For those hankering for an Animal Crossing-esque fix as Nintendo continue to taunt us by not releasing the widely commended and utterly adored community simulation title on Switch, stay your shaky hands as Stolen Couch Games are here to soften the blow – enter Castaway Paradise. This Dutch indie studio have fabricated a charming life-simulation title that adopts fan favourite elements from inspirations such as Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon and attentively strings them together, forming in turn a game that will ease your cravings, at least for the time being.
Your story begins aboard a boat. Whilst sailing, a freak storm occurs, frantically stirring up the waves which wash your character upon on the sandy shores of Castaway Paradise. Here you are greeted by the islands’ anthropomorphic mayor and local resident, Viktoria who immediately takes you under her wing as her assistant. A tutorial segment kick-starts your adventure, guiding you through the very basics of the game. The tutorial is brief thanks to the simplicity of the easily accessible inventory and tool menus that are navigated with little effort via the triangle, square and “options” buttons. A prompt remains on the bottom right-hand side of your screen throughout playing, offering a helpful reminder should you become confused with the game’s button-mapping at any point.
Pressing on from the tutorial, Castaway Paradise really begins to exhibit it’s resemblance to the cherished simulation titles from which it’s inspired. The player must first introduce themselves to local animal residents and run several errands for them, giving you an introduction to farming and the variety of things you are able to do in your new hometown. Although Castaway Paradise shares a distinct likeness to the aforementioned titles on which it’s based, it has distinguished it’s own features and intermingled them so shrewdly that it refrains from feeling like a mindless rip off. Mild RPG elements in the form of levelling up have been loosely integrated that entitle you to a profound sense of accomplishment as you’re rewarded XP for renewing you newfound home.
Levelling up grants you access to all means of helpful gear. Whether it’s new tools expanding your horizons or a new and enticing piece of furniture to spruce up your home, it pays to earn experience and level up and there’s by no means a short supply of ways to do so. The island’s restless residents are almost always yearning for a helping hand in exchange for XP. If playing the good Samaritan with your neighbours doesn’t take your fancy, you can turn to farming and tending to the islands flora to be rewarded with dribs and drabs of experience. On top of levelling there’s also Daily Challenges. Generally indulging in Castaway paradise’s proceedings will naturally award you XP or have you fulfilling challenge requirements and reaping their rewards in turn. Subsequently you’ll be blissfully unaware of yourself barrelling up levels as you get completely engrossed in the sheer span of things there is to do.
Yes, it’s difficult to grow bored during your time on Castaway Paradise as there’s always something to accomplish. This constitutes a highly addictive incentive to continue playing that remains present throughout. Moreover, the amount you can do only branches out further as you play. Encircling the island are a number of broken bridges that restrict your access to further islands. By attaining enough puzzle pieces from completing quests or purchasing them outright, you can bypass the puzzle locks and progress to new areas to meet new residents. Also scattered throughout the idyllic island setting are buildings you can repair to enhance the town further. Uncovering the far reaches of the islands and restoring their brilliance is nothing short of a joy thanks to the game’s simple graphic style that practically oozes a spectrum of colour.
Whilst exploring the sandy paradise, a completionist may invest hours into cataloguing all of the island’s fauna by catching bugs and fish. The net and rod alike can be attained in early levels and are easily used in a slightly different way to the likes of Animal Crossing. An insect must be slowly approached as to not startle it before swinging the net to capture it. Fishing requires that you approach a body of water and cast out your lure near a fish. Upon getting the fish’s attention, a bar will appear on screen and you must tap square within the green segment of the bar to reel the catch in. Moreover, Castaway Paradise features a more elaborate fishing system in which you can obtain varying bait which can be attached to a rod to attract different water-dwelling creatures. Upon catching critters, the size of the catch will be compared against that of other player’s in a nifty little social feature. I guess size really does matter…
For those more in touch with their creative flair, Castaway Paradise incorporates a much anticipated element of interior design. Your player owns their own property which can be decorated to your tastes with a diverse range of furniture. The local merchants sell numerous items you may place in your home and as mentioned prior, levelling up allows you access to countless new goods to meet all of your interior designing needs. Once unlocked, these can be found and purchased in a catalogue by pressing the “options” button on your controller. Different themed furniture becomes available as the seasons cycle within the game. For instance, sun loungers and inflatable pool toys can be purchased during the Summer. You can also buy house upgrades to unlock more rooms to unleash your decorative demons in. On the other hand, for those who love to dabble in character customisation, Castaway Paradise gives you ample means to you doll up your character from head to toe in vast variety of outfits and accessories. Whether it’s a snazzy hat, a sharp pair of shades or a fresh haircut that catches your eye, there’s oodles of fun waiting for you fashionistas.
However, as we all know and much to our dismay, nothing in life comes free. Castaway Paradise has it’s own currency in the form of gems. Gems allow you to buy all sorts of items but do not fret as the game is jam-packed with ways to make certain your pockets are brimming. Completing quests is an efficient way to earn money. Available quests can be tracked via the menu opened up with the “options” button. On top of quests, money can be earned by selling goods. Whether it’s crops, insects, fish or fruit plucked from trees, Samir and other merchants on the island will give you a good price for the items that clutter your inventory. The game also cleverly introduces other advanced, more interesting ways to make money. At the heart of Castaway paradise is the town hall. Here you can store gems away in the bank for an allotted amount of time to gain interest. Furthermore, you can be more daring with your hard-earned money through the buying and selling of stocks. Become stock-savvy and you’ll find yourself buying that pricey house upgrade in no time.
Like any game though, Castaway Paradise isn’t without it’s flaws. Although not having a direct effect on the game’s playability, there are some aspects that effect the game’s fluency and slightly compromise your enjoyment in turn. Approaching a door in hope of entering can be finicky at times, requiring finding a sweet spot before being able to proceed inside. The initially sombre soundtrack that chimes away in the background as you play can grate on you after a while and is sadly not the only thing that utters a repetitive annoyance. Quests may ensure your wealth but do regurgitate the same errands, leaving you tediously completing tasks of a similar nature over and over. Fortunately, Castaway Paradise redeems itself elsewhere, drawing focus from these bothersome niggles.
Castaway Paradise does well to satisfy your life-simulator needs in the absence of a new Animal Crossing instalment. The game incorporates enough Animal Crossing-esque qualities to fill the void whilst introducing an abundance of new features that give the game a personality of it’s own. The title’s simplistic graphic style and effortless mechanics paired with the integration of more adult money making methods, widens the potential audience for the game. The spirit of Animal Crossing is well and truly embodied in this recreational play for both creative youngsters and adults in need of a mellow, come-down game alike.