I hated Animal Well until I beat the game

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About midway through Animal Well, I felt I had been lied to. I read all the glowing reviews of the game and heard the breathless praise heaped upon it on social media. But my expectations did not match my reality… until I beat the game. Now, I’m well on my way to 100 percent completion for a game I was seriously considering abandoning.

Spoilers for Animal Well are below.

Though I loved Animal Well’s novel take on traditional movement abilities — the tools it provides possess multiple clever uses — platforming itself often felt demoralizing. Initially, Animal Well’s platforming felt like it had difficulty spikes that were both too great and too frequent. I could often see where I had to go and how to get there (and I often looked up video guides to confirm I was doing it right with the right tools) but actually executing was more laborious than fun and engaging.

Though I loved Animal Well’s novel take on traditional movement abilities, platforming itself often felt demoralizing

I’ve always felt that the difficulty of a task in a platformer should be commensurate with its importance: the hardest moments should be reserved for secrets and optional goals, while everything involved in completing the game should be more attainable. That way, I am still in control of my experience and, critically, still having an experience. If reaching a secret is harder than I’d like, then I can opt out to continue on to beat the game one completion percentage point lower. But if simply getting from point A to point B is too dang hard, opting out means opting out of the game entirely. Animal Well’s platforming convinced me I’d run into an obstacle so frustratingly difficult that I’d quit and never come back.

On a lark, I decided to see what would happen if I pressed a big red skull button in a room full of crows, and yup, they pecked me to death.
Image: Big Mode / Shared Memory

Thankfully, that didn’t happen. Somehow, I persisted long enough to collect all four animal flames to complete the game’s first “ending,” figuring I’d stop there. But then, right before the final encounter, I found a room littered with skulls containing an upgrade to the bubble wand item. Remember this, it’ll be important in a moment.

The bubble wand creates little bubble platforms you can jump on, but you can only blow one at a time. The upgraded bubble wand allows you to blow multiple bubbles that, with the right technique, let you bypass a lot of the game’s obstacles.

Remember the skulls? I figured out that all the skulls in that room, piled high enough for me to reach the wand, represented the number of times I died. With that realization came the shock that even though I wasn’t initially vibing with the game, it was always vibing with me. The bubble wand upgrade is unreachable unless you’ve accumulated enough skulls to build a platform up to it. The only way I got what finally made this game click for me was because of all the frustration it put me through in the first place.

When I figured that out, I started laughing maniacally, tears in my eyes, thinking, “Oh, you cheeky bastards!” I immediately went right back to the start of the game to go egg hunting, something I already decided I wasn’t going to do. But I was locked in now. I understood. I’m stuck in the (animal) well now, and I’m never coming out.



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