Entering the depths of the Animal Well

Entering the depths of the Animal Well

CHENNAI: At times, I worry the gaming industry is no longer interested in the casual gamer. Those of us who only get a couple of hours over a weekend, or after a busy work day. The industry, largely still dominated by AAA titles, increasingly needs us to sit through 100s of hours of soul crushing antagonism from strangers online, with lightning reflexes and infinite time to grind.

And even then, there is only a slim possibility I eventually get good and an even slimmer possibility that I enjoy myself. So it’s incredibly refreshing when I find a title like Animal Well, a puzzle-forward metroidvania hybrid, which is thoughtfully designed and incredibly absorbing, but most importantly un-imposing and accessible to those of us with busy work weeks.

The title spells it all out pretty clearly. We are in a well and all around us are many animals. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to navigate the labyrinth of interconnected rooms, solving environmental puzzles along the way. And since we are merely a tiny blob, born from a peaceful flower, we cannot engage in any combat.

Navigating through the many rooms in the well, I find myself immediately drawn to the little mysteries. A high ledge with a door, but with no way to reach it. A barrier between you and the exit but no obvious way to cross it. And the charm is that with so few obviously sign-posted clues, I really have to rely on my wits to solve them.

Early in the game, one such room needed me to steal a little disk, guarded by the imposing statue of a cat. When stolen, a giant apparition of said cat chases me across the room, determined to eat me as retribution for this blasphemous theft. The cat is faster than me. I cannot beat it. Time goes by and there is no solution. Much later, as I take a different route through the map, I happen across another disc. It does nothing and its use isn’t clear. And then it hit me — I needed to pull the old switcheroo on the guardian cat.

Moments like this are truly satisfying. The little bolt of pride that hits you when to solve something. There are no tutorials or invisible barriers to stop me from accessing new parts of the map. It’s just more of these mysteries. These bizarre items hidden in the corners of the map are very well-concealed, that it gives my little brain the jolt of pride when I do find it out, all by myself. Unlike any usual combat-based Metroidvania game, there is also really no suggested or optimal path to find the required upgrades. I am therefore doubly encouraged to explore the map — to take risks, find the fullest limits of my existing powers, till I hit a resolute dead end.

Billy Basso, Animal Well’s sole developer, says that his game is pre-loaded with enough little secrets like to take us years to fully solve. He also litters the game with a host of very literal easter eggs, scattered and hidden across the game map by the many bunnies in the well.

These are so difficult to find, communities have formed online for players to exchange information and collaborate to work their way through the eggs. The many discord channels dedicated to this have made Animal Well really feel like an honorary “cooperative” game. I too, found myself turning to my online friends for some of the harder puzzles. They are a nice community and very helpful.

I would normally use this last paragraph to rattle off a few of the things I didn’t like but I can’t bring myself to do that this week. Apart from occasional frustration of not finding the solution of a puzzle fast enough, I had such a good time with this game that I cannot think of anything critical to say. It may not have the kind of production value or immersive quality of bigger games, but I so thoroughly enjoyed myself all the way through.

Maybe that reflects something about me. I don’t want to fight my way through a landscape, worrying about health, stamina and stats. I just want to find hidden keys to unlock doors. I want to trick big flamingos. I want to ride on the jumping rabbits. I want capybaras to be my footstools.

Animal Well is available for the PC (priced at Rs 1,100), as well as the PlayStation 5 and Nintendo Switch.

Entering the depths of the Animal Well

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to top