A large neon bunny rabbit mid-jump in Animal Well.
Screenshot by Pro Game Guides

The Animal Well soundtrack is minimalist electronic terror toasted to perfection

Read any review for the much-hyped Metroidvania platformer Animal Well and you'll learn about the game's atmosphere. Its world feels eerily inviting yet full of danger – all while retaining an air of mystery. It should be no surprise, then, that the music does most of the heavy lifting here.

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A large peacock with layers of descending steps under it in Animal Well.
Screenshot by Pro Game Guides

If you're a fan of keyboard-heavy electronic music, particularly from the realms of ambient, new-age, and minimalist music, then you'll find plenty to love in Animal Well's soundtrack. The sound design is so tastefully done, so subtle yet to the point, that you'll barely notice how effective it is at world-building – the true sign of great ambient music. As Brian Eno, arguably the father of ambient music, once said:

Ambient music is intended to induce calm and a space to think. It must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.”

Brian Eno, One on One Interview, 2011

Calling something ignorable might sound like the ultimate backhanded compliment. But Eno's sentiment here is a central tenet of ambient music and is very much at play in Animal Well. This is a world full of mystery and simultaneously peril around every corner. Your limited inventory and the ability to only save your game at telephones scattered around the map even make Animal Well feel like a survival horror game at times.

It's only appropriate that the rustling sound of wind and cavernous reverb – things that might seem like everyday features in games nowadays – succeed so well in making you feel alone in this game. This state of being makes your sudden encounters with friendly critters all the more meaningful—a poignant reminder that though it may sometimes feel like it, you're never truly alone in this world.

Ambient and new-age music are strong influences in Animal Well

Dripping water splashing around in vast caverns; magical sprites squeaking in damp corners; the wind soaring through your headphones from left to right—Animal Well is clearly inspired by classic ambient and new-age electronic music. I hear the retro synth sounds and melancholia of Greek keyboard legend Vangelis (perhaps best known for composing the Blade Runner soundtrack), while the darker musical moments recall Brian Eno's work on Ambient 4: On Land.

Moodiness is a prominent theme in Animal Well's soundtrack. In a gaming landscape jammed pack with live-service titles and bustling online communities, it's actually refreshing to feel so isolated and vulnerable in this game. It makes those moments of discovery and wonder – like finding a much-needed alternate path in the world, or a new upgrade that reinvents the way you use an item – deeply impactful.

Animal Well's soundtrack gets sinister when facing enemies

One of my favorite aspects of Animal Well's immersive sound design is how drastically the mood shifts when encountering enemies. You are largely helpless against them since there is no combat in this game. The way the synthesizers adopt darker and more dissonant tones really ramps up the sense of anxiety when you're dashing around them. As soon as you find refuge away from a room full of ghosts, the sound reverts back to ambient bliss and calming nature sounds. This is a wonderful case study of how sound can convey a game's stakes without the use of any dialogue.

These enemy encounters and the ensuing vibe change in Animal Well immediately transport me back to those underground levels you drop into in classic Mario side-scrollers. All of a sudden I'm grappling with that pit in the stomach feeling I got as a kid when I entered these netherworlds and knew something was deeply wrong. The art design shifted to a weird and sickly color palette, and the strange new monsters you were now facing — and of course the music — all worked in perfect harmony to achieve this unnerving sense of terror.

The absurdist and uncanny themes the Mario series is so well known for are alive and kicking in Animal Well. Onomaetopeic animal sounds sprinkle the game's world in tasteful fashion, anchoring its core tenet – a clear love and reverence for animals. The game's creatures are both docile and hostile; familiar and foreign. Disembodied barks and fluttering birdsong; squishy reptile hops and amphibian bodies dunking into water—these sounds ground Animal Well's animal kingdom in reality, but leave enough room for ambiguity that your imagination can run wild.

Hats off to Billy Basso

A friendly and helpful mammal standing beside your character in Animal Well.
Screenshot by Pro Game Guides

Unmatched mood and atmosphere, a real sense of freedom and discovery, and a memorable soundtrack that pulls at your heartstrings—Animal Well ticks all the right boxes. But what's most impressive of all is that one person – Billy Basso – is responsible for creating the entire game from scratch (soundtrack included). Animal Well is therefore an indie venture in the truest sense of the term, and marks a standout debut.

Looking for more indie content? Then look no further than our Crow Country Walkthrough on Pro Game Guides.


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Author
Ivan Krasnov
Ivan Krasnov has been a writer for over 7 years. His areas of interest include shooters like Call of Duty, Apex Legends, and The Finals, but also RPGs like Cyberpunk: 2077 and the Dishonored franchise and single-player experiences like God of War and The Last of Us. Ivan has a double major in History and Russian from Oberlin College and when he isn't gaming – he is playing music and touring Europe with his band.

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The Animal Well soundtrack is minimalist electronic terror toasted to perfection

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