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Doubutsu Banchou

by Jonathan Metts - April 8, 2002, 1:13 pm EDT
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Picasso would be proud. Animal Leader definitely has a unique visual style, but how does the gameplay hold up?

I was fascinated by Animal Leader when it was first shown for the N64 back at Spaceworld 2000, and ever since it was announced for GameCube I’ve been very interested in the game. But I never seriously thought I would import the game until I heard the music. For all its weirdo graphics and extremely savage gameplay, Dobutso Bancho has simply gorgeous music. If ever there was a doubt in my mind that this game was just a shoddy programming job rather than a truly artistic achievement, the music put down my fears immediately.

Nearly all the songs are very short and simple loops that are really quite repetitive, but the way in which they’re done keeps any of it from being annoying to me. Perhaps others will disagree. For example, there’s one song that is literally a three-second acoustic guitar riff played over and over, indefinitely. Sounds terrible in theory, but it fits so well against the gameplay and graphics, and is just so overall pleasant and non-threatening, that I found myself looking forward to the levels where that song plays. There are many other examples, but suffice it to say that the sound, both music and effects, is a high point for Dobutso Bancho.

Imagine that some brave company released a brand-new NES cartridge today, in 2002, containing an FX-like chip and the first and only true polygonal game for that system. It would probably look a lot like Animal Leader. The graphics border on horrid, and yet keeping in mind that they are deliberately so, it’s hard for me to say anything bad about them. Anyone with a good sense of humor should be able to appreciate the cubic clouds and square water ripples, and eventually such touches become quite endearing. Otherwise, the game is very solid in this area: mostly strong framerates, a manageable (if sometimes annoying) camera system, and decent textures. Many other effects are thrown in to really pump up the retro look, from garishly pixelated Japanese text to hilariously gaudy flashes of solid background color. Animal Leader is certainly one of the most visually unique games you’ll ever play, and that’s a very good thing in my book.

Gameplay follows suit with a very simple and yet addicting design. The initial concept of eating other animals to upgrade your own slowly blossoms into a remarkably full-featured and complex system of colors, patterns, and eating order. You can get through most of the game without understanding much of this underlying system, but reaching the higher ranks will require a lot of planning and very careful decision-making about what to eat. Interspersed with all the munching is a carefully driven path through many levels and bosses, full of exploration, item-collecting, and combat. The combat itself is actually the only disappointing thing about Animal Leader’s gameplay; it seems cool enough for a while, but eventually the constant tackling wears rather thin. By the end of the game I was still excited about devouring colors and finding new transformations, but the combat required to do so had become a chore. There are certainly a few enemies and bosses that will keep you on your toes, but with your only options as tackle, jump, and block, the battles essentially all boil down to the same pattern. The latter half of the game could have been much more engaging if your combat skills were more varied, or even if each incarnation (major section of the game) brought with it unique moves or something. However, overall the gameplay is brilliantly designed and even the simple combat can be entertaining in small doses. I personally found it worth putting up with the ho-hum battles towards the end because making new transformations and progressing through the levels is just so much fun.

The truth is that Animal Leader really is an artsy game...and like any piece of art, some people will be able to appreciate it and many others will not. It’s not just the graphics that are weird, but really the whole game’s sense of style and gameplay philosophy are simultaneously old-school and art nouveau. Overall, I think the game could have benefited from a more complex combat system, but everything else simply amazes me. Definitely check it out if you’re looking for something new and different on your GameCube.


Graphics Sound Control Gameplay Lastability Final
8 9.5 9 8 8 8.5

I thought about being realistic and giving this game a very low score for graphics, but you know what? Style counts for everything, and Animal Leader has assloads of style. I am deducting for the often annoying camera though.


Simple, yet oh so elegant. You’ll be humming the tunes all day long, and the sound effects are both effective and funny as hell.


The layout is pretty logical and everything responds well. My only gripe is that camera commands with the C-stick are digital (a la Super Mario 64) as opposed to analog, but I didn’t use the C-stick much anyway.


Running around and eating other animals is just plain fun, and once you get deeper into the game, you’ll find that there’s actually a lot of method to that madness. The progression through levels and bosses is done very well, and the difficulty is just right. The only problem here is the very basic combat, which is functional but not as engaging as it should be.


Again, the simple battles hurt this category somewhat, but there’s a TON of stuff to do, and earning new transformations can quickly become an obsession. Hell, I had fun just getting as many ladies as possible...my record is 20. Now that’s pimpin’. Certainly, if you get into increasing your rank and seeing what happens when you achieve all 150 transformation, you’ll be playing for a very long time.


Animal Leader is a strikingly original game in practically every way possible, but more importantly, it’s well-designed and very entertaining. Seriously consider importing it if you enjoy a bit of weirdness mixed in with your “retro" gaming.


  • Excellent sound
  • Hilarious Japanese quirkiness throughout
  • Very solid and engaging game design
  • Overly simple combat system
  • Some people may not like the bizarre graphics
Review Page 2: Conclusion

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Genre Action
Developer Nintendo

Worldwide Releases

na: Cubivore
Release Nov 05, 2002
jpn: Doubutsu Banchou
Release Feb 21, 2002
RatingAll Ages

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