Animal Leader

    While Nintendo may be known mostly for its beloved franchises in America, the company's publishing efforts in Japan have always been more robust, encompassing everything from hardcore strategy RPGs to odd niche titles. One of the company's biggest trump cards over the last few years has been Marigul, an independent management company founded by Recruit and Nintendo to oversee smaller developers. Working with a variety of tiny companies, Marigul was behind some of the most unique titles in the N64 library, such as Doshin the Giant, Custom Robo, and Hey You Pikachu! Animal Leader, perhaps the oddest of Marigul's planned N64 titles, didn't make it to that system before its eventual demise, but the game has been reworked into a visually striking and quirky GameCube title due out soon in Japan.

Block Party

    The most striking thing about Animal Leader (or Doubutsu Bancho as it's known in Japan) is its graphical style. The world, its inhabitants, and everything else in the game are made up of simple combinations of blocks and square-shaped cards. From these simple components, all the creatures of the game are constructed. A blocky head with several card-shaped "flippers" forms a fish, while a snake is made up from the same head connected to a long accordion of squares. The environments are made up of these simple shapes in larger form, and even the game's special effects, such as ripples in water or the shockwave from strong attack, are constructed out of squares. The spartan style may partially be a legacy of the game's N64 roots, but the way in which Saru Brunei, the developer working under Marigul, has exploited these simple elements is impressive. Each member of the game's huge bestiary manages to look unique, despite its simple construction, due the creative combinations and some distinctive texture work.

    The premise of Animal Leader is simple, as well. Beginning life as a simple, pig-nosed, block tailed creature, players must claw their way to the top of the food chain to become the "King of 100 Animals." This is accomplished the old-fashioned way - by killing and eating all that stand against you. While roaming Animal Leaders levels, players will encounter a variety of other blocky beasts. Defeating them in combat will eventually reduce them to their component parts, which can be eaten to add to your own form. Devouring an animal with a different texture set will also add its coloring to yours. Over the course of the game, players can evolve their creature into over 100 different shapes, and each combination will produce an animal with slightly different abilities.

Block Rockin' Beats

    The ultimate goal of each level is to take out the boss, which waits at the end. These creatures will present a much larger challenge, but eating them will also grant your animal special abilities or increased stats in the form of unique "cards" which can be added to your form. Defeating the boss will also open up the breeding grounds. Once there, players can mate their creature with a variety of unique beasts to produce offspring with the characteristics of both parents. Unfortunately, this process takes the life of your poor animal, so players must move on to the next generation to continue the game.

    While it's unknown whether Animal Leader's fairly simple eat-and-evolve mechanics can prop up an entire game, the title's simple gameplay and unique aesthetics make it an easy choice for importers. The game is due out in Japan on February 21; Nintendo currently has no plans to release the game in the states, but with the GameCube's third party lineup looking increasingly N64-like, the company may yet choose to bring Animal Leader westward.

Preview by Zak McClendon, GIA
Animal Leader
Developer Nintendo
Publisher Nintendo
Genre Food chain sim
Medium DVD-ROM Single (1)
Platform Nintendo GameCube
Release Date  02.21.02

88 screenshots
6 designs
Manual art