Look at any artwork for Giraffe and Annika and you’ll see why the original launch trailer gained a lot of attention. It has a sense of whimsy and mystical cuteness that could easily have been from any anime blockbuster. Giraffe and Annika appears to be aimed at a younger audience but still promising enough content and options to be played at all ages. The Switch menu icon has the fantastic artwork on show meaning that it starts off on strong footing but is it worth popping on the cat ears or is it just a tall tale?
Giraffe and Annika is a 3D platforming game with simple puzzles, a trivial rhythm game and a focus on exploration. It’s hard to really describe any of the gameplay as anything more or less than basic. The jumping is functional, being able to move a little in midair but still feels a little floaty. The puzzles are simple enough; collecting items, placing items correctly and pushing boxes around. Exploring the island and dungeons is ok but it involves backtracking around fairly plain areas. The rhythm game acts as a boss battle mechanic and feels fairly token. You move left and right along a line, hitting beats as they hit the line. When you’re running around the world as Annika everything feels very slippery. The camera doesn’t do a great job of following and often needs wrestling to follow Annika comfortably. Once the ability to swim is unlocked the near instant death of water is less of a worry but the controls are still fiddly, climbing out of the water is just a janky mess of tapping jump hoping to connect with the geometry to walk out.
It’s a shame that the moment to moment gameplay in Giraffe and Annika is so mediocre as the design is surprisingly refreshing. The original trailer put the game on my radar and there is plenty of charm to be had. There is a speedy day/night cycle to the island that acts as a timer to certain story challenges and changes the look of the surroundings. The cutscenes are disappointing comics that the camera pans through but the artwork is pleasant enough. The animation of the characters in-game leaves a lot to be desired, you can expect to see models simply move into position before being animated and obvious breaks between animations. The UI is functional and the text easy to read, which is handy as there are a few moments in scenes where you’ll pick Annika’s response. They are trivial choices though, when you pick the ‘wrong’ choice the scene loops back until you change your mind.
If you were expecting a Studio Ghibli feel to Giraffe and Annika you’ll be catered to with its music. Tracks do loop a little shorter than is pleasant but the music does have a quaint wholesome feel to it. Sound effects follow a similar sense of light simplicity that matches the games tone. Music battles are a bit clunky with your beat strikes barely effecting the sounds. You can play them on Easy which is incredibly simplistic, Normal which is still a little too easy and Hard which is incredibly brutal. Despite the gameplay being lacklustre the tracks that play during these battles are great to listen to in their own right. Everything runs smoothly on the Switch both docked and in handheld. Everything feels like it had a good design to begin with and the production side didn’t quite match. Simple menu screens pop up for each music battle allowing you to change the difficulty if you are stuck but it does feel like you’re loading into a different game.
Giraffe and Annika feels like a game in early access that never stopped adding extra features and content instead of pausing to polish what was already there. There are collectable artworks, multiple quests to complete to progress the story and the rhythm game is ranked so you can aim for higher scores. The website for promoting the game has craft-able ears and colouring pages to download and print (over here) Giraffe and Annika even has its own Achievement systems so if you want to pour hours into the world there’s an opportunity to play with progression as you go. I’m just not entirely sure it’s worth doing all of it but it’s worth looking at some gameplay footage and seeing if this is the sort of work that you can ignore the janky gameplay to enjoy. It’s a far cry from broken and is functional, it just doesn’t feel like it functions particularly well.
At times it feels like Giraffe and Annika is trying to be experimental but doesn’t want to commit to it entirely. You have save statues that both look like Modern sculpture and a kids playdough model at the same time. Giraffe is an anthropomorphic blue fox but other characters are cute styled animals dressed in clothes. There is a strange disconnect throughout between the abstract design and normal realism. A strange cat museum to see collected artworks but an empty field, realistic looking beach and beached rusted ship but a turtle that can be ridden to transport to islands. Giraffe feels incredibly token at times, at key moments he will act to progress the story but otherwise will just stand still awaiting the next interaction. Considering his inclusion in the game’s title I expected him to have more of a role than a static NPC and at times he will stand outside of a building require an additional interaction just to get him moving to the next location.
I really wanted to love Giraffe and Annika, it feels like a game that’s trying to create a pacifist Zelda experience. Unfortunately there just isn’t enough polish or uniqueness outside of its aesthetic. There are too many moments where you’ll be sitting doing nothing on a long moving platform or you’re tasked with running along a long dull path to get somewhere, all while dealing with a fair bit of clunky gameplay. It’s not an entirely terrible experience though. There is a lovable charm to be found from time to time, the writing is fantastic and the snippets of story are great. One moment you’ll be laughing at the rabbit family gathering and next you’ll be exploring an area and realising it wasn’t the main path to the next story moment you’ve been following but a route to a bland collectable. Giraffe and Annika is essentially a mixed bag of cuteness and jank.
5/10 – You’re having a giraffe Annika!
Giraffe and Annika comes to EU Switch & PS4 on the 28th August 2020
Code provided by EU Partner Relations – NIS America Inc. Check out NIS here
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