ANIMAL WELL Review – Haunting allure

Reviewed on May 9, 2024


PC, Nintendo Switch, PS5


May 9, 2024




Shared Memory

Step into the pixelated wonder of ANIMAL WELL, a platformer of secrets and surprises. Developed solo by Billy Basso, whose expertise spans a decade of crafting games for esteemed studios, and with the strategic guidance of Dan Adelman, known for championing indie gems like Axiom Verge, ANIMAL WELL emerges as a labour of love and ingenuity.

Navigating the unknown

Step into the role of a curious blob, awakening in a surreal and enigmatic world. As you navigate through dark landscapes and labyrinthine pathways, unravel the mysteries that shroud the well. The game’s premise revolves around exploration, puzzle-solving, and survival, as you collect items, interact with the environment, and encounter a diverse array of creatures—some friendly, others not so nice.

ANIMAL WELL defies conventions with its blend of survival horror elements, adventure mechanics, and the charm of retro platformers. For those with the patience to investigate, you’ll become captivated by the puzzling formula each new area challenges you with. This is not a straightforward Metroidvania.

The journey is guided by a sense of curiosity and discovery, propelled forward by the secrets hidden within the depths. Each new encounter requires caution, assessing the dangers that lurk in the darkness while also harnessing the power of your surroundings to overcome obstacles. The puzzles are designed to be engaging and rewarding, requiring critical thinking and experimentation to progress.

Tools of survival

Gameplay is based on exploration, driving you forward through this intricately designed world, filled with branching paths, hidden passages, and surprises waiting to be discovered. The interconnected nature of the environment ensures every corner holds the potential for new encounters. The compact yet richly detailed map you pick up early on in the adventure is a much-needed tool to understand the space around you. Referring back to it a lot avoids that overwhelming feeling of getting lost or stuck in an area, clearly showing which areas haven’t been properly investigated or have untapped paths.

Basso has expertly incorporated Metroidvania into gameplay, offering a captivating take on the genre. Through a blend of  imaginative mechanics and level design, ANIMAL WELL presents nonlinear exploration that rewards ingenuity and discovery. The integration of various tools and mechanics to overcome obstacles and progress is cleverly executed. For instance, players use the firecracker tool to startle certain enemies, clearing a safe path forward, or employ the yo-yo to reach inaccessible buttons and unlock doors, adding layers of complexity to puzzle-solving.

“Through a blend of  imaginative mechanics and level design, ANIMAL WELL presents nonlinear exploration that rewards ingenuity and discovery.”

With a diverse range of items to pick up, you must firstly figure out what they do. There is no dialogue box or description telling you exactly where to apply the item. They can be as simple as a key for an unknown door or tools like the flute to leverage and unlock new areas. The lack of direction isn’t going to be for everyone, particularly when you have no idea what an item does or where it needs to go. There are subtle clues to consider, but getting lost can be more frustrating than rewarding, particularly as the journey becomes more and more puzzling as you progress. For example, one tool in the game can be used in a certain way to reach higher places, but discovering this function was trial and error.

Unlike traditional platformers, ANIMAL WELL stays away from conventional combat in favour of a more nuanced approach. While you may encounter hostile creatures, the focus is on evasion, puzzle-solving, and manipulating the world around you. The pacifist design emphasises methodical and careful movement throughout each screen, often causing joyful panic in your first encounters with spooky ghosts that chase you as soon as you enter a room. You need strategy and resourcefulness over brute force.

The game features unique boss encounters that serve as highlights of the journey. These encounters often require you to use acquired items and environmental understanding to overcome tough challenges. Each distinct area boasts its biome and mechanics, crafted around these encounters. The boss designs are imaginative and varied, offering memorable moments that test both skill and ingenuity. ANIMAL WELL lends itself to surreal and creative ideas, meaning you’ll never know what creature is going to be the next big boss you’ll need to overcome – you can’t trust even the cuddliest of animals. There’s clear attention to detail and contextual design when it comes to the creatures lurking around the corner or the mechanics of the zone, plunging you further into the depths of ANIMAL WELL.

Descending into darkness

ANIMAL WELL presents visual and aural immersion that complements the gameplay. The dark and neon aesthetic lends an otherworldly ambience to its environment. Often shrouded in darkness, each screen is mysterious, with light sources serving as beacons of safety and guidance. While it might not be entirely accessible to everyone, this visual style enhances the game’s sense of foreboding and adds a layer to its storytelling, especially when uncovering the secrets of the spiritual animals hidden within the well.

Similarly, the audio design of ANIMAL WELL is superb. With minimalistic soundscapes punctuated by the subtle sounds of the player’s movement and enemy interactions, the game creates an eerie sense of isolation and tension. The absence of music in most parts of the game amplifies the feeling of unease, evoking elements of survival horror that heighten the sense of vulnerability. However, the flute not only allows you to control animals but brightens the atmosphere with the music you play (literally). When music does arise, it serves as a signal of significant events or imminent danger, effectively enhancing the impact of gameplay moments.

In terms of performance and functionality, the experience is seamless on PC with a controller. You’ll navigate and engage with its mechanics without encountering any technical issues, allowing for uninterrupted play. Overall, the visual and audio design of ANIMAL WELL are impressive and enhance its thematic elements.




  • Dark and spooky atmosphere
  • Well-executed Metroidvania with cryptic elements
  • Smart sound design
  • Imaginative boss encounters


  • Lack of direction can be troublesome
  • Not entirely accessible visually or in gameplay

Uncover secrets, evade dangers, and embark on an eerie journey in ANIMAL WELL. Billy Basso has crafted a dark neon aesthetic and enigmatic gameplay that delivers a Metroidvania unlike many others. The mystery and cryptic puzzles won’t be for everyone, but those who enjoy a challenge and a good platformer will be rewarded with a haunting adventure.