“In life, one must choose between boredom and suffering.” said Madame de Stael. Madame de Stael is dead. She couldn’t have possibly known that you could choose both, but in her defence, the option hadn’t truly presented itself until Animal Rivals came out for Switch, which deftly combines the two feelings to an utter master stroke.
Animal Rivals positions itself as a party game, which is a bizarre thing as anyone who would actually want to play this ostensibly has no friends. It’s set up in the familiar format: a variety of mini-games which come at players randomly, and the highest scoring participant “wins”, although God knows what they might win playing these turgid mini-games, which either involve running and leaping over obstacles or pits, competing in an Olympic style hurdles race, or picking up objects like fruit and vegetables and collecting the most before your opponents. If these sound dull, uninspiring, and tedious to you, you’re correct! These are absolutely devoid of anything even resembling fun. I know party games are not always packed with winners, and that even Mario Party has a few dodgy additions, but here, nothing truly inspires, and everything here has less substance than a 2005 Flash game.
I must concede that the graphics are fair, as they have clarity and they bring the world of Animal Rivals to life. It’s just a shame that this world is writhing on the floor of a psychopath’s basement, begging for death. Seems like an oxymoron, but the reality is that the developers made a pig’s ear of the presentation. The aesthetics are bright, but in no way is it pleasant or pleasing to the eye: rather, it’s like a nightclub’s coat room in the early-90s and everyone’s carelessly thrown their loud tracksuit tops into the corner. It’s truly a nasty orgy of colour not recommended for anyone blessed with the gift of sight that makes playing the game an actively unpleasant experience.
This is compounded by the absolutely horrendous designs of the main characters. As you make your way through the available mini-games with your pals, you can choose from a series of animal avatars to represent you, and they look like genetic abominations, to say the least. These are horrifying! Jacked-up lions, rats, and cats looking like they’ve been hitting the gym a bit too hard, with requisitely terrifying faces that neither mother or child could love. May I remind everyone, especially the developers, that this game was actively geared towards children? There was nothing fun or cute about this – an attempt at an exaggerated look quickly morphed into a shopping list of horrors, designed by someone so catastrophically out of touch not just with what children like, but what humans like. There is no aesthetic here. It’s just a mess.
Some joy might be had out of the gameplay, but it’s very fleeting and soon turns frigid, like being doused in boiling-hot soup that slowly grows cold, leaving you a minestrone-masked mess. Even then, the fun is either masochistic or sadistic, and you’ll arguably get more mileage out of this with a set of buddies, but truthfully, not even the very young or very drunk will be able to look past how lame and how lazy this all is.
Presentation doesn’t just refer to graphics or the wider aesthetic, but how the game fits together menu to menu as a piece of software, and there are very genuine moments in which Animal Rivals feels like it’s held together with duct tape. Except for the music itself, which is more like chewing gum placed in the ears and then smacked so it lodges itself deep in the aural canal. I thought the assault on the senses ended with the graphics, but the music consists of a set of truly awful stock tracks that detract from the action, distracting in their inferior quality.
The reasonable gaming public don’t expect much, especially from a smaller developer, but the fonts will do damage to your retinas, the characters seem to have been constructed lovelessly on somebody’s lunch break after a quick Google search for “what do children like”, and some screens are completely void of any sound design, most glaringly the sections where the character’s backstories are explained. That’s just embarrassing! We have no problem reading, but when the game goes dead silent, you’ll always carry a fear that your Switch has crashed entirely. The entirety of the end product feels so slapdash and amateurish, as if cobbled together for a few, sweaty, desperate bucks with no trace of love for the project in sight. Ultimately, this title is put together in a manner that is so rickety that it betrays the low production values from a team that doesn’t seem to care, and complements the cynicism of a team that just wants your money.
I’ll say it until I’m hoarse in the throat: Animal Rivals is as poorly presented as a wild boar, as embarrassing as allowing a fox to play with the chickens, and as much fun as cleaning up an elephant’s dung. This game is painful on far too many levels; graphically, presentationally, sonically, existentially…this is a mammoth waste of time for everyone involved, and there’s no use being sheepish about it. Animal Rivals’ poorness just stings.
Verdict: This game deserves to take a trip to the glue factory.