Alba: A Wildlife Adventure Review

I noticed recently that it seemed like I was only reviewing fast-paced retro games, so I told the barkeep at Xbox Tavern (i.e. my editor) that I’d like to switch it up and review something more relaxing. Alba: A Wildlife Adventure, developed by ustwo games and published by Plug In Digital looked like it could fit the bill, so I volunteered to take it on without any hesitation. Over the past year with Covid restrictions I haven’t ventured far from home and video games have become even more of an escape for me than normal. Last summer I thoroughly enjoyed The Touryst, so I thought that perhaps another game centred around an island vacation could strike a similar chord.

Alba: A Wildlife Adventure takes place on a picturesque Mediterranean island and features an attractive art style that could be classified somewhere just above low-poly, with vibrant color palettes and fantastic lighting that had me feeling the heat as I walked along the beach and the sun beat down onto my character. As the sun began to set each day I couldn’t help but feel a little more relaxed knowing that the island was cooling off for the evening.  You play as Alba, vacationing on the island and visiting her grandparents who live there. Alba’s grandfather is an avid photographer and nature lover and encourages Alba to follow in his footsteps. There is a short prologue that depicts one of Alba’s earlier visits to the island where you are introduced to the basic movement mechanics and get the opportunity to snap a picture of your grandparents, giving you a taste of the upcoming gameplay.

When Alba returns to the island – she appears to be around ten years old now – her grandfather gives her a camera phone and a nature guide for the island and encourages her to document as many of the species on the island as she can. There are just over 60 animals in the game, most of which are birds, but that makes sense since it is, after all, an island. I thought they did a great job animating and designing the animals, especially the birds. Their behaviors all seem fairly realistic, from walking and hopping on the ground to taking flight and flying around the sky or from roost to roost. You encounter a dolphin early on in your return to the island, but I was sort of disappointed that there weren’t any other sea creatures to photograph like crustaceans or turtles, though overall the variety will keep most players interested. The guidebook that Alba’s grandfather gives her organizes the species into what sections/habitats of the island they can be found in, and each entry features a picture and their birdcall, or noises for the non-aviary entries. The only thing the guidebook is missing is some additional information about each animal. I think it would have been the perfect opportunity to allow the players to learn something by reading a little blurb about each species as they capture their photographs, just one or two facts would have been nice.

The D-pad allows you to bring up the camera, guidebook, journal, or map. Once these are open you have to use the joystick to navigate them. I usually use the d-pad to navigate menus like this but when you press the D-pad while in any of these interfaces you switch to one of the other options. The camera controls also took me a little while to get used to. You zoom in and out with RB/LB and take pictures with RT. In order for the picture to count as “capturing” a species, you have to be relatively close or zoomed in on the target. Since these are all wild animals most of them move around a lot, and some can be very difficult to photograph, especially if they are flying. The phone is linked with the guide and when an animal is at the center of your camera’s focus a HUD will pop up telling you if you’ve captured that species yet or not which is very helpful.

Soon after Alba returns to the island her friend Ines runs up to greet her; they both share a love of nature and decide to create a rescue league in order to help the island’s wildlife – the not-so-easy to say AIWRL (Alba and Ines Wildlife Rescue League). Each day you will get different objectives like picking up trash or fixing birdhouses or other structures. I know that might sound sort of dull to some people, but all these actions can be performed rather quickly, with multiple presses of the A button, and as you fix the place up different species will come to that area. You’ll also be able to access additional parts of the island where some of the rarer animals live as well as creating shortcuts to get around the island more quickly. A large part of the story revolves around the sketchy mayor of the island and how he wants to get rid of the wildlife sanctuary. Alba and Ines make it their mission to stop him and you have to collect signatures to do this. Most are automatically acquired as you complete objectives in your journal but you can also speak to many of the island’s inhabitants and most will support your cause. Later on in the game, you use your camera for some non-wildlife documenting purposes and I thought this part was fun because it was different and somewhat unexpected, I would have liked the developers to add in some more content like this. 

The art style is what initially caught my eye with this game and I’ve already commented on how the developers did a great job capturing the look and feel of an island in the summer. There are multiple unique areas of the island to explore, from a small town and beach to marshlands and even a castle on a hill. You can pretty much go wherever you want. Each day has some set tasks that you must complete to advance the story, and once you complete those you’ll get a text from your grandmother telling you to come home soon because dinner is ready; this is when the lighting changes to sunset, and it really evokes a feeling of serenity. There’s no need to hurry home either, you can continue to explore if you wish. Once you do return home time advances and the next day begins. Alba is only there for a week and the vacation culminates with a big party in town, complete with music, dancing, and a confrontation with the Mayor. The audio design in Alba is also a standout element. The music does an excellent job capturing the feeling of the moment and is usually upbeat and adventurous with a lot of Spanish influence. As you explore the more remote parts of the island the natural sounds of the environment are all you’ll hear and include all sorts of bird calls and other animals, I was able to find a few of the final guidebook entries by listening closely for the corresponding calls.

It took me about three and a half hours to play through Alba: A Wildlife Adventure. I completed the wildlife book, but couldn’t find one of the random objectives. Luckily for all my fellow achievement hunters, I’m pretty sure all ten achievements are earned for just following the story. Capturing all the animals isn’t necessary either. I like playing games like that occasionally, where you don’t have to go looking for the achievements, they just come to you, letting you enjoy the game without needing to consult an online guide. I wish there was a little more content for the price (if I didn’t already own it, I would probably wait for the first sale to pick it up). As I photographed the birds I couldn’t help but imagine flying over the island as one of them. Perhaps being able to use some vehicles would have added some more variety to the game, the island is surrounded by a beautifully serene sea that I would have loved to cruise around in on a jet ski.

Conclusion

Alba: A Wildlife Adventure can be enjoyed by gamers of all ages, and teaches its players the simple yet valuable lesson that cleaning up is good for the environment and its inhabitants. It has a wonderful art style and sound design that make visiting the island with Alba a joy. The wildlife is bird heavy so bird lovers will definitely be interested in this, and they do an excellent job bringing all the creatures to life. Although brief I enjoyed my time on the island but I couldn’t help but wish there was a little more content. 

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This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.
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Good
  • 60+ animals to observe and photograph, all wonderfully animated
  • Mediterranean island with a number of detailed areas/habitats to explore
  • Art style and sound design both stand out
  • Explore the island at your own pace, very chill game
Bad
  • Overall length is on the short side
  • Some creatures can be hard to photograph using the game's controls
  • A few extra activities would have been nice
7.9
Good
Gameplay - 7.9
Graphics - 8.5
Audio - 8.5
Longevity - 6.5
Written by
I started my gaming odyssey playing 8-bit console and arcade games. My first Xbox was the 360 and I immediately fell in love with achievement hunting and the overall ecosystem. That love was cemented with my purchase of an Xbox One. I play a bit of everything, but I usually end up playing fast paced games that remind me of my days spent in dark, smoky arcades spending quarter after quarter, telling myself "one more try!". Gamertag: Morbid237.

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