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Game Info:

Animal Gods
Developed by: Still Games
Published by: Still Games
Released: October 12, 2015
Available on: Windows, Mac OS X, SteamOS, Wii U
Genre: Adventure, puzzle
ESRB rating: E10 (fantasy violence)
Number of players: 1
Price: $9.99

Thank you, Still Games, for sending us a copy of this game to review!

There are many games that strive to claim that coveted title of an "art game." Sometimes the game takes a unique approach to the graphics, and sometimes it's the storyline that gets more emphasis. Many games do wonderful things with their musical scores. 

Every once in a while, you'll come across a game that manages to get all three of these elements together in such a fashion that they create a memorable, thought-provoking piece. Animal Gods, from Still Games, does qualify in this regard, yet still falls short in terms of a solid game. 

In the game, you play as Thistle, a sort of priest in a red cloak. He explores a mysterious city where three animal gods – a spider, a lion and a snake – reside. However there are no people here, and the gods seem to be trapped. You can explore the different regions in whatever order you wish. Along the way, you'll uncover journal entries from a woman named Juliette and a scientist name Sven, which help to explain the story and how everything ties together. 

Animal Gods
Highlights:

Strong Points: Interesting art style and music; thought-provoking story
Weak Points: Short; not terribly challenging
Moral Warnings: Some blood; religious themes, including positive depictions of polytheism and negative depictions of monotheism

The gameplay can best be described as "Zelda-esque." You watch the action in a 2D, top-down approach. Within each of the areas, Thistle will obtain a different item to make it through that region's challenges. Unfortunately, these items can only be used within these regions. For example, you can obtain the Cloak of Flames from the lion's area, but you can't use its power to teleport short distances while exploring the spider or snake areas. You'll be able to use all three items in the fourth – and final – chapter, though. 

In terms of challenges, there aren't many. The odd, square enemies follow a simple, predictable path, and only damage you if you happen to be standing within that path. The other objects that can kill you are purple, poisonous rivers, and, of course, missing a step onto a platform and falling into darkness. Thistle can only take one point of damage before perishing, but death simply means that you'll begin again from the last checkpoint, with the enemies brought back to life as well. The amount of checkpoints is generous, though, so there is a minimum of backtracking that will need to be done. Repeated playthroughs of the same areas will allow you to memorize the areas easily – then it's just a matter of figuring out where to stand and what to do in order to accomplish the goals. Even the final encounters with the bosses of the game follow this pattern, as they don't attack you. It's just a matter of completing the puzzle to free each one from its burdens. 

The graphics in the game provide a rather interesting style. The main premise is of a geometric, abstract style, but occasionally delves into Japanese wood blocks or African myth. The music has an interesting new age / techno vibe to it that fits the atmosphere of the game quite well. The controls are nicely responsive, and I was pleased to discover that my Logitech Precision game controller worked perfectly, without needing to even reprogram it.

Animal Gods
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 76%
Gameplay - 13/20
Graphics - 7/10
Sound - 8/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 85%
Violence - 5.5/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

Despite all the excellent aspects of the game, it does have a few flaws as well. The greater majority of the game focuses on simple pattern memorization. The few creatures – if you can call them that – do not pursue you, and serve more as obstacles rather than opponents. The game also is extremely short – I managed to complete the base game in less than four hours. Finishing the game unlocks a new mode in which you only have nine lives to solve the game, in contrast to the infinite amount of lives you have for the basic, main part. But if you've completed the game once, you probably know the locations of all the challenges already and how to bypass them. 

The storyline – and the moral aspects, incidentally – are the most interesting parts of the game. Animal Gods takes a positive approach to polytheism, and depicts monotheism in a negative light. Then again, the way it approaches this monotheistic religion is that it isn't something that came about naturally, but rather man's attempt to reshape religion into something else entirely, using reason and science. The linear path of some of the regions made me also think of the labyrinth. Not as in the marble maze with the holes, but a religious one, with a circular path that doubles back on itself frequently, and many people use it as a form of meditation. These have especially appeared in some Christian traditions – one of the most famous labyrinths appears on the floor of the Chartres Cathedral in France. There are no real-world religions depicted in the game – rather, it seems to focus more on some of the concepts and forms of religion, rather than the specific dogmatic elements of specific faiths. It's hard to go into detail about the religious themes in the game without exposing too many spoilers, but for those who pay close attention to the messages of the game, it can be quite thought-provoking. Just as good art should be, actually. The only other aspects of the morality would be that some blood can be found streaked across the floor in one location, but other than that, the game is pretty clean.

All in all, Animal Gods is an interesting, thought-provoking, artistic game. But despite the depth of the story, the game comes up feeling a bit shallow in terms of challenges. The short length of the game and the limited replay value may bring some pause as well. It's available from Steam at $9.99, but it may be worthwhile to wait until it goes on sale. Patience is a virtue, after all.

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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