I honestly had no idea what to expect when I first heard about Giraffe and Annika. I’m sure you may feel much the same after I give a brief synopsis.
In this game, which came out on Steam in 2018 and which will be out for PS4 on August 28, you play as a catgirl named Annika who awakens in a mysterious dreamworld with no memories, who must then go on an adventure filled with platforming, almost no traditional combat, dungeons with rhythm game boss fights, and enemies that are almost all made up of ghosts save for a mysterious dancing girl who appears at the end of each dungeon. That’s it. That’s the gist.
What do you expect from a game like that? Perhaps it’s something that tries to bite off more than it can chew? Perhaps despite the slew of interesting ideas brought to the table here, none of them would feel fully fleshed out?
Well, surprisingly, that’s not the case here. Giraffe and Annika is a short game. I beat it in under six hours, and that included going back and beating each musical boss on every difficulty. But all those ideas I mentioned are fleshed out. The rhythm sections are fun and compelling, and beautifully hectic on hard mode. The platforming is solid, even if it is odd how you have to unlock the ability to jump early on. And, as for the world of Spica Island? It’s filled with life and an almost Alice in Wonderland-like charm.
Giraffe and Annika follows Annika as she awakes on Spica Island, only to realize she has lost her memories and has gone from being a human girl to, well, a catgirl. Joining her on her adventure is Giraffe, a boy with what appear to be deer-like attributes who requests Annika’s help. See, apparently there are three Star Fragments that need to be collected from dungeons scattered around the island, and Giraffe does not possess the ability to enter said dungeons!
And that’s it. It’s a simple concept that’s ultimately brought to life by a mix of solid gameplay, concise world design, and cartoony characters that are all just lovely. It all leads to the game having a surprisingly emotional ending that I will not spoil here, but that made the entire adventure well worth it. That’s even with a few cryptic puzzles here and there – though, admittedly, I felt these mostly strengthened the game’s charm.
Scattered around the island are also a few collectables. Cat-themed paintings known as “meowsterpieces” and shining pieces of paper are the two main varieties. It’s enough to keep you wanting to explore every nook and cranny, and it definitely adds some replay value.
And the soundtrack? Wonderful. Most of the overworked and dungeon tunes aren’t too memorable, but they do definitely bring each area to life. However, the boss music is where this OST really shines. It almost makes me wish there were more than just five musical boss fights, as some of these tracks are absolute bangers!
The only area I’m torn on here is the graphics. And I mean that slightly literally. The graphics in the main overworld area look rather budget-like. Which, I mean, makes sense as this game is $20 new digitally. But there is some tearing at times. Sometimes shadows flicker in and out. And some of the character animations are rather stiff and janky looking.
But at the same time, some of the indoor areas and dungeon areas look rather nice! The game has an overall pleasing art style and, when visual aspects such as lighting are played around with, the game looks truly special. But at other times, most noticeably right when you spawn into the game world, it looks almost like a PS3 game.
Speaking of mixed presentation, let’s talk about cutscenes. There are three varieties of cutscenes in Giraffe and Annika. One uses the in-game engine and looks passable usually. The next are pre-rendered and almost always look some degree of stunning. And the final ones are done in a comic-esque style, complete with panels and text blurbs.
The comic-style cutscenes are where I feel the most mixed. The art in these can be quite beautiful, and the dialogue is really well done! But also, there’s no voice acting. It feels like there should be, but there’s not. This omission leads to these particular cutscenes to feel a bit empty, which is especially odd as I never felt this way about, say, the pre-rendered cutscenes.
That said, as mixed as I feel on the overall visual presentation, what makes a good game is gameplay, and that’s where Giraffe and Annika succeeds in spades. This game is so captivating. So fun. So unique. I beat it all in one sitting, and I felt a constant unseen force compelling me to keep going, to keep exploring the island, to see what each new area held. Which is to say, it’s just good game design.
That’s not to mention some of the downright weird scenarios that happen throughout the game. At one point, you have to feed a turtle a carrot to ferry you across to the Ocean Dungeon so that you can track down a lost rabbit. At another, you have to wait until a specific time to catch a cable car being driven by a ghost, because, of course, the ghost is only able to drive it up at three in the afternoon every day.
Giraffe and Annika is weird. However, it is very charmingly weird. I have never played a game quite like it, and if anything I’ve said in this review sounds even remotely intriguing, then I implore you to give it a shot.
NIS America was kind enough to send me a review code of this game, and I’m glad they did. I didn’t know what to expect going in, but I think that only strengthened the overall experience. This is one that I don’t think a lot of folks are aware of, and that’s a shame. Giraffe and Annika is definitely not one to sleep on!