Animal Inspector is an animal inspection simulator released on November 18, 2015 by Tom Astle. In a world where there are simply too many animals clogging everything up, the Animal Inspection Agency is there to inspect all animals to determine their value. Good animals are approved, and bad animals are… well, rejected.
Inside the world of inspecting animals, we’ll discover office drama, a mysterious secret, and a world where sending animals to their presumed deaths with a rubber stamp is just business as usual.
We’ll give Animal Inspector an inspection of its own. Will it get our approval? Find out after the jump.
It’s virtually impossible to talk about Animal Inspector without bringing up Papers, Please, as both are games revolving around the concept of approving or denying things submitted to you. Of course, where in Papers, Please you are judging humans to determine if they are allowed into your nation, in Animal Inspector you are judging animals based on their merits as pets. The games both even revolve around the same style of rubber stamps to pound out applicants. From there, however, the comparisons fade quickly.
In Animal Inspector, the world has become overrun with domestic animals to the point where all wild animals have gone extinct. As such, you have decided to join the Animal Inspection Agency to protect your own beautiful and precious dog. There you meet a collection of characters, each with their own reasons for joining the Agency, and you will learn the mysterious truth of why the Animal Inspection Agency was set up in the first place.
The gameplay is very simplistic. Every day begins with you talking to your co-workers, and you are then given a set of sheets with the animals you are to judge printed upon them. You are allowed to use your own judgement on what animals are good and what are bad, but sometimes you are given certain quotas on how many animals must be denied per day. If you fail to fulfill these quotas, or otherwise fail to meet the standards of what your filing must be like, you are given a disciplinary strike. Three strikes, and you’re out of a job.
The game is driven by your co-workers, who occasionally ask you for certain requests. Martha is an elderly woman with a deep love of cats who quickly discovers that rejecting animals is much harder than she initially thought. Alan is a disinterested slacker who profoundly dislikes his job and just denies all animals put in front of him. Above it all, our boss is a milquetoast whose requests for quota-meeting are barely parsable over his stuttering.
As the game progresses, you are given a lot of personal challenges where you must ask yourself what the right thing to do is. Do you deny a profoundly useless and ugly cat that is put before you, or let it slip by to stay on Martha’s good side? Will you work with Alan in an office intrigue to get Martha fired? Or will you just plod along and do your job to win the favor of your boss?
The game has numerous forking paths and endings depending on what you do, so it’s got a huge amount of replay value to see everything. The shorter paths of the game are easily accomplished in half an hour, and subsequent replays are even shorter since dialogue variance in the first half of the game is at a minimum.
After the fact…
Half Hour Games is dedicated to seeing how much gameplay a video game has in only 30 minutes, but for the sake of depth, we continued playing after the half hour to view other paths. We note this for the sake of clarity and transparency, but also because the game was actually pretty fun.
However, the gameplay itself gets very monotonous after a while. When talking to your co-workers, you must drag a piece of animal food to their animal-shaped text box to respond to questions. For example, Martha’s text box is shaped like a cat, so you must drag a fish with “Yes” or “No” written on it to answer her questions. This was cute and novel, but quickly wore on us when we just wanted to click through previously seen dialogue to get to new paths.
The game also demands that you write a short reasoning for why you would approve or reject each animal. This was fun at first, as we liked to write bizarre reasons for why an animal would offend us so much, but it also got pretty tired – especially since the game is too good at recognizing gibberish and repeated comments. It would have been nice if the game had given us a way to skip repeated dialogue, or at least given us a little leeway for having finished the game already.
The plot is relatively straightforward, but it raises a lot of questions. Those questions come with answers, but they might not be the ones that you wanted to hear. These secrets may shock you, but just as likely, they’ll probably leave you confused and wondering just how dumb an entire government agency could possibly be.
Animal Inspector isn’t without its twists, and the story of the game takes a surprisingly dark turn towards the end while still maintaining a sense of self-aware incredulity about the events. The game understands, at its heart, that a government institution dedicated to finding the inherent value of pets is a notion beyond even the wildest of surreal horror. There’s a sense of helplessness to the whole thing, as no matter what path you choose, there are no easy answers to be found.
Our only major grievance was that the game’s morality felt fairly heavy-handed at times. There are clear good and bad endings, and the path to them isn’t always immediately obvious; it’s possible, for example, to fail by simply asking too many questions. The path to the best acceptable moral compromise still involves euthanizing potentially a dozen animals, all while Martha makes continuous hints that it’s better to reject a fish than a cat.
Completable in half an hour: Maybe
The only thing that keeps us from a clear “yes” is the fact that a single playthrough raises far too many questions to put the game down, regardless of which path you choose. You can finish it, but you won’t necessarily feel done with it. We’d say that it’s worthwhile to set aside a full hour for the plot if you can; take notes, if you need to. It’s still fun.
4 out of 5 – Worth Trying (Worth Playing Again)
Animal Inspector is an incredibly quirky game with an absolutely surreal premise, but it makes for a game with surprising emotional depth, straddling the grey area between light humor and uncanny darkness. The gameplay is highly simplistic, and very repetitive at times, but it has a huge amount of fun and replay value that kept us going.
Animal Inspector was a treat from start to finish. And who doesn’t like a treat?
You can download Animal Inspector from itch.io for free, or name your price.