It is with a heavy heart that I must inform you of the passing of one of Britain’s most beloved friends – the Sun. Once again has the big ball of fire in the sky retreated into hibernation, bringing with it harsh winter chills and thunderous rain. It’s a depressing time currently, and we are in dire need of a cosy night in. What’s that, Recreate Games? You have released Party Animals, a new party game that promises hours of adorable animal fun?! Well, that’s cheered me right up!
After many tumultuous years in development, bringing with it delay after delay, it is finally time to see what Party Animals is all about. On the face of things, you may be mistaken for dismissing this as a simple children’s game, but after beating seven bells out of dogs, cats and rabbits for hours on end, I’ve struggled to put my copy of Party Animals down.
It seems like I’m not the only one, either. An online competitive game is usually only as good as its player-count may suggest, and luckily getting into a game will take less than a minute on most occasions. Whether this is due to Party Animals benefiting from a day-one launch onto Xbox Game Pass or not, you’ll never berate the long queue times that can kill many titles before they even had a chance to take off.
But what exactly is Party Animals about? Take the ragdoll physics of tricky puzzler Human Fall Flat, the addictive fast-paced rounds of Fall Guys, and especially the Play-Doh fighting found within Gang Beasts, and you get the picture. All that is left is a generous dollop of cuteness, and the Party Animals recipe is complete. Set across three distinct modes, twenty unique maps each offering environmental hazards, your goal is to emerge victorious in free-for-all or team-based games.
Most of the time, it’ll be down to throwing your opponents off the map to be the last one standing, although renditions on ice hockey, American football and (proper) football bring welcome tactical breaks from the battle royale norm. Further maps may add in some extra variety, such as banking enough of your own jelly sweets, whilst attempting to halt the progress of the enemy team.
The pretty basic control scheme is, imaginably, hard to master. With a press of the X button actioning your standard punch, B throwing in a powerful headbut, and these moves being enhanced when combined with a jump on Y, there’s the potential to deal lots of damage. The slow-mo effect when you are on the receiving end of a heavy punch really sells the idea that these lovable animals ain’t no pushovers.
You can also dash and roll – the latter particularly comes in useful when looking to gain ground, like in the American football mode – with your stamina bar ensuring you can’t abuse spamming moves together. Conserve stamina carefully – the more you have, the more damage you deal!
The result? A cacophony of punches and kicks being thrown left, right and centre that, once you get to grips with, is incredibly satisfying. Scratch beneath the surface of the deliberately rudimentary combat, and you find that there’s plenty to learn. Add in the range of melee and ranged weaponry that are at your disposal – from giant lollipop sticks to freeze rays – and the complexity grows ever-more.
Typically, rounds will last a maximum of five minutes, and death is not the end. Eliminated players can throw in bombs and the like from the grave, to aid their own team-mate or just royally screw over others.
Invite friends to the party and things get even more exciting. Party Animals supports up to four players in split-screen local play, and up to four in a group when online. Regarding the latter, inviting a friend is easy, however it would be nice to be able to access the menu and customise your characters without leaving the lobby. Otherwise, things go on without a hitch, and the netcode has, in my experience, worked perfectly.
When it comes to split-screen play, your run-time will vary. As is the fate that befalls all of its ilk, split-screening Party Animals may be a slightly awkward affair, depending on how big your screen is and how much chaos ensues. Obviously, you can only limit your split-screen play to Custom Games. However, there’s nothing inherently bad about the local multiplayer offering here – it’s always nice to have in this day and age.
Once in a blue moon, you may come across a game that doesn’t include downright insulting levels of micro-transactions, and I am pleased to say that Party Animals is as such. All cosmetics for your favourite animals are purely that, offering no gameplay advantage, and some are locked exclusively behind Nemo Bucks (NB) – the premium currency present in the game.
Players will slowly accrue NB through gameplay, however the option is always there if you wish to crack open your wallet.
Most of the cosmetics, however, are entirely unlockable through gameplay and the rewarding of Cookies. These are the in-game currency earnt through completion of games and weekly challenges, and arrive in your account at a more than generous rate. After only a couple of hours of play-time, I had enough to pick-up a Rare skin for my fave crocodile Coco, and cannot wait to deck out further heroes with cool skins.
Progression is played through the classic Battle Pass system (don’t worry, this is all free!), co-ordinated entirely through gameplay. Not only will levelling up grant you new skins and other cosmetics, but will throw in Cookies and NB to allow you to choose your own skins to purchase. Unlocking Achievements will also grant further cosmetics, including some pretty gnarly skins.
Love them or hate them, loot boxes are another avenue for collecting skins. Known as Special Eggs, these are purchasable with NB or drip-fed through the Battle Pass.
Given the high quality and quantity of cosmetics available, another feather in Party Animals’ cap is that it is a collector’s paradise!
Overall, this is one of the best systems of acquiring cosmetics in gaming, and a hallmark that other online multiplayer games should strive towards.
Whilst many will happily whittle away the hours slapping seals silly, I can see some players growing frustrated with the inability to customise their own matches. The ability to choose which type of games you wish to play in Quick Play (as opposed to voting from three randomly selected) is a missed opportunity. Some modes and maps are simply better than others – those which involve an arbitrary ‘health bar’ can seem unfair, and with the ytwenty maps on offer, it can be a while before you enjoy your favourite map. When the tactically excellent Fluffy Redemption and the tense Black Hole Lab maps appear only once in a dozen matches, that’s a crime in my book.
The inclusion of a Custom Games mode is a start, however even this is limited. One can only choose a map to play on, with only minor alterations that can be made. Allow us to up the spawn rate of weapons, only allow crossbows, or simply make the score limit changeable; that kind of thing.
This should be a pretty easy fix for Recreate Games, and I wouldn’t be surprised if playlists and further Custom Game flexibility are features in the pipeline.
Party Animals is, in a word, promising. Whilst the launch version of this incredibly cute and colourful physics-based brawler is missing some key features that will boost replayability, the foundations are there for an excellent foray into the genre. A role model for how games should approach micro-transactions and cosmetics is present, and with continued support going forward Recreate Games may just be onto a winner.