Have you ever played a game which is so wholesome and sweet that you find yourself outputting an audible “awww” every now and again whilst you’re playing it? That pretty much sums up my experience with Giraffe and Annika, a rhythm-based action-adventure title from developer atelier mimina and publisher NIS America. Journey through the dream world to find a way home all whilst engaging within musical ‘battles’ with one of the inhabitants – there’s no combat, violence or death (kinda), just pure innocent fun and adventure!
Originally released on PC under publisher PLAYISM, today (28th in UK/EU) sees the release of the game on PS4 and Switch under NIS America, with the Xbox One port being published, once again, by PLAYISM. The game has a ‘very positive’ rating over on Steam – a phrase which can also relate to the energy and atmosphere the game gives off as you play it as well! Although I was a little sceptical of the game at first, I grew to love this title and can’t wait to replay it in the near future in order to try and clean up a few of the trophies I missed.
So, let’s drift into the dream world of Giraffe and Annika and find out what it’s actually all about…
You play as the titular character, Annika, who has awoken upon the dream-like island known as Spica. Shortly after her arrival, she meets up with a rather strange boy/creature called Giraffe, yet despite Annika having no knowledge of who she is or how she got here, Giraffe knows all about her and the events which happened previously and that are about to happen in the near future. However, instead of telling her all of this information at once and flooding her with exposition, he sets Annika on a quest to collect the three-star fragments so that she can create a passage home.
With the help of Giraffe, Annika discovers that she has to venture through three mysterious dungeons in order to find these sacred fragments, avoiding the spooky ghosts as she goes (there’s no combat within Giraffe and Annika). However, there’s an evil witch upon the island which is trying to stop her from obtaining these items by challenging her to a musical battle against one of her dream creations at the end of each dungeon – a mini-game which is straight-forward yet rather difficult if going for the platinum.
So, off you go on your adventure, you’ll meet quirky and cute characters along the way, explore the dream-world as you look for adorable and funny images, and rage every time you miscalculate a jump and send poor Annika to her death as she hurls herself off the side of a cliff and smacks her head on a rock or can’t get out of the water in time and drowns. But, don’t worry – she’ll quickly revive and be on her way again – in this dream, dying doesn’t mean you’ll die in real life, it just means you’ll respawn at the point of your dream-death!
First impressions of Giraffe and Annika weren’t the greatest if I’m being honest. The game felt very floaty and ‘indie’ – sure, the game is an indie title which has been published by a big company (NIS America), but it ‘felt’ very indie and low budget. But, the more I played the game, the more I started to adore the charm and forget about the initial negative thoughts I had. I was absorbed within the world and fully invested in the story, so floaty controls didn’t really bother me (until I started dying).
The game is broken down into three segments, Exploration, Dungeons and Bosses – let’s take a look at each of them…
Spica Island isn’t a massive world to explore, but there are a few locked off areas and places you physically can’t reach at first due to your inability to swim for long periods or even jump. These exist to gate you in until the game wishes you to progress by giving you a key or granting you new abilities to use. The island itself is inhabited by strange creatures who you can talk to and complete missions for, all of which are mandatory as there are no side-missions from what I could see. You’ll find yourself looking for lost children, taking pictures of statues which you have to revive, and collecting 30 adorable images.
There is no markers or map to help navigate the island, so it can be a little confusing at first, but it was never overwhelming and you can usually talk to Giraffe and he’ll guide you to your next destination or give you a hint on where to go.
Annika can’t fight outside of the boss battles, so you have to dodge the enemy ghosts within the dungeons. This is a little strange at first, as I’m not used to actively avoiding enemies, but it’s straight forward enough. Later on, you’ll have to move boxes to hide behind and jump about so that you don’t get hit from projectiles as well. Each dungeon has a few collectables to find, they require you to use the abilities you gained from the previous ones, and some have unique features such as the fire dungeon having a minecart segment where you have to slow down to avoid getting burnt.
However, the best part of each of the dungeons has to be the…
Each of the five bosses are basically rhythm games in which you have to hit orbs as they land to the left or right of you in time to the music. You control Annika and you can move freely from side to side, pushing Cross to hit the orbs as they land on the pads next to you. Every now and again the enemy will send circular enemies at you in place of the orbs, which you have to avoid, getting hit by them results in you losing your combo and being momentarily petrified – so you’re at risk of missing a few orbs which are sent your way! Your goal is to hit every orb perfectly and get a ‘Great’ rating each time (there’s Miss, Ok, Good and Great).
These are easy enough to complete, but they do become quite frustrating and difficult if you’re going for the platinum – which I’ll explain below. There are three difficulties and you can replay these songs whenever you want once you’ve completed them via the book in your inventory – so there’s no risk in missing your chance to replay these.
I loved the world of Giraffe and Annika, it’s very colourful and whimsical with various books you can read, conversations to have with the inhabitants, and secrets to find. There are a number of environmental obstacles to overcome as well such as the aforementioned being unable to swim very far and inability to jump, but there’s also a dark cave you have to light up and trying to figure out what sacrifices you have to make in order to restore the various statues located around the island.
One of the main reasons for exploring every nook and cranny of the island and dungeons is to obtain the ‘Meowsterpieces’! I’m not sure if the game was originally crowdfunded (I can’t see any record of this as it wasn’t on Kickstarter), but there are 30 of these images to find and each one is a different style and credited to different people. This makes me think that the developer either had people send him their creations or it was a pledge goal as some form of backer rewards.
I love these images, there are some really funny ones and some that look awesome, or should that be ‘Paw’some?! Each time you find one Annika gives her personal opinion of the image and sometimes makes a little joke about it as well, further enhancing the desire to find them all. But what are these for? Well, you give them to the local ghost who runs the image museum of course! There, you can go back and view them whenever and you’ll get a stamp for each one you find – get enough stamps and you’ll unlock various costumes (which you can see HERE) and a tram ticket which is essential for completing the game (so finding at least 2/3 of these images is mandatory).
You’ll also have fun finding wooden images to poke your face through and drums to play a tune on. The entire experience is so cute and adorable!
The platinum experience
I shall not be getting the platinum within Giraffe and Annika any time soon and I’m okay with this. Why? because there are a few trophies I don’t see myself being able to obtain without a great deal of practice and muscle-memory.
First of all, the vast majority of the trophies are straight-froward enough, complete each dungeon, collect all the Meowsterpieces, going to the bathroom five times (the outhouses restore your health), and taking a lot of pictures. Then you have ones which require you to be observant, such as talk to every save point, hitting all the drums (which is super cute), singing all the songs, and discovering a secret idle animation – I have all of these, those aren’t the hard trophies…
The ones I will find incredibly hard to do are obtaining at least an A rank on all songs at all difficulties, getting an S rank on all songs at HARD difficulty (why is this trophy here?), obtain all secret images (again, relating to getting an S on all songs at all difficulties for the points), and there’s even a speedrun trophy.
Yeah, the two things I hate (speedrun and difficulty-related trophies) are within this game, which is a shame. You have to complete the game in under 4.5 hours which sounds okay as my normal playthrough was 7.5 hours with no guide, but you have to remember that you can’t just speed through things as you need to find around 18 Meowsterpieces as you go so you can get the tram ticket.
The boss battles are quite difficult, especially on Hard mode, so ensuring you hit every single note at ‘Great’ requires perfect timing and keeping an eye on both the orbs and the constant barrage of enemies the boss throws at you – especially in the later stages. I found that even hitting every note and missing none, you only get an S if pretty much every hit is ‘Great; – I had 4 ‘Good’ and still only got an A! I wish the trophy was getting an S on all songs at ANY difficulty, not just Hard, I imagine the number of people who platinum this will be rather small.
I know I’m focusing a lot on the trophies with this game, but I know we have a number of people who read our reviews who are interested in knowing how hard they’ll be to obtain. As such, I just wanted to advise you that there are a number of missable trophies – which I found out the hard way. Once you reach a certain point in the game (just after you collect all three of the fragments), you can no longer talk to certain characters and obtain the paper fragments – meaning you have to play the game again in order to get them all. However, replaying the songs and dungeons can be done any time up until facing the final boss.
Also, nothing at all carries over into NG+ as there is no NG+ mode! Once you’ve finished the game you can either continue or start a new game, continue just loads your last save. So, if you missed some paper or you didn’t have a save before you beat the final boss, you have no choice but to start again from the beginning on your next run.
Giraffe and Annika is a musical adventure which contains lots of calm, relaxing, and adorable songs. Each boss has its own tune which you’ll be playing along to and each area also has its own music as well as the island based on whether it’s day or night – it has a day/night cycle. My only disappointment is the same I had with Peaky Blinders: Mastermind, the soundtrack – which is available on Steam and as part of the physical edition – isn’t available on PSN. I love NIS America published titles but they do this every time – they don’t release the soundtrack on PSN (and you can only grab them on Steam as an ‘add-on’, meaning you have to own the game on there to download it).
Visually the game is so cute – especially the Meowsterpieces – with each character oozing charm and personality. There’s no voices within the game, not even Japanese, so you’ll have to read it yourself, but this just means you can give each character your own voice. The level design is good, with various hazards and obstacles to bypass as you venture through each of the dungeons. The overall look is rather basic and not as detailed as other similar games, but it all adds to the perception that you’re in a dream world.
In terms of the cutscenes, some are in-game with the visuals but most of them are delivered as funny comic book-like strips with gorgeous art and humorous events. Sometimes I prefer animated and in-game segue, just like I said in my Peaky Blinders: Mastermind and Skully reviews, but I feel this style fits Giraffe and Annika perfectly as it allows the developer/artist to exaggerate the emotions and events more than you’d see with 3D in-game animations.
Performance-wise, the game ran perfectly with no crashes or slowdown on the PS4 Pro. The game does feel very floaty in motion, especially when jumping as it feels like the gravity has been based on the Moon’s, but you get used to it so it isn’t too bad.
If you’re looking for a wholesome and genuinely cute and adorable game to play, Giraffe and Annika is for you. Instead of defeating enemies and brutally barging your way past anyone who stands in your way, Annika is all about avoiding the foes and dancing in order to overcome the bosses who are trying to prevent her from leaving this dream world. It’s a charming and innocent adventure which is great for people of all ages, delivering a fun and delightful story for young children and a challenging platinum for those who wish to try and pursue it. I’m now eagerly awaiting a sequel where I get to experience another adventure with both Giraffe and Annika.
As mentioned above, NIS America isn’t only publishing the Switch and PS4 version digitally, they also have a physical edition on their site. It’s called the ‘Giraffe and Annika Musical Mayhem Edition’ and it contains the game (physically), an art book, the official soundtrack (which I really want), a set of patches, and a collector’s box. This is available for both platforms and you can pick it up from a number of retailers which are listed here: https://nisamerica.com/giraffe-and-annika/ (Click on ‘preorder now’ – unless the text has been updated by the time you click it!)
The website also has some craftable Giraffe and Annika ears for your children (or yourself) to wear, as well as a few colouring-in pages.
As an extra bonus, I recorded myself playing the second boss battle, the King Crab, below. This shows you how the ‘combat’ works and the tone of the whimsical musical battles. Enjoy!
Giraffe and Annika$29.99
- - Whimsical, cute and innocent story with no 'fighting' or violence
- - A fun adventure which everyone of all ages will enjoy
- - Lots of collectables to find and a few costumes to unlock
- - The music is very relaxing and calm
- - Provides a challenge for those looking to gain the platinum
- - Moving and jumping is very floaty at times
- - To get the S on all songs requires almost perfect timing for all orbs
- - No soundtrack on PSN!