Let’s be honest. Party Animals is the sort of video game that has an obvious, undeniable inspiration. If we think of Xbox Game Pass as a grocery store, this is that superstore’s in-house version of a famous branded product; a generic Cola as opposed to Coca Cola.
As any bargain hunter knows, these products aren’t always inferior knock-offs, though. Sometimes you find an own-brand take that’s actually as good as – or better – than the original. Such is the case for Party Animals, which makes a tremendously strong case for actually being better than its inspiration, the beloved indie brawler Gang Beasts.
If you’re unfamiliar with Gang Beasts, its concept was simple: sloppy, physics-driven brawls starring pudgy, squidgy little dudes that look a bit like a stunted cousin of UK TV icon Morph. The fun is in the chaos – the controls are vague, the movements difficult to master, and everything is just the right amount of unpredictable. It’s laugh-out-loud because it gets fiercely competitive and yet never serious – a difficult needle to thread.
Party Animals is, one has to admit, essentially that game again. It has all the same hallmarks, and even some of the same modes. What sets it apart, I suppose, is the level of polish achieved by developer Recreate Games, from slick menus to gorgeous looking character models; the titular Party Animals.
You start out by selecting who you want to play as, with a variety of animals represented, each with multiple costume options. I’m an insufferable dog person, so I of course picked a Corgi, but one in the armor of a Knight. Why not?
No matter the mode, the core of Party Animals is simple: these cutesy critters with their floppy animations beat the stuffing out of each other. The format in which this takes place changes a bit, however.
The main mode is actually a lot like wrestling; after selecting a stage, players spawn in on some sort of central raised platform. The goal is to knock other players off the platform – out of the ring, if you like – to eliminate them. Well-timed punches or headbutts can temporarily incapacitate your foes, putting them in a state where you can drag them to the edge of the stage and heft them over. However, they’ll have a few seconds to pull themselves back up and into contention if they’re adept with the deliberately loosey-goosey controls.
As time goes on, a sinister green gas begins to permeate the stage (what are these animals suffering?), reducing the amount of ‘safe’ real estate. Weapons can spawn onto the stage, so you can for instance pick up a shovel and go to town on your rivals like a mafioso. Players knocked out can shoot things like banana peels and fish onto the stage to influence the overall outcome. Eventually, only one will be left standing.
One thing I should note that’s crucial to Party Animals is that in certain modes it’s a proper split screen game – meaning every player has an absolute view of things relative to their character. Gang Beasts had all players share one viewpoint, which led to a bigger display but also a lot of frustrating killed-by-the-camera moments; not so here. This also allows knocked out players to still have skin in the game via the item spawning. It’s a smart choice.
The other mode I played in the hands-on was Football (Soccer) – and this is another mode that again demonstrates how Party Animals aims to level up and transform this sort of party experience. Gang Beasts added this back in 2016, but it was quite fiddly, and still quite fighting focused. This is a four-on-four affair, perfect for online shenanigans. The ball is huge, and it has more in common with Rocket League than anything else.
At a games expo, when everybody is overheating, hungover, and tired, it’s rare that you play something that has people screaming out loud. Even close Street Fighter matches struggle to rouse me when I’ve consumed that much booze the night before. But Party Animals’ football had us screeching as the ball careered towards the goal. Not just the present media, either, but also developers, who’ll have given this demo countless times and yet still find the excitement in it.
Party Animals is basically looking like a polished evolution of an established indie darling. It’ll be perfect for parties, if not something you’ll play every single day, and that makes it absolutely perfect Game Pass fodder. It’s looking like it’ll be awesome – and it’s one of the smartest Game Pass signings Xbox has made.
Party Animals comes to Xbox Game Pass for Series X/S, Xbox One and PC on September 20.
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