegetable, and spices, but feel the protein is lacking and leaves me wanting more.
The game is about three animal gods, as the name implies, and the adventure the protagonist takes elaborates on them. A snake god, a spider god, and a lion god are represented in three temples. Animal Gods comes from a Kickstarter campaign, and while learning about it can reveal a lot about where this game began compared to where it is now, I am not reviewing Kickstarter footage so I will judge only what you receive in the eShop and provide feedback that I believe is realistic to the release.
Starting the game leaves you without any tutorial or prompt on how to begin and this is how I like it. The three stages can be accomplished in any order. This is a nice touch, as it lends to a feeling of freedom. Snake god provides you a sword for striking the enemy up close; Spider god gives you a bow and arrow for timed shots at a distance; Lion god gives you a cloak that allows you dash through poisoned waters. While it was fun choosing whichever I wanted, I recommend leaving the Lion god for last. Snake and Spider feel similar in their approach, while Lion is a whole other “beast”.
I enjoyed the story, learning more about it as I proceed by way of diary entries. As such, I feel the story isn’t given a fair shake. Characters and the gods are alluded to throughout, but not much more. Provided in text, it could be fleshed out simply by supplementing with entries. Also, missing a diary entry could mean a loss of understanding. I would like to know how many entries I have found in each stage. An update could collect the discovered entries, to read on the GamePad. The developer could expand upon the story in this way, telling more of what I would like to know about their imagined setting and characters.
The story is just one aspect of the atmosphere that while feeling incomplete in the game’s potential, is something that still stands on its own. What particularly shines is the art style. This game has some gorgeous set pieces that scale back to allow the setting to breathe. The world is nondescript, but that makes it all the more intriguing. Words are actually used within the background to push the narrative. I liked this approach, but it could be offsetting to others. Animal Gods features a beautiful color selection. Weather effects add a touch of immersion.
Lending to the overall mood of the game, at times Animal Gods feels downright tranquil. The mysterious lead along with the brilliantly illustrated gods gives way to explore every direction. Music setting apart each temple hits all the right notes for complimenting this fantasy. A couple things disrupt this, though. One touch from the enemy and you are dead, restarting at the last checkpoint. This is fine for the gameplay, and there aren’t many times where it feels frustrating. The other aspect is upon completion, a sense of completion itself is lacking. The mood drops, and I was left wondering if that was all. This is a double-edged sword. One one hand, the game did leave me wanting more. On the other hand, my suggestion for a completion percentage via diary entries would be great here. Though the game is not huge, adding some more to the story and then showing players how much they revealed would be great. The recollection of Animal Gods is most fondly of its atmosphere enhanced by the sights and sounds.
Speaking of replay, this is not a long game. The appeal comes from the atmosphere and feeling of discovery. What I would love to see from this talented development team is three additional pieces of content, that would round out the game. One, I want to feel that my progression through the three temples is more rewarding. Bolster the final stage to allow me to use all three weapons in a longer run. Two, use the pause screen to add the diary I mentioned. Tend more to the elements touched on in the game while allowing us to see what entries we have found and where missing entries can be found. Three, I would suggest survival modes for the sword, bow, and cloak. High scores could even be posted to Miiverse and in game to compare regionally and with friends.
Animal Gods has parts that lead it to be a satisfying experience while playing. This potential might not be enough for some, as it just doesn’t have the overall feeling that everything has come together to a completed package. Some will find the mood and pacing to be a palatable and pleasant fare and for that I applaud Still Games for their endeavor. The developer’s skills with visual, audio, and storytelling ingredients left me wanting more from them. Animal Gods as a meal leaves me wanting more once consumed, and has me hopeful that they will continue to support the aspiring title.
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