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Party Animals (XS)

By Lee Mehr 18th Oct 2023 | 3,387 views 

Combining udder mayhem and physics-driven slapstick comedy, Party Animals is the type of game owl paws-itively give my seal of approval.

For a specific sub-genre I like to call "rubber-bones games" – such as Human: Fall Flat or Gang Beasts - I tend to respect the idea moreso than love its execution.  Whether in a brawler or party context, something about the deliberate wonkiness doesn't tend to gel with me.  Sure, there's a non-zero amount of luck involved in any competition, but it's a different animal with loosey-goosey physics guiding everything.  Given the steady stream of copycats in the indie scene, I couldn't see how a new one from a rookie team (Recreate Games) would compel me to see things differently.  That's where Party Animals can even surprise a modest skeptic: by addressing past foibles while maintaining the inherent silliness within its cute-n-chaotic bouts.

As per usual with these types of games, there isn't any formal story.  There's a tutorial with some silly background – as though you're being tested or 'recruited' to some end – but it's more about setting a particular mood.  As you step into the paws, hooves, webbed feet, or whatever else of your chosen character, eight total combatants will enter one of three distinct modes: 4v4 scoring competitions (soccer, hockey, etc.), 4v4 eliminations, or 2v2v2v2 eliminations.  For pure fights, the winner is the first team to win three rounds; for Team Score, it's either first team to three/six points or who has the most points after the clock runs out.

Even with the most basic ruleset, there's a layer of fun in simply inhabiting this world as an animal.  Recreate finds that happy medium of a Funko-sized animal if they were bipedal: the jumbo-sized head, semi-stubby arms and legs, and extra little cosmetic details (both by default and unlockable suits).  Even the funnier touches like their cutesy faces when knocked out add an incentive to… beat the crap out of these sentient Beanie Babies. 

Then what separates it from being an updated Gang Beasts as furry animal dolls?  Sure, the fundamentals are similar: grabbing people or items, punches, head-butts, flying jump-kicks, and so on.  The difference is a greater emphasis on weight akin to Fall Guys.  Instead of Play-Doh figurines gaming momentum in ways that can defy gravity, everything feels more grounded here.  There's the potential for some silly acrobatics, but you're thinking more as a wrestler or street fighter.  Tying in with this emphasis, it's also important to manage your stamina bar; while it's still a modest ring with a generous recovery time, it does enough to temper endlessly spamming heavy punches and roll-dodges lest you peter out and become an easy target.

That level of self-control is more important when weapons are involved.  Random materiel, between ranged, one-handed, & two-handed items, will be sporadically placed across the map.  While their usefulness and damage output can vary, any one of them can turn the tide.  They all come with a good set of rewards and drawbacks.  Wrestling with your character's inherent sloppiness to hit with a Taser makes the hit all the more electrifying; moreover, whomever is touching the main target will get electrocuted too, which can potentially lead to daisy-chaining everyone.  These dynamics, along with fun melee risks & rewards (like the lethality of nun-chunks which can also smack you in the face), add a thin layer of tactical execution to the fun pandemonium. 

It's also nice that ringing-out or dying isn't the end.  There's a chance to turn the tide by throwing a fish, slippery banana peel, or ticking bomb while in spectator mode.  And, again, there's a small risk/reward system there too, with each successive item costing more in cooldown tokens.  It's a great way to maintain steady investment in each round, but that won't stop you from questioning certain knockouts.  The disparate impact between say a mallet and a frying pan makes sense (two clean head strikes with a pan might be an immediate death), but other underlying rules like the time you're out cold feel too flimsy.  I've had a few long rounds where on rare occasion I'd stayed upright the whole time, yet my first short nap would leave me vulnerable for several seconds.  It's annoying to deftly avoid any KO hits for several minutes and then never get the opportunity to wake up after misjudging one move.

Even with a few suspect rounds, the presentation of this convivially chaotic commotion remains so exciting.  Of course, that comes with an asterisk of this being a modest $20 indie game.  As long as you're not expecting 8K textures, ray-tracing, or radiometric particle distillation (<- that’s made-up), it's a genuinely pleasant-looking title.  I know I keep retreating to Gang Beasts comparisons (which is nearly 10 years old!), but it's one of the clearest contrasts regarding rubber-bones physics.  Despite these animals' mini-arms and legs, they'll throw their weight behind a heavy punch and you'll feel it thanks to its Looney Tunes audio feedback.  Even ancillary extras, from fighting in the winner's circle before taking a group photo to Patric Catani's enthusiastic OST, give it a consistent atmosphere akin to rough-housing in a bounce house.  It's simply charming from end to end.

Content wise, Animals performs well in its respective weight class too.  While it's clear how Recreate is aiming for a live-service template (more on that soon), at least it doesn't feel like anything's been artificially stripped to accommodate that plan.  There's a motley collection of characters from disparate groups in the animal kingdom to dress up and play with across roughly 20 maps.  Even for someone who tries stressing "quality over quantity," it's not an annoying mix of successes and flops; granted that doesn't entirely dismiss the latter either.  For example: Winter Is Coming is a gimmicky idea where you just toss someone away from a campfire long enough for them to turn into an icicle.  Since the map is so compact, your fate can be sealed in seconds.  You can intuit the few flops by their unfocused design, plucking a random idea without much further consideration of flow or structure.

While still commendable for its upfront value, that's not to ignore some irksome trends with its live-service potential.  There's the familiar structure for a multiplayer-focused title on this scale: the basic version, the $30 deluxe edition, and a two-tiered currency system.  The split between currencies (Cookies and Nemo Bucks) plays a part in the item shop and a gacha-style Surprise Egg Machine, containing each item rated from common to legendary.  For the item shop, each cosmetic will cost a varying amount of Cookies or Bucks based on the rarity of said item as well.  Like every AAA live-service title, the machine accepts special Egg Coins, which are acquired after reaching certain levels or purchased with Bucks.  Naturally, Bucks can also be purchased with real-life currency, with the biggest pack costing more than two base games (discounting Game Pass).  You can guess the rigmarole by now: it's grafting an obnoxious free-to-play model on top of a baseline charge.  It's a shame and worthy of criticism, but in-game rewards do come at a smooth & steady pace too.

In this budding clade of rubber-bone physics-driven titles, Recreate Games knew it didn't have to reinvent the wheel in order to make something worthwhile.  By focusing on useful iteration over innovation, Party Animals captures a healthy middle ground between the more exaggerated, mechanically-odd style (i.e. Gang Beasts) and the more methodical & toned-down approach.  The solid amount of maps, characters, and stylish cosmetic options risk anyone sinking untold hours when you only planned to play a game or two.  It's not without some noticeable foibles, but if the best gauge for success was how often I said "just one more game… just one more game" then it deserves heaps of paw-sitivity. 

Contractor by trade and writer by hobby, Lee's obnoxious criticisms have found a way to be featured across several gaming sites: N4G, VGChartz, Gaming Nexus, DarkStation, and TechRaptor! He started gaming in the mid-90s and has had the privilege in playing many games across a plethora of platforms. Reader warning: each click given to his articles only helps to inflate his Texas-sized ego. Proceed with caution.

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This review is based on a digital copy of Party Animals for the XS

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