Internet personality videogamedunkey made headlines a while back when he announced the creation of Bigmode Games, his own game publishing imprint drawing on years of personal experience. The imprint’s first offering, Animal Well, developed by indie studio Shared Memory, was available for demo at PAX East 2023, and, naturally, I thought I’d check it out, so read on for our Animal Well preview.
In Animal Well, you play as a small blob-like creature that glows in the dark, has no mouth, and is completely freaking adorable. Seriously, this thing is going to sell buckets of plushes when the game is released. The demo dumps you right into the middle of the action, having your blob wake up in a dark, underground environment - presumably, the titular Animal Well. You then guide the blob around the well in a Metroidvania-style adventure, solving a number of puzzles in order to advance to the next areas.
The demo itself wasn’t terribly involved, but it gave a good feel for the game itself. As a starting area, it’s immediately accessible, with plenty of room to explore and figure out how the controls work before you actually need to start solving puzzles. The only enemies that the blob and I needed to face were a few ghosts, who disintegrated upon being faced with exploding firecrackers that you pick like flowers.
While most of the game’s platforming mechanics tend toward puzzle platformer, there are a few scenarios in which timing matters, and some of the jumps get tricky. It’s a nice blend of puzzle and non-puzzle platformers, again, accessible even to those who aren’t aficionados of either genre. The controls felt smooth, and it was easy to get my blob to move and jump in precisely the way I wanted to, though my own lack of hand-eye coordination still saw me shooting off of platforms multiple times.
My favorite part of Animal Well was what attracted me to the game in the first place, that being the delightful old-school pixel art style and the dark atmosphere. Animal Well looks like it could have been made in the '90s, until you start getting to some of the more elaborate and gorgeous backgrounds. The contrast between the highly detailed pixel art in the backgrounds and the relatively low detailed pixel art in the foreground, encompassing the blob and many of the things it directly interacts with, is surprisingly unique. I can’t think of any other games off the top of my head that use a contrast like that, and it looks wonderful.
The atmosphere of Animal Well is a lot of fun, with a perfect blend of creepy and cute. Despite the low lighting and the rather ominous setting, the protagonist is adorable, and the set dressing of the environment that it journeys through is oddly endearing, in an old-school sort of way. The darkness is also just begging to be explored, and small things - like using a telephone as a save point, or picking up firecrackers from the ground - are just begging for an explanation connected to a story.
I must confess, I don’t know much about dunkey, but so far I’d trust his taste in publishing games if Animal Well is anything to go by. With gorgeous graphics, a sweetly spooky atmosphere, and an adorable protagonist, I can’t wait to play this game at release.
Animal Well was previewed on an early build at PAX East 2023.