There's a duck in Party Animals that can take a bath in a litter tray. This enraging creature torments me for 15 agonizing minutes, rolling past punches and crashing their feet into my poor wolf's face. They're easily winning the fight to be the last one standing on a level where a poison gas cloud surrounds us and, as adversaries go, they're the smug kind who show off for an imaginary crowd. The soundtrack to all of this nonsense is a friend's chorus of laughs and taunts, culminating with one big guffaw as the duck drop kicks me into the guff of doom. Infuriating? Oh you better believe it. But when a game inspires a symphony of involuntary sounds over the chat, you know it's onto something good.
Release Date: September 20, 2023
Platform(s): PC, Xbox Series X, Xbox One
Developer: Recreate Games
Publisher: Source Technology
Party Animals looks like a game where endearingly cutesy animals go paw-to-paw, but really, it's an anecdote generator. The creatures you control, who have the gait of a cocky UFC fighter but the structural integrity of weeks-old meringue, are waiting to be the punch lines rather than champions. They're your way of creating memories like a duck tormenting you into an existential crisis via powerful drop kicks… Or tricking everyone into falling off a rope bridge by clinging on for dear life while they're taking chunks out of each other… Or scoring a goal by rushing to punch the keeper out cold while a giant ball trickles past him. By taking the physics-based fighting hilarity of Gang Beasts and swirling it into the mold of Fall Guys' approachable mini-game structure, Party Animals creates plenty of shared stories across its 20 levels.
Each of the levels in Party Animals supports up-to eight players, ranging from structured team objectives to last man standing showdowns and no-nonsense brawls. In all of them, the aim is to fight, but the reality is to try and just land a blow. Your animal warrior's arms swing in the same way as a child bursting into a TV interview and seemingly do the same amount of damage. But, land an attack on the right angle and you knock an opponent out cold for a few seconds, buying you enough time to grab them and chuck them to their doom. When they connect, it's a price worth paying for every missed swipe, an inexplicable force flowing into a foe's body where they go flying. Add in a few other attacks, such as a flying dropkick that should be hung in the Louvre, as well as tools like a frying pan, nunchucks, or an ice gun that can shift momentum in your favor, and Party Animals is cooking with some enjoyably spicy ingredients.
However, getting the full flavor from them requires a balance that Party Animals struggles to maintain. On the one hand, there is the inspired genius of Fluffy Redemption. This team scoring game is a race between two steam trains, with each team being able to shovel coal into the engine to make the train go faster… or leap onto their rivals and pull the handbrake to slow it down. The structure here adds a delicious risk/reward element to what you do – leading to groans over Discord when a jump is inevitably missed – while also providing plenty of moments to hurl enemies off your train, sending them careening down the track. The concept is playful, the execution is tight, and it's not the only level that crackles with creativity.
There's Black Hole Lab, where each round is punctuated by a gravity well sucking you into a deadly drop and forcing players to grab hold of heavy items to keep them on the platform, all while fighting amongst themselves, obviously. That's alongside Typhoon, where your battle to survive takes place on the outside of a submerging Submarine – most fights ending with a desperate scramble to cling onto a disappearing hull. Another highlight is Trebuchet, where you need to hurl crates of dynamite across a ravine with the aforementioned catapult. But, if you fancy a trip to your enemy's side, just pop your animal arse into the Treb and enjoy the flight. Party Animals shines when a conceptual twist adds a little extra to keep things lively past the paw-poundings.
But there's more than a few levels that don't share this inventive spirit, such as Final Destination. Nabbing Gang Beasts' train level and not adding much to it, you fight in two teams of four and play until one team has lost 10 lives. The problem is that the lack of structure here highlights Party Animals' flaws. On more than one occasion, I would circle another player, both of us trying to hit each other while our fists, feet, and face keep missing. While the fighting is meant to be chaotic thanks to the unpredictable nature of the airy physics, it can slip into a sludgy awkwardness of missed connections and grimace-inducing randomness when it's the sole focus.
Likewise, there's four levels of pushing an object into a net, which feels like three too many when the differences between them – one is on a sloping hill, another is on ice, another is vaguely futuristic – don't feel particularly meaningful. When these types of levels strip away the inventive structure of other modes for a less-defined fight, Party Animals feels less a peer of its obvious inspirations and more an awkward copy.
Party Animals is available as part of the Xbox Game Pass subscription service at launch. For more, check out our ranking of the best Game Pass games that you should play today.
These flaws are more apparent when you don't have friends to join you along for the ride. While you can hop into quick matches to play with randoms or even set up lobbies with bots, the unexpected moments don't hit in the same way when you can't share them. There's also a leveling up system and weekly challenges to encourage you to keep the party going, with a range of unlockable cosmetics as a reward for your efforts. But these jolly skins aside, this doesn't have the pull of Fall Guys where each session is a big event. Once your level is over, you move onto the next one, rather than building towards a grand finale.
Still, it's hard to hold longevity against Party Animals. After all, the first image you see is of two characters sitting side-by-side on a sofa playing together, an unsubtle nudge in how you should experience the game. It's designed for late night/early morning sessions where laughs flow freely as you witness the origins of a shared joke. In that sense, Party Animals works, as there's more than enough missed punches, thrown friends, and powerful headbutts to spark your next gathering into life. It's here for you to have a good time. Not a long one.
Party Animals was reviewed on PC, with code provided by the publisher