Castaway Paradise from Stolen Couch Games has an obvious comparison to the much loved Nintendo exclusive Animal Crossing, with the games own strap-line being “Like Animal Crossing”. But how does it really compare? At the very start of the game you emerge from the ocean looking like some kind of sea creature on account of being covered in kelp after an apparent storm. You are initially greeted by the town’s mayor who guides you through a very simplistic tutorial. Once this is complete it is time to meet your animal neighbors and provide them with assistance in rebuilding the town.
The town’s residents seem to have many issues and start to bombard you with tasks right away, and you can then begin restoring the island to its former glory. Unfortunately, within my first hour of gameplay I had already run into some bugs that caused me to restart the game more than once. This was very infuriating and made me want to give up on the game altogether. However, I am glad I stuck with it as the game seemed to stabilize somewhat after a short period. Although I was still having some issues with minor bugs they were not fundamental to the overall stability of the game.
Very early on it becomes clear that this game was not originally designed to be played on a console. This game started its life as a mobile game and this becomes apparent in the clunky interface and over sized elements that were designed for a smaller screen. At level 15 you become a VIP, at this stage you unlock a new area in your home and receive/unlock a stack of new items. This component is a dead giveaway of the game’s mobile origins where VIP would have likely been a paid-for option. This could have been better implemented with a new quest line or achieved by completing collections of items.
Some quests provide you with puzzle pieces that are used to repair bridges and unlock new areas of the island leading to some characters which are otherwise stranded. Each bridge repair requires 9 puzzle pieces; these can be acquired relatively quickly by questing but can also be bought from the store with enough currency. Quests consist mainly of very simple deliveries and the growing and catching specific items. One of the nice features is the leaderboard that becomes visible each time you catch a bug or fish. It is great to see how your catch squares up against all other players of the game. If you have an inner completionist the goal of collecting all bugs, fish and shells will really appeal.
Encapsulating all these critters in the island museum is a great challenge. Quests quickly become repetitive and you may find yourself running backwards and forwards completing essentially the same thing for different characters. Even though repetitiveness is an issue there is never a lack of quests to complete and there is something strangely addictive about accomplishing all daily quests and beautifying your home and surroundings. There is a distinct lack of a day and night cycle and there are also no in-game weather elements.
Initially I thought that the absence of night time in the game was a bad thing, yet after playing into the late hours I reaped the benefits of not having to wait for sleeping characters to wake. Unlike some other games of this kind, items are permanently accessible via catalog purchase, with some items being unlocked with level progression. Although this is a great feature it did leave me scratching my head as to the need for the in-game store other than to sell items. On quest completion and crop selling you are awarded ample amounts of currency for your efforts, and if you are still in need of more you can play your hand at the stock market or return on investments from the bank.
All this in-game currency allows for easy town and home restyling. The visuals of the game are extremely basic with characters having a somewhat blocky appearance. This does detract a little from the cuteness factor, nonetheless the game is extremely colorful and overall is very much in keeping with the expected style and aesthetics of this type of game. The music is incredibly repetitive, at first the song is almost a little catchy but quickly becomes extremely irritating. You may find that the only way to keep your sanity is to go into the game options and turn the music off altogether!
Having the in-game music disabled only gives prominence to the lack of any other in-game sounds. Even the most basic of sounds, such as footsteps, are not present and this makes the overall audio experience rather hollow. There is no real incentive for playing the game for long periods of time. There appears to be much more of a focus on short bursts of gameplay, completing daily quests and clearing the trash which is generated during time away from the game. That being said, it is extremely easy to jump back into at any time and the promise of seasonal items and events significantly increases the likelihood of intermittent longer-term gameplay.
As it stands the game has some promise to be the Animal Crossing rival that we have all been waiting for but there is still work to be done. With the ironing out of bugs and the development of new story and objectives, the game would be a lot more appealing to a wider audience. Taking the game as it is now, there is fun to be had but the repetitive nature will likely be off-putting for most. As the gameplay is completely open-ended you are free to revisit at any time. Putting the current issues aside the game does have some endearing qualities. If you are looking for something relaxing to help you unwind after a long day, this game may be a nice little addition to your collection depending on the price point.
Castaway Paradise has an obvious comparison to Animal Crossing, but in its current state, it’s a long way off before it’s anything truly alike. There’s an endearing quality to the game, but its repetitive gameplay loop, its bugs, and its basic visuals, ultimately holds it back. That said, this is indeed fun in short bursts and there’s no lack of quests to fulfill and things to collect. Just don’t expect it to meet its inspiration.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.