One day, I decided I would start writing about and reviewing Role-playing games seriously, taking a look at most popular elements of design across the genre in order to form what I hope could be considered a comprehensive perspective. On that day, I had played very few Roguelikes and Roguelites, and I also had never played an RPG like Dark Souls.
What is Dark Souls, you ask? Well, imagine a game like Animus, except instead of just being mission-based corridors and battle arenas, there’s an interconnected world and some NPCs, some of which you can fight! There’s a checkpoint system like Animus, but because From Software thinks the majority of its players are a bunch of chumps, you can recharge your healing items. What. Ever.
What is Animus, you ask? Oh, I should probably get to that.
Animus is an action-combat Role-playing game, where the player traverses a variety of linear environments in a mission-based structure. These missions will involve several small skirmishes and usually end in a more powerful one-on-one encounter. There are a select few that are only boss arenas. This is the entirety of the game, so if you’re looking for a more arcade-y sort of high-committal ARPG, Animus is your answer.
Originally a mobile and iOS title, one might be pleasantly surprised by the way Animus has been adapted for consoles. Of course, the previously-mentioned comparisons are very evident, here, even down to a bizarre NPC summoning system (as the game has no online functions). The player can utilize two buttons in order to execute different attack options, with several button combinations allowing animations to flow into one another. At certain intervals, a prompt will appear on the lower part of the screen indicating a button combination- this acts as both a way to learn the various combination attacks of each weapon. It serves a dual purpose, however, as successful execution will fill up a charge gauge that, when full, will allow the player to execute an extremely high-committal lethal attack.
With the impressive amount of weapon types available, each possessing their own specific combinations, there’s a great deal of variety in how you can attack. Each weapon is capable of blocking, and characters can perform back steps and rolls in order to avoid enemy attacks, with a forward roll that can combo into either attack input. While there is plenty of variety to be had here, the ability to execute these strings is sometimes questionable. I have had plenty of dropped inputs occur while attempting to pull off single hits, which is different from the timing that is required to string together combination attacks. This can sometimes result in some awkward shuffling, and occurs regularly. Likewise, there’s really only one weapon type that feels speedy, and it’s still very bogged down by the stamina elements of the game and the slow pace of the title.
When you’re all done killing, you can manage your inventory, your own stats, or visit the two shopkeepers, who will bleed you dry of the resources you can collect in-game. Generally speaking, you’ll need to repeat a number of missions in order to obtain the gold, upgrade materials, and experience needed to get your avatar to the level where they can take on the increasingly difficult threats. That’s where most of Animus’ playtime lies, and for a mobile title, it makes a great deal of sense.
Aesthetics and Performance
While missions are often precluded by some flavor text that attempts to impart some level of gravitas, there’s not much that can be gleaned from the narrative. Some bad stuff happened involving a goddess and the world is in ruin, so it’s up to you to smack around enough bad people to make everything right again. While the game does attempt to give some Dark Souls-ish lore to its skirmishes and equipment, much of the flavor text is applied broadly to an entire set, and barely varies. This is not to say that the equipment itself looks bad- there are incredible armor and weapon designs in the game.
If there’s one element of Animus that was given the most attention, its the various armor designs for the player, most of which are echoes of bosses. There are very few pieces of equipment that don’t look absurdly cool, so even if a player finds themselves struggling miserably against their enemies, they’ll take solace in looking awesome while doing so. The world of Animus is bleak, with windy stone ruins, sandy, claustrophobic canyons, and poisonous, nightmarish skull-fields. While it’s textured quite nicely, there’s not much to look at, which means you’ll be more focused on incoming enemies than admiring the scenery. The environments mostly serve to vary the skirmishes you’ll encounter- with some enemies hidden behind stone outcroppings, or tight corridors offering little maneuverability. The music serves to amp up the player with its loud choral lines and throbbing drums, though there’s nothing all that memorable or even subdued to cool off with- it’s more or less generic in the most epic sense.
The enemy variety in Animus is fortunately more impressive, featuring a colorful collection of weird and unsettling designs. There are quadruped creatures that look like they are being consumed by some sort of parasite, dryads with vaguely humanoid shapes, and a slew of other monstrosities. If anything, the amount of enemy types is by far the best part of the game, as it ensures a constant mixture of elements to consider when fighting. Each enemy has their own very stringent attack patterns and moments of invulnerability, and in groups of three or more, they can quickly become overwhelming to handle.
With all of these unique elements and a healthy, if not monotonous grind, one might wonder what could really hold Animus back from being their next eight dollar purchase. In the end, its Animus’ performance issues that prevent it from reaching its true potential. As I mentioned before, the input drops are very unfortunate, especially when trying to tear into a group of enemies. Sometimes inputs buffer for no reason. There are moments when the game will skip frames while attempting to transition into another area, or even jitters when moving the camera around. This is particularly awful, seeing how there are certain attacks in the game that are best avoided without lock-on. I’ve experienced multiple instances of the game crashing for no particular reason, as well as being soft locked in missions due to respawning issues. Although the game has already received patches for performance, many of these problems still remain.
There’s a great deal that I want to like about Animus. The combat is balanced just enough between material grind and reflexes, physical tells and cheap shots. The progression is almost there, with each battle feeling like a struggle until you equip a proper set of armor that allows you to push through everything. But there’s the odd performance issues that get in the way, the lack of character in just about every other element outside of combat. The game is fun, and it’s more than enough of a time sink. There are high-tier weapon unlocks for the player to hunt down in an attempt to crush some of the most intense and potentially cheap creatures the game has to offer, and I’ll be honest, I’m sort of down to get into that grind. For its eight dollar price, it is one of the best-looking, low-budget ARPGs on the Switch. But unless you’re dying for a Monster Hunter or Dark Souls-like experience, there are better, more stable versions of this sort of game. If the developers plan on heavily patching and improving this title, I would give it a tentative recommendation, but only if you truly love this sort of punishing combat.