Ever since the wild success of Dance Dance Revolution, many games have included rhythm elements. These titles often focus on this aspect as the primary gameplay element. Giraffe and Annika is a bit unique in that, instead of solely featuring rhythm gameplay in this manner, it mixes rhythm action into an adorable adventure game.
Annika awakens in front of a house with no idea where she is or how she got there. The people she sees also appear new to her, even as they all greet her by name. She soon discovers that she is on Spica Island, a region populated with colorful animal residents and ancient ruins. The curiously-named cat person, Giraffe, informs her that she might be able to get her memories back if she goes to the island’s three temples and retrieves three star fragments. Annika begins her quest to regain her lost memories and uncover the secrets behind the island.
Major story scenes in Giraffe and Annika are told through comic strip-style pictures. These predominantly play after you finish a dungeon. This method of telling the story evokes the feeling of reading a picture book, which fits the tone of the game nicely. The plot remains lighthearted for much of the game, containing enough innocence to engage young players, but also a bit of reality and maturity in its overall themes to leave adults satisfied at its conclusion.
You control Annika as she explores Spica Island’s 3D environments. There are different things to interact with around the island, such as picking up apples or talking to the people who live there. You can use the L and R buttons to zoom the camera to a comfortable position, which proves useful if you want to take in the beauty the game has to offer. The top left bar shows her health and pressing X brings up her inventory.
While you play, Annika might get hurt from a fall or enemies. Luckily, blue crystals can be found all over the island that automatically replenishes her health when she stands by them. Although it’s a useful feature, their sheer number makes the game quite easy. You may not find deaths by way of actual damage from enemies all that common. That isn’t to say your health will never be depleted, as the game ties your health to swimming as well, so any dips Annika takes will immediately start shaving life from the health bar. While this will prove annoying to many, it at least gives much more purpose to all of the blue crystals.
The main focus of Giraffe and Annika is exploration. The settings you travel through are so wide open and colorful, you’ll want to see what secrets are hidden. The camera can be moved manually or it can be set to automatically move behind you as you explore, though it may not rotate quite as fast as you want and it makes looking for items difficult. There is also a day/night cycle while outdoors, so you can enjoy the sights under the bright sun or while bathed in moonlight. Time passes very quickly, so you will spend plenty of it playing in both conditions.
Unfortunately, there are some limits to exploration. Though the maps look large and you can wander off the beaten path, you will encounter invisible barriers when you venture too far. In the age of open-world games, this could turn some people off who are used to being able to explore every inch of a game’s world. This is made worse by the fast drain on your health that swimming imparts, which makes exploring an island environment more difficult than it should be. In addition, some areas of the island are closed off until you find certain items, though this is a much more common and understandable detail.
There are three main dungeons in Giraffe and Annika, and a few other locations also serve as one. Each has its own style and theme, like a lava cave or ocean setting. All of them are quite straightforward, with only a few deviating paths along the way that lead to meowsterpiece collectibles. Some might be disappointed by the lack of difficulty in completing them. On the bright side, every dungeon has varied gameplay elements that are unique to that dungeon. You may ride boats in one, while speeding on a minecart in another. This gives a good variety of gameplay.
Following each dungeon, Annika gains a new ability, which always makes exploration much easier. For example, traits like jumping aren’t available at the game’s start, which can put a damper on any plans to explore parts of the island that aren’t at ground level or contain steps. It’s certainly a unique design choice to make an adventure game with a focus on exploration that doesn’t let you jump right away.
At several points, you will be tasked with collecting resources or delivering things for one of Spica Island’s residents. The expansive environment of the island is ripe for exploring, so these quests do a good job of giving you a reason to scour every corner of the island. Certain quests even have a time limit, so familiarizing yourself with the island’s layout is beneficial.
Though rare, there is a chance that the quest giver may disappear after giving you the quest, making it impossible to complete and requiring you to restart it from the beginning once they reappear. It’s unclear why this is something that occurs, but you should be prepared for the possibility.
Giraffe and Annika contains only one type of enemy that appears in every dungeon: ghosts. Early on they only chase Annika when they spot her. As you progress to later dungeons, they utilize other abilities befitting the locale where they reside. For example, ghosts you see in the Ocean Dungeon will spit balls of water at you. Wherever you find them, the common strategy is to run away or take cover. Annika does not wield any sort of weapon, so that is her only option for survival. As mentioned before, there are many blue crystals to help stay alive, but be advised that damage from ghosts can add up very quickly if cover and evasion are not used.
As one would expect, you will encounter a boss at the end of every dungeon. What you might not expect is that the boss fights in Giraffe and Annika contain no actual fighting. Instead, they take place as rhythm battles. The boss stands on the far side of the screen and you must move Annika left and right to hit the green balls they throw as they bounce onto the two dots on your left and right side. They can also throw streaming blue dots that require you to hold the A button and release it at the end of the stream. Your accuracy is rated as “OK”, “Good”, “Great”, or “Miss” if you don’t hit it on-time at all. At the end of the fight, you get a grade (up to “S”) of your performance. These fights can be replayed at any time from the Rhythm Game Handbook if you ever so desire to relive each experience.
You can choose one of three difficulties at the start of each boss fight: easy, normal, or hard. Easy difficulty makes the fights fairly simple, while normal and hard make the dots more plentiful and fast. Some of the later fights are markedly more difficult on the harder settings if you’re not used to rhythm games. The difficulty each fight is completed on does not affect your progression, so don’t be afraid to scale it down if needed. The choreography and movements of the bosses are actually quite well-animated, so it may be worth fighting on the easy difficulty just for the sake of being able to enjoy the sight of giant enemies twirling and moving around.
For those searching for a challenge in the game, completing these fights on the hard difficulty might be your best bet. Replaying these fights under different difficulties can also unlock five different bonus pictures as you accrue certain total point thresholds across all of your best performances in each fight. It is worth noting that there is a bit of a quirk with pausing during these fights. You are unable to exit out of the pause menu without restarting the fight or quitting the game entirely. Until this bug is (hopefully) fixed, be sure not to pause during boss battles unless you intend on restarting the fight.
The rhythm mechanics in the fights work well enough. The beats you have to hit match the rhythm of the music, and the music itself is solid. The timing is mostly accurate, and you’re even able to go into the options menu and change the timing to be earlier or later to compensate for any input delay. The only complaints you might have with these boss fights relate to how they take place in a 3D environment. Due to way the balls bounce onto your side, it’s difficult to properly time hits, especially compared to earlier rhythm games that had only 2D icons. This will only affect progressing further in the game if you are playing at harder difficulties, but at the same time this shouldn’t be a reason to have to drop down to easy difficulty. Not having the balls bounce from above onto your side’s dots could have made this problem a non-issue.
You can collect carrots, pumpkins, and apples in Giraffe and Annika. It is up to you whether you eat them upon discovery or save them in your inventory. These items are also used for the game’s few puzzles, so keeping a couple handy is advised. It’s unlikely you will even need them for healing, as there is never a shortage of blue crystals wherever you may find yourself. You can also find items like keys that open up new areas of the island, both for furthering the story and optional exploration. All items are noted in the inventory screen, where each item is situated by type. You can also check which of the game’s achievements you’ve unlocked.
Annika also has several outfits that she can find or unlock through quests. These change her look and might even grant benefits that help you traverse the island and dungeons a bit easier. Due to her implied young age, a few of these outfits might be seen as inappropriate, though thankfully none of them cross the line too much. Her default outfit fits the atmosphere and theme of the game so well that you might choose not to use any of the outfits you find anyway.
During your playthrough, you’ll undoubtedly find pieces of art known as meowsterpieces in chests. These are a variety of different drawings featuring cats, done in many styles like anime, comic, and even photographs. You can turn these into the Ghost Baron at the Spook Gallery, where he will display them. As you give him the art, you will get punches on your punch card, and earn prizes at different amounts of punches. There are several prizes to win, so always be on the lookout for chests on the island or in dungeons.
The look of Giraffe and Annika will undoubtedly draw many people’s interest. The characters are cute animal people, and the color palette of everything in the game is expansive. The trees, ocean, stars, and buildings are all colorful and vibrant. There is a huge amount of atmosphere on Spica Island and its various dungeons. The comic art story segments are in a high-quality anime style, reminiscent of the film works of Studio Ghibli, both in look and tone. So much of the game exudes whimsy and is just plain cute.
What you may notice, however, is there are some rough edges to the game’s 3D environments. Clouds have dark spots, the textures of grass and trees are a tad rough, and textures pop in as you move to new areas. This may be due to the Switch’s hardware limitations, as Giraffe and Annika is originally a PC game. Other than these issues, though, the game is beautiful to look at.
Giraffe and Annika sounds just as whimsical as it looks. Light, bouncy rhythms can be found in all regions of the game, utilizing several kinds of instruments that complement the areas well. Steel drums, for example, are used in the music for the Ocean Dungeon, giving it an island atmosphere. The music on Spica Island also changes depending on the time of day, with the day theme being upbeat and faster, while the music at night is more calm and serene. The songs that play during boss fights are all exceptional and span different styles and tempos. There isn’t any area of the game where the music feels out of place.
While the game features meowsterpieces as collectibles, you are unable to load up your save after beating the game to find any you may have missed. The last save point in the game is in an area that does not allow you to access certain areas, an oversight that will hamper the enjoyment of any completionist. So unless you happened to make a save before that point, you will not be able to complete any optional quests or complete your meowsterpiece collection.
What you can do is revisit boss battles to improve your scores, which is essential if you want to unlock and view the bonus pictures. The game also has its own achievement system, which provides tasks like speedrunning or eating a certain amount of food for those that want extra challenges to complete after finishing Annika’s story.
Giraffe and Annika is a cute, light-hearted game suitable for players of all ages. It’s a pleasure to look at and explore. The plot is as simple and carefree as you want it to be, depending on how much you read into some of the small details spread across the game’s story. The characters and atmosphere are bound to give you the “warm and fuzzies”. The rhythm action elements are also a nice change of pace throughout the game, providing a sense of challenge not seen in the other segments. What sullies the experience somewhat is the general lack of polish seen in the textures and the various graphical glitches. In other games, this might be a deal-breaker, but by the time you’ve completed the game, the sweetness and endearment that oozes out of every facet of Giraffe and Annika will leave you with a pleasant feeling that overshadows any nitpicks you might have.
Final Rating: 7.5/10.