Over the past decade and a half, publisher NIS America has become known for specific styles of games. From Disgaea to Danganronpa, NIS America is renowned for Role-Playing and Adventure titles that explore some dark territories. With that in mind, the release of Giraffe and Annika is about as left-field as they come.
Developed by atelier mimina, Giraffe and Annika is an Adventure-Platformer with a splash of Rhythm gameplay. While this may sound too good to be true, early promotional material showed off what first appears to be a simple Adventure.
Can readers judge this book by its cover?
Despite Giraffe receiving top billing, the adventure unfolds through Annika’s perspective. The story of Giraffe and Annika begins with the former taking a trip. Rather than traveling to a pre-destined location, the catgirl Annika literally falls through what appears to be an open doorway. After falling on her face, Annika opens her eyes to see an unknown surrounding. Suffering from what the game describes as “forgetfulness,” Annika wanders through the grassy field and right into somebody’s house. She ransacks the place for free veggies and a sack. As Annika attempts to leave the scene of the crime, she acts as nonchalant as any RPG protagonist. Speaking of protagonists, it is here that title characters Giraffe and Annika first cross paths.
After greeting Annika by name, the catgirl quickly questions the blue-haired boy. Chalking up her confusion as “forgetfulness,” Giraffe wastes no time before asking Annika for her assistance. In order to find Annika’s lost memories, Giraffe requires three special star fragments. Each of which is hidden within a temple and conveniently guarded by a mysterious witch named Lily. Only by defeating Lily can ever Annika recover her memories and discover the secrets of Spica Island.
The story of Giraffe and Annika is short and sweet. While most games reviewed by HHL average from 30 to 130 hours in length, Giraffe and Annika clocks in at a humble 5 to 10. Despite this seemingly short run time, the game never feels overly rushed. In fact, Giraffe and Annika‘s pacing is one of its strengths. As the simple story unfolds, the game effortlessly motivates players to move forward and unearth the island’s mystery.
Despite its 2020 release, Giraffe and Annika is something akin to the Nintendo 64 era of games. In terms of story and gameplay, Giraffe and Annika is most reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda, and a plethora of RARE developed titles. The game’s main objective sings the same tune as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Annika is destined to collect three elemental stones throughout the game’s initial dungeons. Once gathered, Annika sets out to learn a sacred musical number and assume the appearance of a legendary figure. If this premise doesn’t scream Zelda, we really aren’t sure what will.
Throughout the majority of the game, Giraffe and Annika is a blend of Adventure and Platformer genres. Guided by the narrative, players are motivated to traverse the mysterious island of Spica. In her most humble beginnings, Annika only inhabits the ability to walk and sink in style. Upon game progression, however, Annika receives some welcome quality of life improvements. Completing the first three dungeons allows Annika to jump, swim, and run respectively. While these new skills are imperative for completing dungeons, they also inspire free exploration throughout the overarching island.
While the star fragments move the narrative, they aren’t the most engaging key items out there. Though not explicitly stated in-game, Giraffe and Annika is a lowkey collect-a-thon. Throughout the game, a total of 30 “Meowsterpieces” can be uncovered. Finding some is required to enter the fifth and final dungeon. The remainder, however, can be found for fun. Each Meowsterpiece actually represents actual in-game art. This makes each piece unique, something that cannot be said about the average Star or Jiggy. In addition, Annika also receives bonuses based on the number of cat pictures she finds. While the “Sky Ride” ticket may be required, the schoolgirl outfit is completely optional. In an age of loot boxes and $40 cosmetic bundles, it is refreshing to find unlockable costumes in-game.
Whether it be in an isolated dungeon or the overworld, Spica Island is a pleasure to explore. Thanks in part to the game’s short run time, none of the game’s five dungeons ever outlive their welcome. Each is a bite-sized adventure that allows Annika to test her abilities. In addition, each offers a unique experience. The Ocean Dungeon, for example, is littered with ghost ships. These vehicles can spirit Annika away into the further reaches of the dungeon. Easily one of the best parts of Giraffe and Annika is the inclusion of the mine carts. These literally make the Fire Dungeon one hell of a ride!
While the game does not feature traditional combat, each dungeon does feature a boss encounter. These segments play out like a rhythm game. Annika must sway left and right in order to hit notes and miss incoming spells. Overall these are some of the most enjoyable parts of the game. As Annika progresses, each song is more memorable than the last. For those interested in completing different difficulties or earning high scores, each boss can be replayed upon completion. Despite being marketed as a rhythm game, boss encounters make-up the only instances of music-based gameplay. Those looking for at least twenty to forty playable tracks may be sorely disappointed.
In this day and age, catgirls are becoming a dime a dozen. Look no further than Nekopara, another title released on PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. With that said, Annika is perhaps the most wholesome of the bunch. She fits the definition of “cute” to a T. With her ears, tail, and signature apron, there’s nothing not to like about Annika’s appearance. Despite its comic inspiration in terms of design, the innocent Annika is never sexualized or put in suggestive situations. While this may seem like a strange thing to bring up, could be a common concern due to the aforementioned title.
The cast is easily acceptable for all ages. This continues the similarities between Giraffe and Annika and many Nintendo developed games. The peanut gallery is made up of Disney-esk anamorphic animals and anime-inspired beast folk. Though Giraffe doesn’t really look at all like his animal counterpart, he is tall; at least from Annika’s perspective. Between Annika and Lily, it’s hard to decide who gets the best design (or even the best costumes to find).
Giraffe and Annika‘s level design never strays too far from its island base. The fourth dungeon aside, each location looks like something one might expect to find on a trip to Hawaii. The game’s relatively small island has plenty of variations to explore. There is an ocean to swim, mine carts to ride, and lava to hop across. Whether it be a dungeon or part of the main island, each destination of Spica Island looks unexpectedly unique. Admittedly, the visuals do look a bit dated. Considering the era of inspiration, it sorta works in the game’s favor.
Compared to the likes of Hatsune Miku -Project DIVA- or Groove Coaster, the visuals of Giraffe and Annika‘s rhythm pieces are pretty simple. Whether or not she is the main boss, Lily will generally appear and dance to the beat. Musical sound effects emanate from the boss at hand and approach Annika as the notes are played. As a Nintendo 64-era inspired platformer, the visuals compliment the game’s other esthetics. For those looking for a choreographed music video or virtual roller coaster, this simpler approach may not be for you.
When it comes to any music-based title, the game is only as good as its song selection. With that in mind, Giraffe and Annika generally plays more like an Adventure-Platformer than anything else. In any case, this Rhythm Adventure-Platformer features one of the most relaxing soundtracks in recent memory. Whether a track is played in the main hub or during a boss battle, it’ll likely be the most serene tune you’ve heard all day. At least until the next track plays. The five boss themes make up some of the best tracks found in-game. With that in mind, nothing tops the melodic delight that is “Lead to Eternity.” The ending theme wraps up an already great package with a big beautiful bow.
Overall, Giraffe and Annika is a unique experience that simply should not be missed. Though it may emanate, and imitate, the golden age of collect-a-thons, there is really no game quite like it. The story, while short, is as sweet as an apple pie or carrot cake. There is nothing not to love about Spica Island and its inhabitants. Now if only we could get some additional rhythmic bosses to battle…
Hey! Hey!! Listen!!! gives Giraffe and Annika 9.4 “Meowsterpieces” out of 10.