I will be honest with you. when Microsoft asked me if I wanted to preview Party Animals at Gamescom, I was about to skip it.
I've never been much into party and casual games. I'm a grumpy old dude and I'm definitely not fun at parties, so I was simply going to dedicate that timeslot to something closer to my personal taste. Then, for some reason that I don't even remember, I decided to stick with it...
and you know what? I'm happy I did.
A Party of Super-Cute Animals
As soon as you get into the game, you can't avoid noticing just how incredibly cute it is. I may be a grumpy casual game-hater, but I still like animals (everyone has a weak spot), and the character models are absolutely adorable.
There's a perfect balance of cute, fluffy, and just a little bit clumsy that you can't not smile at. Even moreso when you're able to also put them in a funny costume. There's a wide variety of costumes, and they fit the animals they adorn just perfectly.
After you and your friends have chosen your Party Animal and wardrobe, it's time to pick the stage, and that's where things get really interesting.
Every Party Animals Stage is Unique
Each stage has very different mechanics, so depending on the map, you'll have different goals and different ways to achieve them.
During my time with the game, I tested three different stages. One placed my teammates and I, as well as our adversaries, on top of a submarine (hilariously named "Brown October") that was in the process of submerging. The goal being to stay on top while pushing your opponents into the water.
This stage was the most simple among the maps I tried, but this doesn't mean it wasn't fun. Your animal can grab, hit, throw, or push other animals. The process is far from precise due to how clumsily the animals interact (it's by design, mind you) and ragdoll against each other.
The narrow surface of the submarine turns into a hilarious field for shenanigans as you try to throw everyone else overboard and quite likely end up projecting yourself into the water. Add weapons to the equation and it gets even funnier.
Normally, I wouldn't consider fighting the controls of a game to be particularly fun, but Party Animals does it in a way that turns clumsiness into something that amplifies the enjoyment. Seeing an opponent charge you only to fling themselves into the sea is pretty hilarious.
The second stage I checked out had a completely different goal; players had to grab candy and bring them back to their base. This is made even more interesting by the fact that two animals can carry a bigger (and more valuable) candy together, while you can decide to carry smaller ones on your own.
Of course, you can impede your adversaries, and when you've placed the candy in your base, you have to pull a lever to score. It's chaotic fun, but there's also a level of tactical depth that makes it interesting and engaging, while still rather hilarious.
The third stage was basically Rocket League. The big difference is that instead of cars, you're driving around ultra-clumsy ragdolling animals. While it isn't the most original gameplay mode, it certainly fits Party Animals like a glove, and its familiarity contributes to the fun.
The clumsiness of the animals makes your efforts quite approximate, so don't be surprised if someone kicks the ball into their own goal. Don't worry too much. It's likely that everyone will have a laugh when that happens.
Party Animals Will Help you Laugh and Relax, But it's Still Competitive
That bing said, I've noticed that despite the rather light-hearted atmosphere, players (and myself) did get rather competitive. While the battle against your controller to lead your animal to do what you actually want is hilarious, it's also a challenge that can ignite the spirit of competition.
Ultimately, I really has a good time playing Party Animals. I doubt it's something I'd enjoy too much if I had to play it for several hours on end or without the company of human players. Yet, looking at it in the context of a party game that you can play with your friends for an hour or two, it really hit the spot.
Events like Gamescom can be stressful, and the fact that I normally have more caffeine than blood running in my veins certainly doesn't help. Playing a few matches of Party Animals with like-minded fellows made me feel refreshed and relaxed, which is certainly a feat given the circumstances.
Party Animals will release for PC, Xbox Series X|S, and Xbox One on September 20, 2023.
Party Animals was previewed in person at Gamescom 2023, hosted by Xbox.