We’re reviewing Animal Force, which was just released for Playstation VR and it is currently exclusive to the system.
Animal Force more or less came out of nowhere when we were offered the chance to review it, but after a wave of recent multiplatform releases and Rift/Vive conversions we jumped at the chance to play something new. As a variation on the tower defense genre in VR, it certainly isn’t a genre that’s overpopulated at the moment.
Looking at Animal Force’s cute visuals and gameplay, one other Playstation VR title came to mind: Ace Banana. Perhaps not the most well-known game in the PSVR library, it tasked you with protecting your stash of bananas from waves of hungry monkeys that follow set paths. You had to switch vantage points, and time your switches to accommodate for different enemy types as well. There wasn’t any tower defense-esque unit placement and the action had you in control of the shooting, but the comparison is easy to make.
Animal Force stays closer to the traditional tower defense genre and provides a more tactical experience, although it does manage to put its own spin on it. Your job, with your army of animals, is to protect a group of humans from alien abduction by using the abilities that are unique to each animal. Rhinos shoot powerful horns and are thus like tanks, while birds are able to throw up shields that protect them and their fellow (nearby) animals. Enemies are also diverse, and more enemy types are introduced as you progress.
There’s a twist to the tower defense approach here though, and that’s that you’re not playing this on a regular flat board – you’re defending humankind in a 3D environment where your Move controller turns into a spaceship that you can fly around the scene in order to place and pick up the animals in your army for that level. You have three slots available for your loadout before each level, so you can experiment a little with your strategies – and you will as things get frantic and you start feeling lost.
In addition to using your spaceship as a transportation device for your animal soldiers, you can also use it as a weapon when you have animals on board. In this sense, memories of Ace Banana definitely did come back – although you’re not likely to be successful for long if you treat Animal Force as a straight up shooter.
Part of that is that you’re meant to use strategic unit placement to stop the invading forces, but also the fact that there’s a big difficulty spike that pops up relatively quickly as well. Death comes quickly and suddenly in the later levels, which can lead to frustration as you feel powerless against it. In traditional tower defense games, you’re have a good idea of something else you might try, but in Animal Force you risk getting slaughtered even when you think you’ve considered all your options and came up with a master plan.
There are clearly some balancing issues here, and just grinding for stars to upgrade your units feels like a chore that gives you the feeling it probably won’t pay off in the end anyway. While the gameplay dynamics look solid, with plenty of unit types on both sides of the conflict, the hectic onslaught that ensues makes you feel like it doesn’t really matter what your decisions are – not a good thing in a tower defense game.
While those aspects might get fixed with a future update, there is more to do in Animal Force, as it includes one of our favorite VR aspects: local multiplayer where VR players can play with non-VR players. What’s on offer here can best be described as a series of minigames (a bit like Playroom VR), but the three options are a nice way to spend a little time with friends.
They’re only very loosely connected to the main single player game mode, with one game acting like a shooter where you have to protect statues that the other players will try to steal by pushing them towards the exit. They’re trying to stay out of sight, but you can change your vantage point to get around that. The second minigame is sort of an “odd one out” experience, where non-VR players have to mimic the AI characters on screen to make sure the VR player doesn’t spot them among the crowd. The third and last mode has the VR player trying to break up a line of humans by matching three of the same type (a bit like Zuma) while the other player tries to guide a line of humans towards a rescue rocket in order to escape.
Animal Force is visually pleasing, and has a solid concept in place, but falters a bit in its execution due to the frustration that pops up too quickly and too often. Luckily, a little tweaking might fix it and there are a few fun little local multiplayer modes to enjoy while we wait for that to happen.