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Why is "Animal Well" so popular?

Official cover image for Animal Well

Introduction to Animal Well

Overview of the Game

Animal Well is a game that feels like nothing other than itself most of the time. It is full of puzzles and mysteries, and gives you the freedom to wander around as you please and follow your own threads. The game is richly peculiar from one moment to the next, but it's also a game of gates and gear. You start as a friendly little lump amidst subterranean wilderness, at the very middle of a map that is all but lost in shadow.

Initial Reception

Upon its release, Animal Well garnered significant attention for its unique approach to the Metroidvania genre. The game’s environments are packed with secrets — and, predictably, animals. This combination of mystery and exploration intrigued many players, leading to a positive initial reception.

Popularity on Steam

Animal Well quickly became popular on Steam, thanks in part to its richly peculiar design and the freedom it offers players to explore and discover. The game’s unique blend of mystery and exploration resonated with a wide audience, making it a standout title on the platform.

Visual and Artistic Appeal

The art style of Animal Well is a gentle mix of muted neon pixels with cavernous blacks, scanlined to dreamy effect. Rare is the room without some unique eye-catching feature. This is a game world dabbed by an ultra-meticulous hand. When a room appears featureless, you bet that there's something hidden to find.

The game is made in pixel art, which suggests nostalgia and throwback aesthetics, but there's something very new about the way it is employed to create streams and lakes, or to set a torch swinging on a chain, or spring creepers from the ceiling that brush aside gently as you move by. One room might be a maze dug through the damp soil. Another might have the remains of the gate perfectly placed, from tiny flowers and draping vines to massive waterfalls reflecting shimmering lights. The well is lush, with a beautiful and thoughtful use of both color and light that draws the eye to objectives and, sometimes, protects well-hidden secrets. And everything is constantly moving! Vines sway as you push past, grass rustles, key items have meaningful physics when they bounce and clatter off of stone floors and glass walls.

It's there in the screen-by-screen puzzles and challenges, in the black backdrop, in the love for suggesting depths and context that are not always fully present. And there's something of nature writing in all those perfectly observed pixel art squirrels and fish and deer, doing their animal things in their own habitats, creatures that have been observed and then recreated with patience and insight and character.

Gameplay and Mechanics

Animal Well's gameplay is deeply rooted in its Metroidvania Elements, offering players a sprawling map filled with interconnected areas to explore. The game encourages players to revisit previous locations with new abilities, uncovering hidden paths and secrets that were previously inaccessible. This design choice not only adds depth but also a sense of accomplishment as players progress.

The game is renowned for its Secrets and Exploration. Each area is meticulously crafted, with puzzles that range from simple to complex, often requiring a keen eye and thoughtful experimentation. Fans have praised the platforming mechanics and atmosphere, noting that the game feels brilliant and more-ish in the hands. The intellectual challenge through layers of puzzles and a focus on experimentation keeps players engaged and coming back for more.

Player feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, highlighting the game's clear and focused puzzles. Many of them fit into a single screen at a time, giving you something to ponder, a taste of victory, and then a ritual as you move on and find the next room and the next puzzle. Some puzzles spread across multiple screens and environments, often involving doors, keys, corridors, and switches. The challenging platforming sections and the atmosphere that Animal Well offers have been particularly well-received, making it a standout title in the genre.

Impact of Dunkey and Bigmode

On September 21, 2022, popular internet personality Jason Gastrow, also known as Dunkey, announced that he was co-founding a video game publishing company named Bigmode with his wife, streamer and YouTuber Leahbee. Many reacted with cautious optimism, awaiting proof of concept, and that optimism grew when Bigmode's first release, Animal Well, was finally shown off.

Throughout his career as a YouTuber, Dunkey has consistently held up indie gaming as a bastion of quality and hope for the community. He has strived to emphasize the importance of indie gaming, using releases such as Enter The Gungeon and Neon White as examples of games he believes are worthy of his audience's attention. Looking at how well received Animal Well is, Dunkey's support for indie gaming seems to be paying off.


In conclusion, the meteoric rise of Animal Well to the top of Steam's best-seller list and its overwhelmingly positive reception from both critics and gamers can be attributed to a combination of factors. The game's stunning visual design, intricate secrets, and engaging metroidvania elements have captivated players. Additionally, the backing of popular YouTuber Dunkey and his Bigmode publishing label has undoubtedly contributed to its success. Animal Well's ability to deliver on its promises and provide a deeply immersive and satisfying experience has solidified its place as one of the highest-rated games of the year. Its success is a testament to the power of well-crafted indie games and the growing appreciation for unique and innovative gaming experiences.


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