Animal Well review – this one gets deep

May 9, 2024
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In the dripping midnight glade there is a telephone resting on the earth. It’s an antique. I can tell that from the limited 2D pixel art. Although it’s just a few lines and dots and smudges of light, I can imagine the weight of the receiver in my hands, almost feel that strange matte chill of the Bakelite.

The telephone is important here in Animal Well. It’s how you save the game, for starters. But the more I have explored, making those long looping journeys left, right, up and down, the more I have found myself heading further out in these directions than I had assumed was possible, and the more I worried that I had left the actual game design behind and was moving through a landscape of personalised glitches and oddities? The more I did all this, the more the sight of another telephone came as a sweet relief. A save point, yes, but also a sign that someone had been this way before me. A sign that even as I navigated bright mysteries, I was still on the right track.

There’s more. The telephone is also a sign of a second world imposed on the first one, of technology, communication, cablings and wires and electrons, of messages buzzing through an artificial network threaded into this glade and into this world of trees and grass, rock and ruin that lies beyond it. If you’re trying to understand Animal Well, to get to the bottom of it – good luck with that one by the way – or if you’re trying to just get even the slightest grip on this game’s dense, intriguing, endlessly playful and engrossing world, the telephone is probably a good place to start.

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