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Backlog Impressions | Giraffe and Annika

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When cuteness meets rhythm in Giraffe and Annika will it hit all the high notes or end up a chaotic cacophony? Let’s unfold these musical mysteries in the latest Backlog Review!

Raining Cat Girls and Fox Boys

Let’s imagine for a moment that it’s currently [insert favorite gift receiving holiday]. You wake up excitedly and are presented with a table/tree/box of gorgeously wrapped packages, all with your name on them. Unfortunately, upon opening them you are met with only one or two things you really wanted and the rest are a disappointing, confusing mess. That about sums up my experience with a little game called Giraffe and Annika. But what is it about this very pretty package that makes the contents such a baffling hodgepodge you might ask? Well hang on to your fluffy animal ears kids, it’s going to get wild!

Developed by Atelier Mimina and KamiPallet and published by NIS America for all current gen consoles and PC, Giraffe and Annika is a 3D action adventure game with rhythm elements. In Giraffe and Annika, you wake from a strange dream as Annika, a cute cat girl who seems to have lost her memories. You are soon greeted by a young fox(?) boy named Giraffe. He tasks you with helping him find and collect star fragments for an undisclosed reason and suggests that it might also help you regain your memories. That about wraps up the part he plays in the game unfortunately, other than a few story bits here and there. That and he’ll wait around various places on the map offering nothing more than a reminder of your current objective.

All Fur Coat and No Knickers

While playing the game, the story is primarily presented to you through a series of beautifully drawn manga-esque panels in lieu of animated cutscenes, which was fine by me. Honestly, these story sections were one of my favorite parts in the whole game. The artwork was so well done, with plenty of eye catching colors and smooth, simple lines. The various dialogue bubbles and sound effects added in as you read along gave the panels motion and portrayed the prevailing emotions perfectly. The ingame graphics were remarkable as well for the most part. The environments are vibrant and dynamic which definitely added a positive note to the many instances of in depth exploration required during the game. The character models were slightly less polished than the rest regrettably, with stiff animations that didn’t quite match up with the rest of the exceptional artwork.

With that being said, I found the narrative itself to be a little muddled and confusing. For instance,  when Annika wakes from a dream in which she was human and living in a human world she finds herself in a fantastical world where she is the only human/hybrid character. There are a few other fully human characters, but for the most part the rest are anthropomorphised animals. She has no memories, but she seems to know most of the island inhabitants and they know her in return. No one seems willing to give her any information whatsoever though…confused yet? Me too!! While I will say the ending does fill in a few holes and attempts to make things make sense, I just felt the way the story was presented to you left you feeling befuddled instead of curious for the entirety of the game. Even when the truths were finally revealed it was more of an “oh…ok I guess”, reaction instead of the “Oh! Ah ha! I see now!”, which I think they were hoping for.

More Than Curiosity Killed the Cat

In Giraffe and Annika, there are 5 major dungeons and countless other places to explore on the bountiful island of Spica. Each dungeon is fairly short and can be completed in just a few minutes. There are no puzzles to solve or even enemies to fight,  so you’re basically just figuring out how to reach the boss at the end of each area. Now, not to further confuse the situation but there ARE enemies sprinkled throughout the dungeons, you just can’t fight any of them. They are all ghosts of one form or another that will chase after you or shoot things at you and do an absolute butt-ton of damage. While there are always plenty of healing crystals or food items scattered about to offset any damage done, there’s no real way to protect yourself. Other than straight up avoiding them. The only exception is when you’re fighting a boss. Which isn’t altogether terrible, but a little more action or at least some method of defense would have been nice. Once you reach the dungeon boss you’ll be confronted by Lily The Mysterious Forest Witch alongside the boss creature who will actually be fighting you. 

These battles require pretty basic rhythm mechanics where you move Annika from one side of the screen to the other, hitting A at the right time to make the magic balls being shot at you connect with the circles at your feet. Occasionally, they will shoot other balls of energy that need to be dodged or you’ll end up paralyzed for a few seconds. This is all good, great, grand, and wonderful, but here’s the part that I take issue with: when you manage to get the timing right for the magic balls you will do a bit of damage to Lily, not the boss monster…for whatever reason. However, once the correlating rhythm song is over, if Annika is still alive then you’ve won the battle. Doing damage does nothing. As long as Annika’s health bar still has points on it then Lily’s health bar level is irrelevant. You just…win. You’re given a score of course at the end of each “battle” and the better you did the better your letter grade will be, but still…why add in the enemy health bar at all? Why have a boss monster at all if it’s Lily we’re “damaging”? Seems a bit odd to me, and absolutely anticlimactic to say the least.

Nine Lives and Then Some

You can certainly die many times over in these dungeons if you aren’t careful. But, luckily there’s no punishment for death. Annika will just wake up a few feet from where she died no worse for wear and without the loss of any progress. The enemies, however, are only a threat inside the dungeon. Outside the only real threats are the controls themselves. They are v-e-r-y floaty. Gravity is minimal on Spica Island apparently since more often than not Annika will slide right over edges and cliffs just trying to make the simplest jumps. Oh and water kills you too! Awesome right? It doesn’t kill you instantly or anything, but it quickly sucks away your HP even after you get a better swimming ability. Annika will drown fairly swiftly since apparently she only knows how to dive and swim under water. No surfacing for a breath…nope…just death. Lots and lots of falling off cliffs and drowning.

On a more positive note though, along your vast exploration of Spica Island and the various dungeons and whatnot you will see little symbols painted on the ground: a cat head with wings and a cat head in a portrait frame. Seeing these means that there is a Goddess tablet, or a Meowsterpiece nearby. The Goddess tablets will tell you what offering you need to leave near their respective Goddess statues in order to restore them to their past colorful glory. This is all tied to the story, but you pretty much have to figure out the actual statue locations yourself. The Meowsterpieces are all drawings involving cats drawn and submitted by a slew of different artists. They were another really fun part of the game. I really enjoyed collecting them all. Some were definitely more challenging than others to obtain but nothing too difficult. For collecting them you are rewarded with a few costume changes for Annika.

The Cat’s Out of the Bag

So, I guess what it all boils down to is that my time with Giraffe and Annika amounted to a very lukewarm experience over all. There were high points, most of which I mentioned. There were low points, some of which I didn’t mention. And while the artwork blew me away, the rest of the game was too confusing and frustrating to make up the difference. Luckily, it’s a relatively short game coming in at around 5-10 hours tops, but even still my recommendation is to wait for a deep discount or skip it altogether. The choice is yours!

If you’re interested in checking out  Giraffe and Annika for yourself, it will be available on the Switch, Xbox One, and PS4 on August 25th, 2020! You can also find it right now on Steam!