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Thursday, August 27, 2020

Review: Giraffe and Annika (Nintendo Switch)


Review by Matt S.

In the grand scheme of things, you're not going to remember Giraffe and Annika. It doesn't do anything particularly eye-opening with its design and gameplay, and it's not a substantial contribution to any particular kind of discourse. What it is, however, is blissfully sweet and good-natured, and we need those kinds of experiences too.

Annika is a young cat girl, who wakes up in an Alice in Wonderland-esque world that she doesn't recognise, and with no memories to boot. Luckily it's not a nightmare, though, because it's certainly colourful and full of eccentric people. One of those people is a fellow named Giraffe, who begs Annika to help him in delving into spoooooooky, dangerous dungeons (which he can't access for mysterious reasons) and recovering elemental stones. There are three of these stones, all told, and with nothing else to do in this fantastic purgatory, Annika readily signs up.

First, though, she'll need to complete little objectives to convince the local residents to help her on her way. A mother rabbit needs help tracking down her kids. A struggling sculptor wants photos of statues from the Gods to help him find his inspiration. These little objectives take place in the main "hub" world, and they are the weakest element in Giraffe and Annika. They are - nakedly - fetch quests, and not particularly well-designed ones at that. You've got to find five little rabbits, for example, but if you don't manage to before the evening ticks around (there's a day-night cycle which spins incredibly quickly), then all the bunnies go home anyway and you have to start the next day tracking them all down again (why, again, does the mother need help finding those bunnies when they're clearly not lost)?


Parts of this hub world are also locked off by literal colour-coded doors - an inelegant and arbitrary way to funnel players through the experience, and while there are some little side distractions along the way, they're infrequent and the rewards are hardly worth the energy. A big part of the reward system seems to be in the granting of achievements, but that's a feature pulled in from Steam and those pop-ups mean nothing whatsoever on the Switch.

But that's enough of the bellyaching. I didn't come to Giraffe and Annika looking for an intricate open-world game, and I wouldn't want that in the first place. I deeply dislike most open-world experiences. The rest of Giraffe and Annika - the real heart & soul of the experience - is toffee-sweet with sprinkles on top.

The dungeons are loosely based on the Zelda formula - not so much that you need to find new items to navigate through them, but a steady stream of puzzles and pseudo-platforming will bring a comforting level of familiarity for anyone that has played a Zelda game. The catch is that Giraffe and Annika is also completely non-violent. There are enemies (ghosts), but you need to run away from them rather than fight them. Avoiding damage is often a case of solving simple puzzles (for example, hiding under a boat's roof so ranged ghosts can't hit you), and while these puzzles are ludicrously simple, they're nonetheless engaging, preventing you from getting stuck in a part of the dungeon for too long, and make the game ideal for kids to play too. For people that do want to eke out a bit more from the experience, there are treasure chests hidden in dungeons (some quite well) which reward you with bits of art. These are charming homages and satires of real art in their own right, but you can also trade them into a gallery for awards like additional costumes. With two incentives to collect them they end up being a truly worthwhile feature, and I laughed along every time I earned a new bit of art within the game.


The only real "battles" are with bosses, and even here they're not violent. Instead, you face off over a rhythm game, with the goal being to play well enough that the enemy loses their health bar more quickly than you. With a funky, playful approach to music, this rhythm game isn't the rich experience of a Miku or Deemo, but it's still well made and creative, and gave the developers the ability to challenge players with boss battles while maintaining the commitment to a violence-free experience.

Giraffe and Annika bristles with joy. It's a short experience of just a few hours, and even completionists and gaming newcomers will roll through the game in a weekend, but there's an attention to detail that highlights that the developers were more interested in quality than quantity. What a quaint philosophy that is for video games in 2020! The world teems with colour and energy, and even the smallest details have a nearly imperceptible level of care poured into them. When dad bunny eventually shows up, for example, he's wearing a bandanna with the Japanese character for "rabbit" on it. It's an X-factor of humour and charm that lesser developers wouldn't have bothered with - the same character in another game would have simply worn a plain-coloured bandanna. Giraffe and Annika is filled with the small things that add to the vibrancy of the world that you get to inhabit for that short little while.

Giraffe and Annika is the first outing for Atelier Mimina, and as a statement of intent, it shows us a developer that we should be paying attention to. Perhaps Giraffe and Annika is a touch on the short side for its own good, and perhaps there was a better way to build the world and adventure up than making players spend time in a fairly mundane "open world," but between the evocative characters, rich aesthetics and wholesome sense of humour, this game is a joy to play. And that is what's actually important here.



- Matt S. 
Editor-in-Chief
Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb

The critic was provided a code for the purposes of this review.



Review: Giraffe and Annika (Nintendo Switch)
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