Join Bakudan as he begins his quest for dominance in Nintendo's blocky animal kingdom... The graphics may look primitive but appearances can be deceiving!
Jagged boxy polygons. That’s my first impression of Animal Leader when I saw the screen shots. When I saw the game running last week at the Nintendo GameCube in Shibuya event, my impressions were still jagged boxy polygons. The animals look like boxes, and the surroundings looks like they are also made out of blocks. Some people commented the graphics were ugly, and I don’t blame them; the lifelike curtains of Luigi’s Mansion, the dynamic reflective water of Wave Race and the luscious graphics of Pikmin all have spoiled us. Playing Animal Leader seemed like a step backwards in terms of gaming.
Nevertheless, do not underestimate this game. Do not judge this game by screen shots. Do not even judge it by watching footage of the game in action. Play the game for yourself, and like me you will probably find yourself absorbed. Like Shigeru Miyamoto says, “only by playing can you judge a game.”
In case you haven’t been following up on this game, here’s the basic premise of the game. You are born as a pig into a world filled with boxy creatures. You have to fight and devour others to survive. By eating other creatures, you transform and learn new capabilities. The ultimate goal is to beat and dethrone the leader.
What is impressive of Animal Leader is its simplicity. Most people at the Shibuya event simply picked up the controllers and started playing for 10 to 15 minutes without help from reps or the provided manual. While standing in line and looking at the screens, I was bothered by the graphics, especially after playing Doshin, which looked great. Finally after wiping the controller clean, the rep handed me the controller, and stepped back to let me play. Although I was skeptical, after 2 to 3 minutes, the graphics were behind me. I was eating up other animals and spilling purple polygonal blood.
Your animal is moved by the analog stick, and jumps with the A button. The L trigger button is used for locking onto enemies. Once you lock on an enemy, pressing the A button will make your animal perform a tackle. In the second level, I acquired the ability to crawl faster on grass by holding down the R trigger button. Overall, the control is responsive and solid.
After playing Doshin the Giant once, I am afraid I think the camera system of this game is only average and could use some improvement. The Y button aligns the camera behind your animal. You can also use the C stick to move the camera, but unfortunately you are not able to rotate your camera freely. Instead, it works like Mario 64’s C buttons. To shift you camera to the very left, you would have to tilt the C stick to the left twice, like pressing the C button twice in Mario 64. The problem is relatively minor however, since the Y button is pretty much all I use to change the camera angle.
As far as graphics go, if you could manage to remove yourself from the gameplay and pay attention to what is on the screen, there is really nothing spectacular, especially if you played Pikmin and other Cube titles. But the game has been in development for nearly four and a half years I think, and if the development team really wanted to improve the graphics, I am sure that they could have. The boxy and polygonal look of the game was kept due to the development’s team’s artistic direction. The world in Animal Leader is simple – you have to eat, or you die. And the crude graphics help build this primitive atmosphere. This game is definitely about Nintendo’s gaming concept - gameplay over pretty graphics. After playing through 3 levels, I do have one major complaint. Texts that are displayed in the bottom of the screen are really hard to read. A lot of times, I had to lean myself forward to be able to read the text.
For me the most surprising thing is the music of this game. Before I got my hands on this game today, I played a bit of it at the Shibuya event last week, and 30 minutes of it at a department store. Since it was quite noisy, I really didn’t get to listen to the music too closely. The first thing I noticed when I booted up the game at home is the logo of Dolby Surround (it even appeared before the Nintendo logo). In the background you always hear calls of other animals. Sound effects are on the dot, and superb when using Dolby Surround equipment. You get shuffling noise walking thru grass, and when you bite off a piece of an animal, they let out screams. Almost always in the background you will hear calls of other animals. I was really impressed by the sound track in the background especially. The background music I heard so far was orchestrated with piano, violin, and guitar. Most of the time, the music is relaxing and draws you in the game nicely. When you encounter a more dangerous situation, say like a mini boss, the music changes to create tension. Objectively the graphic department may be weak in this game, but the sound department makes up for it.
There is quite a big amount of Japanese text so far, but the game does seem playable without any knowledge of Japanese. I would consider not importing this game for the time being due to the heavy Japanese text. Once I get a better feel for the game, I will follow up on whether it’s import-friendly.
I have only played through three levels, which is barely scratching the surface. So far it’s very refreshing and unique. Like Pikmin and Animal Forest, it has that Nintendo magic that immerses you in the game, and perhaps unlocks that beast in you (although Nintendo might not admit it, this game is quite violent). Let’s just hope people here in Japan will give it a try.