What will Party Animals do to set itself apart from Gang Beasts? It's a question I've had since my first viewing of the game's trailers three years ago, and a question that I wanted to answer as I began punching, kicking, and headbutt-ing my way through the game for this review.
Developed by Recreate Games, Party Animals is the studio's first title and one that shows a lot of promise. There's a real care put into the game's looks, and while gameplay can feel a little same-y, there's plenty to enjoy - even if the allure of a 'quick and casual' match is soured by some hefty loading times.
Chaos, chaos, chaos
Party Animals is a game that revels in madness - you can be 'winning' a match one minute, but find yourself tasered, slipping on a banana peel, and thrown into a black hole the next. Losing isn't an excuse to stop messing with your enemies, either, as defeated players can throw various weapons and items into the arena. I'm very pleased with my track record of denying undeserved wins with sneakily-placed bombs.
It's a shame, then, that the crucial throwing mechanic feels so stiff. Even the game's tutorial exposes its flaws; the heaviness and inaccuracy can make it a real hassle to throw an opponent to their doom after all the hard work knocking the life out of them. This isn't so bad in Last Stand maps with external killers, but the arcade maps that rely on throwing players definitely suffer.
This may well be intentional, though. For all the fun to be had knocking opponents out with a dropkick or weapon swing, it'd get quite frustrating to be expertly tossed out of the map, no matter how many banana peels you can throw while waiting for the next round to start. I anticipate some pro gamers getting the hang of throwing easily, but it definitely feels better in Gang Beasts.
Fuzzy around the edges
Aesthetics are the game's main selling point - each character's fur or lack thereof has been lovingly textured, the maps have some impressive vistas (even if getting distracted by them is a one-way trip to a knockout), and every completed match lets you smack about the other players on a podium before a picture of the chaos is taken. You can even download the picture if it's especially funny.
Beyond their looks, the game's maps have a surprising amount of gameplay depth. Developers Recreate Games took great care in setting them apart from Gang Beasts' with even the most familiar having unique twists. All maps in the Last Stand mode have a time-sensitive element that will see players tumbling off the stage or quickly succumbing to poisonous gas.
The game really shines in its team modes. Even playing with AI was a thrilling time, with each map's objective a bit different and a bit more fun than the last. My personal favourites (Trebuchet, Lollipop Factory, Fluffy Redemption) all made great use of the physics system, and some (namely Into the Game) totally shook up the formula by making you protect a teammate while they collected coins in an arcade game.
The team modes didn't always feel balanced, but that's hardly a negative when the fun factor was so high. I imagine the game will do very well with influencers and their audiences in the coming months.
Progression in the age of battle passes
Like Fall Guys and Overwatch before it, Party Animals isn't happy to lock cosmetics behind progression alone. There's no battle pass, but an item shop with currencies split into Cookies and Nemo Bucks, with a steady supply of both given as the player levels up. Nemo Bucks can also be purchased separately, with prices yet to be revealed at time of writing.
A third currency, Egg Coins, are unlocked by levelling up and used to open the game's Surprise Eggs, effectively loot boxes. These eggs can and will contain duplicate cosmetics that get converted into Cookies, but the real eyebrow-raiser is the 'sure meter' mechanic that's reminiscent of gacha games. Choose a 'legendary outfit' from the six currently on offer, and if another legendary outfit is in a loot box then a point is added to a bar that will, when filled, guarantee the legendary outfit players actually want. The bar stays empty if you haven't chosen a legendary outfit, and is totally emptied if you change your mind on which skin you want. Ouch.
It's a baffling inclusion for the game to have an item shop, the ability for players to purchase a majority of cosmetics with the free Cookie currency, and loot box mechanics. I can't help but feel slightly disturbed at the thought of a younger audience getting addicted to the flashy visuals and feedback loop of the slot machine, begging for a credit card to purchase Nemo Bucks with, as the Egg Coins can only be bought with Nemo Bucks. I'd prefer a battle pass.
Despite all that, the game does give experience in private games, even in matches against AI. It's possible to make plenty of progress and unlock cosmetics at your own pace, but free Nemo Bucks and Egg Coins will eventually dry up when the level cap is reached.
To summarise, Party Animals sets itself apart from Gang Beasts with some extremely polished visuals, maps, and deeper mechanics. It has some issues to iron out - problems with the currency system will definitely become more noticeable as the collection of cosmetics is added to, and an uncomfortable monetisation system looms overhead - but it's launching in a strong state without any noteworthy bugs.
Crucially, though, Gang Beasts has had years to find its footing and player base. Party Animals costing more than double may scare some players away, and while I trust that the game will mostly be enjoyed by private groups, the game's progression systems are definitely targeting players that come back every week to complete challenges and cross their fingers every time they open a surprise egg.
If you're looking for a barrel of laughs and love the idea of several cats beating up a gorilla, Party Animals provides all that and more. I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes from here.
Reviewed on PC. A code was provided by the publisher.