Animal Gods has so much wrong with it that I can’t recommend it to anybody, but the developers, Still Games, offer us such a beautiful artscape and resonant soundtrack that I can’t help but want to give them another try.

I tend to judge the quality of action games by how good hitting things feels. Animal Gods fails that test with sinking-brown colors. Hitting things just feel wrong. And I think that’s because there’s not enough visual and auditory feedback for collision. Like seriously, where are all the sound effects?

Similarly, the game lacks the “ta-da” feeling of picking up a new weapon or item that Zelda has. Instead of acknowledgement that you acquired a new power, there’s a circle you walk over that just glows and expands a little when you get something new. No new item slot in your inventory or special sound effect. Not even a fancy glow. You just have a new thing. Or whatever.

None of the abilities work right.

Every layer of the game seems lacking. I wanted to quit the game several times. But stuck through the first several hundred platforming deaths. And I need to stress that point: several hundred needless deaths in this top-down game that looks like Zelda but often just turns into frustrating platforming.

The first power I got in the game was short-range teleportation: Just like Corvo in Dishonored, or the Quarp Jet in Velocity. The only difference is that you have no indication of your teleportation range. The game “teaches you” your range by failing. A lot. And failure isn’t just instantaneous death. It’s unrecoverable blinking-into-oblivion death that takes a couple seconds. Instead of just dying, we have to see the character’s white-flashing geometry — just to add insult to injury. The insta-death “health bar” miscommunicates your character’s frailty. She flashes white a few times before dying. But there’s no chance to recover — like her blinking would seem to indicate.

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You can go to the bosses in any order (which I found out later). The first boss I faced was the lion god who requires you to use your teleportation power. You have to do several laps around him, including some excessively-infuriating purple poison lines that kill you if you touch them. After stomaching it for what felt like hours, I got onto the other side. Then found out I had another lap. Then another. But now with fewer checkpoints. There was nothing fun about this ill-communicated experience. It’s just no fun when you think you’ve made it through a grueling experience only to find that you have to do it again for no apparent reason.

The second boss (the snake god) didn’t challenge me whatsoever. It came at the end of a string of challenges with the new tool: a sword. I had to use this sword to kill lots of mindless square enemies set on predefined tracks.

None of the abilities work right. I wondered why I couldn’t use the teleportation ability when I wanted to. Then I realized abilities only work when the game feels like letting them work. When I got the sword, I was not allowed to use my teleport skill — because reasons. And the same for the bow and arrow. Worse, the abilities never felt particularly enjoyable in their own right.

Hitting things just feel wrong.

On paper Animal Gods is about Scandinavian bronze age polytheism, which would make you think it’s about naturalism and a primal sense of things. But instead the story trickles-in something about bio engineering and slavery uses of science. I couldn’t really tell how animal deities and that sort of thing fit in with a story about scientific abuse. Worse, all the storytelling comes through painfully slow text and notes in an Arial typeface — that couldn’t be skipped-through. I don’t understand why the reading had to be so slow or why it had to be in such an inappropriate font. Again, this all seems like time and budget limitations.

Animal Gods reminds me of a famous Ira Glass quote about the gap between your good-taste and the quality of your work. Mr. Glass says, “It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.” Still Games needs time to close this gap. They need to continue making games so they can get to a point where their work matches their ambitions. They need another chance.

About The Author

M. Joshua makes game trailers when not writing about games. He loves any game experience that engenders empathy to others, be it biographical, co-op, or games about valuing the well-being of your enemies. He loves getting humans together in his house for survival deathmatches.

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  • Games should generally avoid extravagant typefaces. Whether Arial is the best font ever or not; there’s a reason the pinnacle of subtitle technology in film is maximally bare bones.

    • I concur. Minimalism and bare-bones appeal is huge. But there’s something significantly distracting about a generic typeface in an ancient bronze-age setting.