2D puzzle platformers often have some fairly recognizable similarities. I’ve played enough to know that I’ll probably unlock a double jump at some point, eventually find a new item to beat enemies I can’t harm yet, or likely find some sort of lantern if there are areas obscured by darkness. Animal Well has all of those things, but never quite in the way I was used to. Instead of a double jump, you’ll be blowing bubbles to hop on top of, and instead of a lantern you’ll get a glowy yo-yo. It twisted my expectations of the genre at every turn, and consistently delighted me as I discovered more of its quiet, pixelated world.

Animal Well has you hopping around as a little blob, exploring the branching paths of its map to do… something. It’s rarely explicit with its explanation of pretty much anything you are doing, but I never felt like I was lost or didn’t have a drive to find more either. I simply picked a path and explored what I could, and it was rare I wasn’t rewarded for doing so. I enjoyed that freedom, even when it occasionally left me wondering if I should have gone up instead of down.

Animal Well Gameplay Screenshots

As you explore, you’ll run into interesting boss encounters that reward you with new items, but even these bosses were not what I would have expected. While there are enemies that want to do you harm, Animal Well doesn’t really have any sort of combat for you to retaliate with. That generally turns the enemies into puzzles to solve or obstacles to avoid rather than direct confrontations, and many of the boss encounters are no exception as you figure out the trick to proceed past them. That includes things like trying to avoid the long neck of an ostrich underground or using the bubbles fired by a seahorse to reach buttons on the ceiling.

Once you do slip by, you’ll be rewarded with an item that allows you to reach new areas, very similar to a Metroidvania. For example, the bubble wand I mentioned allows you to create a large bubble anywhere and jump on top of it for a boost to somewhere otherwise out of reach. That’s a familiar action, but the method is fresh in the context of other games like this, and that’s true for pretty much every item I found in Animal Well.

The order you find these items also influences the challenge of each new area you explore. For example, I got the bubble wand first and it allowed me to cleverly skip parts of certain screens in other sections of the map. Had I visited those places first I wouldn’t have had the means to do that, but what I eventually realized is that the item I got there frequently had the same effect on the area I initially got the bubble wand. That makes this world an interesting, overlapping puzzle that can be solved in different ways while still rewarding whichever choice you make.

Scattered throughout that world are plenty of secrets to uncover too, be that false walls to walk through or clever uses of your items to reach a spot you didn’t think you could. The main collectibles of Animal Well are dozens of multicolored eggs hidden in chests all around, which are fun to find on their own merits but also reward you in a way I won’t spoil as you grab more of them. I liked figuring out where these were stashed, and getting new items would allow me to revisit previous areas with fresh eyes.

That’s fairly quick to do as well, because Animal Well doesn’t necessarily have a huge map. It’s not tiny, but it’s intimate and interconnected enough that backtracking didn’t feel laborious if I wanted to return somewhere I’d previously been. It’s not trying to be as grandiose as something like the world of Hollow Knight, and I enjoyed the size and scale of this adventure from what I’ve seen so far. Animal Well is a charming platformer that puts fun little spins on one of my favorite genres, so I’m excited to see just how much deeper its caves might go when it comes to PS5 and Steam either later this year or early next.

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