Not Just For Kids

HIGH The lush, colorful art style.

LOW Some gameplay styles work better than others.

WTF Gating progress with collectibles.

Part of the reason I started to write game reviews was for the opportunity to try new experiences. I wanted to take some chances with unfamiliar genres, or titles I otherwise would’ve ignored. Unfortunately, my picks since starting haven’t been great, and my reviews have skewed negative. Thankfully, Giraffe and Annika bucks that trend.

Giraffe and Annika sees the player taking control of Annika, a cat-eared girl. Set on Spica Island, she awakens with no memories and soon meets a floppy-eared boy called Giraffe who tasks her with finding three star fragments. The player must then explore the island, carry out some tasks and find the dungeons housing the fragments. 

When it comes to the art style, a player’s mileage may vary. The environments are simple, but bright and boldly colored. Giraffe and Annika also includes a day-night cycle, and at sundown and sunrise the visuals really pop. However, every character has a fairly typical oh-so-cute Japanese manga style that I usually find grating. That said, it fits the content and tone, pointing to a wholesome and simple experience aimed at a younger audience.

The gameplay loop is equally simple. The player explores the island from a third-person perspective, and while the player is free to explore many areas right off the bat, some (like the mountain or lighthouse) are off limits. These are opened up by gaining new abilities from the star fragments such as jumping or being able to swim underwater for longer periods.

The dungeons are gated by color-coded doors that require corresponding keys, and these keys are given after completing tasks like fetchquests for NPCs, or puzzles. However, it’s not always clear where to go next, or how to get there. There were also instances of required backtracking, and without a map, navigating is sometimes an issue.

For example, Giraffe and Annika includes collectibles in the form of cat pictures, and as a player, I usually give collectibles a miss. I assumed they were optional, but I discovered that progress is gated until a set number have been found. Since the game never indicated how important these would be, I didn’t appreciate having to go back through dungeons I’d already finished while trying to remember where I’d seen some treasure chests.

Thankfully, going through the dungeons is relatively straightforward. The onus is on the player to avoid enemies, as there are no means to attack. This isn’t much of an issue, especially with the generous amount of health recharge points available. Platforming and traps are also introduced, but aside from some large boulders rolling towards the player, all are easily navigated and any frustration is mitigated by plentiful respawn points.

At the end of each dungeon, the player faces a boss, and gameplay switches to rhythm-based battles. Here, orbs are shot towards either side of the screen. As these land in a marked circle, the player needs to correctly time pressing or holding the action button while avoiding projectiles. I had some problems early on, but these were rectified when I discovered the option to calibrate the timing and offset input lag. Thereafter, these battles were straightforward, though it’s easy to change the difficulty level as needed.

By including options like these, Giraffe and Annika is a laid-back experience that seems well-suited to (I assume) a younger target audience. As an adult, I found it a bit too simple at times, but thanks to varying its gameplay and a short running time, it managed to keep my interest until the end. 

I don’t have many significant criticisms of the game, but there was one section in particular which I found frustrating. I had to help guide a cat through a level by pressing switches that made platforms appear or disappear while also platforming myself. Trying to juggle both at once led to too many instances where either Annika or the cat died. Respawn points were less generous here, and and I grew to hate the sound of the cat meowing as she fell to her doom.

Meowing aside, what I enjoyed most about Giraffe and Annika was the story, and this came as a big surprise. There’s an underlying mystery about why Annika has woken on Spica Island with no memories, and how Giraffe knows her. I found the resolution to be surprisingly affecting, and it manages to be so without betraying the positive tone found in the rest of the game.

At last, I’ve reviewed a good title that bucks my trend of negative reviews. I’m glad that I spent time with something I normally wouldn’t look twice at, and it was an enjoyable experience despite being aimed at kids. It’s got a few issues, but the easy-going style, bright visuals and surprisingly resonant story means that I’m going to call this one a win.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Atelier Mimina and published by Playism, Unties, Nippon Ichi Software and Sony Music Entertainment Japan. It is currently available on PS4, Switch, XBO and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher download and reviewed on the PS4 Pro. Approximately 7 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E and contains Alcohol Reference, Mild Fantasy Violence and Mild Suggestive Themes. The official ESRB description reads as follows: This is a rhythm adventure game in which players assume the role of a girl (Annika) searching for clues to her memories. Players explore a mysterious island, collect items, and engage in rhythm-based battles against various bosses. Players avoid projectiles (e.g., fireballs, energy bursts) and use a magic staff to dispel balls by matching their movements to the accompanying rhythm. Characters’ health meters get depleted as battles progress. One character wears a bikini top that reveals moderate cleavage; a boss character refers to herself as “Miss Sexy Dynamite.” Players can obtain an item called “dream cat liqueur.”

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialogue is text-based, and they cannot be resized. The rhythm boss battles are based on visual cues, and can be played without sound. This extends to the rest of the game, as I have not seen any instances where sound is vital. I’d say this one is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.

Gareth Payne
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