Giraffe and Annika is the debut title from developer atelier mimina and published by NIS America for the Nintendo Switch. Giraffe and Annika is an adventure game set on the mysterious island of Spica. Upon waking, Annika finds that she has no memories of events that have taken place and sets out on a journey -with the aid of Giraffe; a helpful boy who seems to know more than he lets on- to find three star fragments in the hopes of recovering her lost memories.
The story of Giraffe and Annika starts off quite simple -a young girl has woken up with memory loss- but quickly becomes more intriguing as every single resident of Spica seems to know exactly who Annika is. As Annika begins to explore more of the island, the story begins to unravel and in its wake it leaves behind an emotional story that deals with grief and loss explored through the eyes of a young child.
For the most part Giraffe and Annika is an adventure game however it incorporates elements from a variety of genres. The majority of the game will have you traversing Spica as it cycles through a fast paced version of the day and night cycle allowing the player to witness the beautiful natural island landscape whilst discovering a range of fairy-tale like characters who bring the island of Spica to life. You will be sent on fetch-quest like errands by various NPC characters which are rather straight forward as a means of continuing the story. The game definitely includes a range of platformer-like elements that become more apparent in the latter end of the game.
The story takes Annika from dungeon to dungeon searching for the star fragments and although there is no traditional combat in Giraffe and Annika – dungeons are filled with ghosts and so avoidance is the name of the game. Once a ghost spots you it will noisily give chase to you until either the player has gained enough distance between Annika and the ghost or the ghost touches Annika in which case health will rapidly deplete. This is easily rectified however as both dungeons and Spica itself are covered in glowing blue crystals that restore Annika’s health when she is in close proximity.
As you reach the end of each dungeon you are faced with a boss fight. Traditional combat has been replaced with rhythm-based combat in these instances. The player moves Annika from left to right to tap each ‘rhythm ball’ at the correct time for the most points. There are two kinds of ‘rhythm balls’ – ones that require you to simply tap them and ones that require you to hold them until the chain is completed. As you progress through the dungeons; the bosses will begin to attack you during the battle by throwing attack balls at Annika who will have to dodge them whilst navigating to the next ‘rhythm ball’. However, this is not complex and easy to navigate. At the beginning of each battle you are able to choose which difficulty mode is preferred – with higher scores and difficulty rankings unlocking collectable items but are not needed to progress through the game.
Giraffe and Annika graphical style perfectly fits the story in which it is conveying. The world looks like it has been taken directly out of a children’s story book which is further amplified by the majority of the story being told through charming manga-styled panels. There are occasional cutscenes during crucial story elements which due to their infrequency feel special.
As one would expect from a game that features rhythm battles – the soundtrack is fantastic. It is impossible to laugh at the incredibly awkward dancing of the boss you are facing when you as the player are bopping along to the music too! It is not just the battle music that is memorable however as the numerous music tracks that play as you traverse Spica. I do not often listen to video game music independently of the game but I already know that Giraffe and Annika is an exception as it just hits all of the right notes – pun intended.
Overall my time with Giraffe and Annika went smoothly. I did, however, encounter a bug when I pushed a crate off of the side of a cliff and fell off alongside it – crashing the game. Otherwise, there were just a few quality of life enhancements that I believe would have enhanced my time with the game. The main one is a world map. Whilst the island isn’t too big, there are still numerous paths you can take and this is especially true for the dungeons. Being able to follow a map would have been useful in these circumstances. It could have also doubled as a means to check what collectibles that you had already discovered as the game tasks you with collecting a certain amount to progress in the main story with no prior notice of this which means unless you’ve been religiously searching for them you will most likely have to backtrack through areas in the hopes of finding them.
All in all, Giraffe and Annika is a must-play experience that deals with loss and grief via the whimsical mind of a child. The story unravels in such a way that the final moments pack such an emotional punch that I was not expecting going in. The game play mechanics, stylistic choices and soundtrack come together perfectly to deliver an experience quite like no other and one that should not be missed.
Final score: 8/10