Animal Gods (PC) Review

By Jordan Hurst 19.11.2015

Review for Animal Gods on PC

Video games do not get released early. Plenty of them get released before they should be, but those are almost always the results of unreasonable scheduling or budgeting. The idea of a studio being so far ahead of schedule that it can bump its release date forward a year is unheard of in this industry. Except for Still Games, which has done just that with Animal Gods…and boy, does it show. Cubed3 ran a cautiously optimistic preview of Animal Gods last year, with most of the optimism rooted in the understanding that there were still two years' worth of refinement and expansion to go. Unsurprisingly, this premature product is just as skeletal and amateurish as its old 15-minute demo.

Ignoring the fact that only games named Okami have historically been able to make the "Zelda clone" label work, the concept of a Link to the Past throwback with ancient-civilisation visuals was reasonably promising. It's difficult to imagine such a premise turning out so lifeless, dreary, and incomprehensible without intentional sabotage, but here it is. The protagonist is Thistle, an ambiguously gendered hunter/priest who travels in and around the abandoned city of Sky Mirror, trying to revive a small pantheon of gods in the aftermath of some unpleasant event involving a cult. That is the entire extent of the plot that can be explained in definitive terms; the rest is a smattering of uncomfortably terse dialogue, half-baked narrative devices, and nonsensical events.

Screenshot for Animal Gods on PC

The central conflict seems to be between monotheism and polytheism, but there's an eyebrow-raising undercurrent of hostility toward Christianity nestled within it. The monotheists are the antagonists, their leader is named Jessuh (subtle), and their ultimate agenda is seemingly an allegory for the way early Christianity absorbed surrounding pagan traditions to attract converts. It's a bizarre inclusion, and even more so because it doesn't make any sense - the titular gods are demonstrably real, so how does monotheism even exist in this setting? Furthermore, what possible reason could the cult have for its actions, why do those actions work the way they do, and shouldn't the ending logically negate everything that came before it? The game leaves all of these questions unanswered, which, combined with Thistle's complete lack of character or history, and the lazy use of randomly dispersed diary entries, makes for one legendarily unsatisfying story.

"Legendarily unsatisfying" perfectly describes the experience as a whole, actually. For starters, the "dash cloak," the only potential source of novelty the game has, turns out to be a depressingly insubstantial chore. The item teleports Thistle forward a few feet and is used exclusively for traversing pits and veins of poison water. There's absolutely no excitement or depth to the mechanic - just press the correct button when approaching an obstacle, and the hero will appear on the other side of it. The "challenge" lies in guessing the exact distance of each jump, and in figuring out where the hitbox begins on Thistle's lopsided sprite, so as not to accidentally launch him or her into sudden death. To add insult to injury, the cloak can only be used in specific locations, so it can't even break the leisurely pace of the player's movement.

Screenshot for Animal Gods on PC

The combat is no better. The enemies are more targets than legitimate adversaries. Their AI ranges from non-existent to the complexity of a red Koopa Troopa's - the sort of opponent that would be used solely in the tutorial of a good Zelda clone. Instead, Animal Gods features them exclusively, pumping up their later appearances with arbitrary health increases in a misguided attempt at a difficulty curve. It's not even exaggerating to say that it would be more fun to just walk past them rather than fight them…except that's not possible, because defeating them is the only way to unlock each area's exit. Artificial difficulty is the only thing preventing the entire game from becoming a two-hour victory animation; most combat deaths are caused by Thistle's indeterminate hitbox and pathetic attack range, and the ones that aren't can be blamed on unseen enemies zooming in from off-screen.

The structure that houses these mechanics is just as flawed as the mechanics themselves. The "open" world consists only of a small hub area and three dungeons that can be tackled in any order - a pointless feature that only prevents Thistle's abilities from interacting with each other. Even the final stretch keeps the mechanics largely segregated; there are about ten seconds in which players are asked to use the cloak and a weapon in tandem, and it's literally the last thing they'll have to do before the credits roll. Furthermore, dungeons are capped off with some of the weakest excuses for boss fights ever witnessed. The one centred on the cloak is a particular lowlight - its idea of escalating difficulty is to repeat the same bland obstacle course multiple times with fewer checkpoints.

Screenshot for Animal Gods on PC

The final useless feature to add to the pile is item upgrades. Each item receives a single one partway through its dedicated dungeon: a longer dash for the cloak, a charge attack for the sword, and a piercing shot for the bow. Notably, two of these three merely afford greater strength to existing abilities, rather than offering anything new. Even the piercing shot feels trite thanks to the simplistic AI, which makes it essentially an unorthodox key to be used on a door that happens to be alive. All of these abilities are performed by executing their base technique first and then holding the button to charge the upgraded version, which is standard practice for charged attacks, but feels strange and unintuitive for dashing. Otherwise, the controls are mercifully straightforward and responsive.

Aesthetics were a driving force behind the Kickstarter campaign for Animal Gods, but they didn't necessarily make it to release intact. The audio design is the most fully realised facet, featuring an excellent (albeit somewhat repetitive) ambient soundtrack and some attention-grabbing sound effects. The wonderful visuals turn out to be more suited to trailers and screenshots, however. Necessary gameplay information (including what is and isn't a platform) is rarely adequately conveyed, and isn't helped by the warped perspective that can't decide between an overhead or three-quarter view. Additionally, Thistle's animation is laughably simple, and large swaths of the setting are often obscured by foliage for no reason other than for poorly implemented atmospheric effect. Most depressingly, one dungeon's appearance is completely phoned in, being primarily a series of blank corridors, in contrast to the vivid scenes found everywhere else.

Screenshot for Animal Gods on PC

Cubed3 Rating

2/10
Rated 2 out of 10

Very Bad

Animal Gods is highly representative of a major flaw in the crowd-funding model: namedropping a classic series is practically a shortcut to financial success. Still Games sold its product almost exclusively on its superficial similarity to The Legend of Zelda and the works of Team Ico, so it's not much of a surprise that it doesn't follow through with its ambitions. However, even the most cynical observer would expect more from it than this. This is a vacuous mockery of the titles that inspired it, a boring art project at best, and a $10 insult to the customer's intelligence at worst.

Developer

Still Games

Publisher

Still Games

Genre

Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  2/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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