Animal Well review: deeper than it looks

Animal Well is a unique metroidvania that knows just how to hook you through its many tricky puzzles
Animal Well
Animal Well / Bigmode

Indie metroidvanias are an interesting breed. While most are good, they also all feel homogenous. The stories and visual styles are always different, sure, but the basic gameplay loop falls into the same patterns that have existed since, well, Metroid. You unlock a wall jump, a dash, a double jump, a better dash, and so on in a loop that is satisfying but has been done countless times before.

Animal Well is unique in this regard, breaking out of that mold with a fascinating set of ideas. Firstly, it doesn’t wait to throw you into the deep end when it comes to exploration. The game’s map isn’t fed to you piecemeal – you almost immediately get thrown into the world’s central hub with the ability to go in whatever direction you please, and there are many different directions to go.

Animal Well
Animal Well / Bigmode

Along each path is a series of well-designed puzzles that gradually introduce new mechanics in a way that forces you into a deeper understanding of the world design. I may have come into this experienced in typical metroidvania level design, but I had to learn exactly how Animal Well does things because it’s able to get ahead of you and know what assumptions you’re going to make.

Quite early on I came across a big, demonic-looking cat statue with a frisbee in its mouth. So of course, I’ve played video games before, and I know I’ve got to take that disc. Taking it is useful, as throwing it can interact with switches, and if you time your jump right it’s also a platforming aid. The catch is that a giant cat ghost will permanently chase you and try to kill you.

Expecting this to be a semi-scripted sequence where I’ll eventually find a way to defeat the cat I carried on, and it wasn’t until a few attempts in that I realized none of the puzzles I was solving actually required the disc at all – I was just making life harder for myself by holding it. So I put it back, solved some more puzzles, and sure enough, I eventually found a way to take the disc without spawning the ghost, letting me use it in the next set of puzzles without being harassed.

Animal Well Chameleon
Chameleon / Bigmode

Animal Well is full of moments like this. Nothing is ever explained but is presented in a way that you can still work out what’s going on without too much trouble. Each new item you get has its uses explained entirely through the puzzles, which carefully teach you the patterns you should be looking for without you realizing it. It makes each item fun to use with carefully crafted puzzles that get the most out of each new mechanic.

That said, it can lead to some moments of frustration. They aren’t common, but occasionally the game expected me to make quite a big leap in the logic of how the mechanics interact. Still, those moments became fewer as I grew into the rhythm of how the game wanted me to think, although it did make the early hours annoying at times.

Screenshot from Animal Well showing a colorful maze-like level underground
Animal Well / Billy Basso/Bigmode

Actually, “early hours” is a deceptive phrase, as it’s not a particularly long game, clocking in at between 5-6 hours depending on how good you are the puzzles. That’s a good thing, though. With the way the game’s world constantly interlinks and loops back on itself, to sprawl out any further would’ve been to its detriment. The shorter runtime gives you a constant sense of forward momentum, always picking up new items, finding new areas – however small – and hurtling towards your end goal, even if that goal doesn’t become clear until quite late on.

Animal Well brings unique ideas to a genre that doesn’t often get them, with a firm grasp on how to design a world that constantly pushes you to explore deeper. All of its tools are things the genre hasn’t seen before, and that novelty makes you feel incredibly smart solving puzzles the likes of which you’ve never seen in any other game before.

Score: 9/10

Version tested: PC (Steam)

Ryan Woodrow


Ryan Woodrow is Guides Editor for GLHF based in London, England. He has a particular love for JRPGs and the stories they tell. His all-time favorite JRPGs are the Xenoblade Chronicles games because of the highly emotive and philosophy-driven stories that hold great meaning. Other JRPGs he loves in the genre are Persona 5 Royal, Octopath Traveler, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Nier Automata, and Pokémon. He also regularly dives deep into the indie scene trying to find hidden gems and innovative ideas. Some of his favorite indie games include FTL: Faster Than Light, Thomas Was Alone, Moonlighter, Phantom Abyss, and Towerfall Ascension. More of his favorite games are Minecraft, Super Mario Odyssey, Stardew Valley, Skyrim, and XCOM 2. He has a first-class degree in Games Studies from Staffordshire University and has written for several sites such as USA Today's ForTheWin, Game Rant, The Sun, and KeenGamer. Email: