Animal Well is shaping up to be the most acclaimed metroidvania since Hollow Knight

Animal Well
(Image credit: Bigmode)

One of the best-reviewed games of the year so far launched on Steam today. In his 90% Animal Well review for PC Gamer, Shaun said that the 2D metroidvania "may go down in history as one of the genre's best," and other critics agree. Here's a smattering of the acclaim:

  • GamesRadar+ (4.5/5): "an endlessly inventive metroidvania with unfathomable depth"
  • Eurogamer (5/5): "I'm astonished by it"
  • GameSpot (90): "cavernous and unpredictable"
  • Polygon: It "will transform you from a simple egg person into a paranoid, note-keeping conspiracy theorist"

Animal Well was made by solo indie developer Billy Basso, who says he spent nearly seven years on the project. It is also the first game published by Bigmode, a company founded in 2022 by married YouTubers Jason "Videogamedunkey" Gastrow and Leah "Leahbee" Gastrow with an aim to "publish some of the very best games out there." 

When he announced the venture, Dunkey emphasized his record of trashing "soulless cash grabs" while lifting up indie games like Hollow Knight and Celeste, saying that he only wants to work with "the most passionate and creative people out there." It's only one game, but so far so good, looks like.

Animal Well creator Basso previously worked as a programmer for game studios including NetherRealm, and founded his indie studio, Shared Memory, in 2020. The studio is just him, plus assistance from self-described "business-y guy" Dan Adelman, a former indie dev liaison for Xbox and Nintendo who now independently provides business and marketing services for small developers.

A couple hours after launch, Animal Well is climbing Steam's top sellers chart, and is number eight globally at the time of writing. Its Steam rating—an average that's of great significance these days—is sitting at "Very Positive" so far with about 300 reviews.

Polygon's reviewer advises playing Animal Well without any foreknowledge, which I say as a warning that I'm going to give you a little bit of foreknowledge in the next paragraph, so back out now if you want to go in knowing nothing

What none of the Steam reviewers who just started playing Animal Well may know yet, unless they've read our review or another one, is that the end is not the end. "The credits rolling in Animal Well just marks the end of one game and the beginning of another," as Shaun put it in his review. And it's that post-credits game that really elevates the whole thing.

"Animal Well morphed from a fun-verging-brilliant indie metroidvania into something that now keeps me awake at night," Shaun wrote.

On the Steam page, Brasso claims that "players will be discovering hidden puzzles for years." Working en masse, players are pretty good at annihilating any mystery you put in front of them, but it's a tantalizing promise—and it's certainly not unheard of for secrets to be discovered years or even decades after a game's release. A previously unknown variant of the Konami code was just found in a 25-year-old game, for instance.

Animal Well is available on Steam for $25 (currently on sale for $22.49), and is also available on PlayStation and Switch consoles.

Tyler Wilde
Executive Editor

Tyler grew up in Silicon Valley during the '80s and '90s, playing games like Zork and Arkanoid on early PCs. He was later captivated by Myst, SimCity, Civilization, Command & Conquer, all the shooters they call "boomer shooters" now, and PS1 classic Bushido Blade (that's right: he had Bleem!). Tyler joined PC Gamer in 2011, and today he's focused on the site's news coverage. His hobbies include amateur boxing and adding to his 1,200-plus hours in Rocket League.