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This Brilliant New Metroidvania Game Turns The Entire Genre On Its Head

‘Animal Well’ reminds everyone bigger isn’t always better — and solving is often more satisfying than fighting.

screenshot from Animal Well
Shared Memory
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The problem with video games is that there are just too dang many. Genres get overcrowded, concepts wear thin, and before you know it everything is an open-world sandbox or a Soulslike with crafting elements. So it’s always genuinely surprising when a game comes along that manages to stay within the boundaries of a formula we know but still delivers twists that we weren’t expecting. And one of those games just hit PS Plus.

Animal Well, from Shared Memory, seems at first glance to be another run-of-the-mill, funky indie Metroidvania. Sure, it has a unique visual aesthetic and environments oozing with ambient atmosphere, but on its face this is mostly standard stuff. What sets Animal Well apart from the pack is the quality of your journey through its labyrinth.

From the very beginning, Animal Well is equal parts intuitive and innovative. A game steeped in wonder and discovery, there’s no real story, no signposting. You go one way until you can’t, then turn back and go the other. Instead of a crafted narrative, a sense of mystery compels you onward. You’ll frequently ask “what the hell is that thing doing?” as you encounter various specters of different animals. Most are benign, some are hostile.

There is no true combat in this game, however. You’re a small brown lump that can move left, right, and jump. Don’t expect any of the hacky and slashy parts of conventional Metroidvanias. Think of hostiles as puzzles to solve, not foes to vanquish. Your inventory is far more interesting than the standard satchel of weapons and potions. You can carry a flute. A yo-yo. A frisbee. These are some of the tools you’ll use as you spelunk your way through the map in search of your goals.

Animal Well isn’t afraid to be meta and sends you off to find easter eggs.

Shared Memory

They’ll also be among your first tests in how you approach the game. Because one of the strongest hooks in the gameplay is recognizing the hidden features in all your weird tools — features that help solve puzzles that seem impossible. The ultimate triumph of game design is unlocking (and rewarding) player intuition. Animal Well forces you to walk the line between spoiler-free self-reliance and seeking out the guides, tips, or hints that could undermine the spirit of it all.

Animal Well is very aware of this. The official Discord takes steps to keep spoilers to a minimum, and there are late game secrets that require community collaboration to unlock, like this 50-person puzzle. There’s a deliberate evolution to everything and you can’t wait to see what creative, but somehow obvious, solution will occur next.

That there are tiers to your idea of what “completed” means says a lot about how deep Animal Well goes.

Discord // Inverse

Animal Well owes some of its momentum to its publisher, Bigmode. YouTube superstar Dunkey, with a reputation as a sardonic, hard-to-please gamer’s gamer, gave the studio’s debut title increased exposure to both the spotlight and the crosshairs of the gaming industry at large. If you’re still not sure about it, maybe because of residual skepticism from its announcement, know that Animal Well has already earned heaps of praise.

Its combination of reliable Metroidvania tropes with innovative level design and an evolving philosophy on exploration and growth make Animal Well a subversive standout among Metroidvanias. You go in expecting one thing, and come out having experienced another. Unless you were just expecting to have a mind-blowing good time. Then, it’s no surprise at all.

Animal Well is available now on PS Plus. It’s also for sale on PlayStation, PC, and Nintendo Switch.

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