ByNicholas Montegriffo, writer at Creators.co
NowLoading's Lucky Office Goth. Tweets: @unstabledweomer
Nicholas Montegriffo

Progressive voices in the gaming community may rage against the lack of diversity among video game protagonists. I think we can all agree that the ubiquitous grunting brown-haired tough guy is somewhat overplayed.

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While I would welcome a greater variety of human protagonists, today we'll look at games that really let players approach the world from a more primal perspective. Those that break the species barrier and let you play one of the Kingdom Animalia.

Here are the rules for this run-down:

  • No anthropomorphic animals a la Sonic the Hedgehog, Donkey Kong, Fox McCloud and suchlike. A basic rule of thumb—if they wear any clothes, they don't count.
  • No mythological or fictional beasts. No dragons, no aliens, no bunyips.

Ready? Let's unleash the beast.


Ecco the Dolphin

Hey there big fella
Hey there big fella
  • Release Date: 1992
  • Platforms: Sega Mega Drive, Mega-CD, Microsoft Windows, Game Gear, Master System, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo 3DS
  • Developer: Novotrade International
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Genre: Action-Adventure
  • Play: On Steam, online

I'm going to lump together Ecco the Dolphin and the sequel Ecco 2: The Tides of Time. Both games were radical innovations at the time that exploited the potential of a dolphin protagonist and an undersea environment. As Ecco, you explore a beautiful and colorful underwater world, feed on fish, and use sonar to communicate with other dolphins and form a map of your surroundings. Some levels even feature a transformation item letting you experience the game as a jellyfish, shark or even a seagull, all with their own unique locomotion and attacks.

The Ecco the Dolphin games also have a fantastically crazy, completely out-there plot which is something of a new age-y acid reflux nightmare, involving Atlantis, time travel and HR Giger-esque biomechanical aliens. Even when the whole planet faces an existential threat, it's interesting how insignificant humanity is to the whole thing, and it's up to our cetacean hero to foil the alien invasion with the power of song. Song, and high-speed ramming. The Ecco Genesis-era titles also boast brilliantly eerie soundtracks that set the game's mysterious and unsettling tone, falling somewhere between horror and wonder.

Wolfquest

Do you love animals so much you want to eat them right up?
Do you love animals so much you want to eat them right up?
  • Release Date: 2005
  • Platforms: Mac OS, Microsoft Windows
  • Developer: Minnesota Zoo & Eduweb
  • Publisher: Minnesota Zoo & Eduweb
  • Genre: Action-Adventure
  • Play: 2.5 Version is still free, or buy the new version

Wolfquest is one of those rare 'edutainment' games that isn't a complete howler (at least, not in that way). The Minnesota Zoo and eduweb joined forces to create this wildlife simulator that has you assume the role of a wolf in Yellowstone park. As a wolf, the player learns how to hunt elk, communicate with other wolves, locate a mate, establish and maintain their den and territory (exactly how you think you might), and even raise pups. There's also a multiplayer mode, where players can join forces to explore the wilderness and hunt in packs, and raise their litter together.

The game aims for scientific accuracy, so for those who want an animal sim but thought my endorsement of Ecco's far out fantasy elements were going a little too far, give Wolfquest a shot. The game still has an active community with plenty of YouTubers showing off their playthroughs.

Goat Simulator

  • Release Date: 2014
  • Platforms: Microsoft Windows OS X, Linux, iOS, Android, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PS4
  • Developer: Coffee Stain Studios
  • Publisher: Coffee Stain Studios
  • Genre: Action
  • Play: Available on Steam

Although billed as 'the latest in goat simulation technology', it's fair to say that Goat Simulator's dedication to scientific accuracy is much less than Wolfquest's. Your job as a goat is to cause as much havoc as possible in the game's suburban setting, and the project's erratic physics enable a Michael Bay scale level of destruction. Not for the animal sim immersion purists, but if you're into licking and breaking random stuff then it's still your best bet.

Jurassic Park

Clever Girl
Clever Girl
  • Release Date: 1993
  • Platforms: Sega Genesis
  • Developer: BlueSky Software
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Genre: Action-adventure
  • Play: In Browser

Another nostalgia pick from the Sega Genesis era, Jurassic Park did have the option to play as Paleontologist inexplicably turned gun-toting, grenade throwing action protagonist Hal Hunt — if you were a boring, basic human-lover. The real joy of Jurassic Park was controlling the raptor and giving hubristic humanity a good hard claw-assisted kick in the nuts. There's a feral joy in tearing apart heavily armed soldiers with your teeth, and amusingly, even though you can feed on your fallen foes to gain health, there's still plenty of tasty chicken dinners lying around the levels if prey is scarce.

Shelter

  • Release Date: 2013
  • Platforms: Windows, OS X
  • Developer: Might and Delight
  • Publisher: Might and Delight
  • Genre: Survival
  • Play: Available on Steam

Shelter is an emotionally haunting survival story where you take on the role of a mother badger guiding her young cubs through the forest. Along the way you have to face some dangerous situations, including encounters with predators, or natural hazards such as forest fire. But the crux of the experience is pure survival — the necessity of food and shelter.

The direction and soundtrack are stunning and emotionally moving, and just wait for the moment when you find food and realize it's not enough for all your cubs to eat. Several expansions are available, and a sequel where you play as a Lynx.

Tokyo Jungle

Kids are so fussy these days
Kids are so fussy these days
  • Release Date: 2012
  • Platforms: PS3
  • Developer: Crispy's
  • Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
  • Genre: Action
  • Play: Available on PSN

Based on sheer variety and potential for fangs-on-fur mayhem, Tokyo Jungle chomps, claws, mauls and stampedes its way to the top spot of playable animal video games. Set in a futuristic Tokyo where humanity has mysteriously disappeared. You can play Story mode, and take on missions from different animals to eventually discover the ultimate fate of humanity, or you can play Survival, a nature-red-in-tooth-and-claw affair where you pick an animal and try to stay alive in the urban jungle for as long as possible. Smaller animals have the option to gang up on bigger ones.

yummy
yummy

There are over 80 types of possible animals to play as including pomeranians, lions, crocodiles, tigers, giraffes, hippos, cheetahs, chimpanzees, gazelles, chickens, beagles, dilophosaurus, hyenas, deinonychus, and sika deer. That's right, there are friggin' dinosaurs, too. With DLC, you can also play as a cat, a panda, a crocodile, a kangaroo, a giraffe, or even a human survivor (get over it humanity, you lost).

Upcoming

HK project
HK project

If after reading this, you're excited about potential animal-themed games coming soon, then these are the ones to watch:

  • HK project - Play as a street cat exploring a cyberpunked-up Hong Kong.
  • Saurian: Hell Creek - A scientifically accurate, open world survivor arena where you play as different kinds of dinosaurs? This is going to make Tokyo Jungle look like a petting zoo.
Saurian: Hell Creek
Saurian: Hell Creek

Played any better animal themed games? Recommend them to me below!