Celebrate summer in December. It has been that kind of year. The Finger Guns review.
2020 has been a lot. I mean, like, a LOT. And, I don’t know about you, I don’t really want to end my year playing something dark and drab. I want something vibrant…something fun…something life-affirming. Lo and behold, in December of all months, ustwo games – developers of critically acclaimed mobile games Monument Valley and Assemble With Care – have popped up with just the thing in the cheery open-world adventure game, Alba: A Wildlife Adventure.
Part nature photography sim, part collect-a-thon, part story about the importance of nature preservation and the environment, Alba: A Wildlife Adventure drops you into the shoes of Alba, a young girl who spends her summers with her grandparents on an idyllic Mediterranean island that has seen better days.
The epicenter of this disrepair is the island’s nature reserve. Indeed, the disrepair has become so great that the island’s mayor plans to sell the land to a very dodgy looking property developer, who intends to build the world’s tallest luxury hotel. From there, it somehow falls upon you – a child – and your friend Ines – another child – to rally the island’s community and visitors to sign a petition aimed at halting the sale and restoring the nature reserve to its former glory (come on, adults, get your fingers out!).
In order to secure those signatures, you’ll need to travel around the island and engage with the island’s inhabitants (its human ones, at least). Some will sign just through conversation, whilst others will ask you to carry out tasks for them before committing their scribble to paper – an early example of this sees you administer first aid to any sick red squirrels you encounter in your travels for the town vet (seriously, the island’s adults’ commitment to actually being adults and doing adult things is suspiciously lax).
You can also choose to help to clean up the island through simple tasks, such as picking up litter and depositing into nearby bins or folding the washing of your neighbours (Alba and Ines really should unionise). This is all surprisingly satisfying to carry out, often involving nothing more than a few button presses, which keeps it all moving along at a nice chill pace.
But what of the nature that inhabits what currently remains of the reserve? Well, those animals are the focus of the game’s other main mechanic, which involves you taking pictures of them on your phone’s wildlife identification app and logging them in a bestiary of sorts.
This is surprisingly in-depth – you can leaf through the journal to look at pictures of the animals you can snap and even listen to each one’s calls, meaning that you’ll often be able to identify them through sound as much as vision, as you wander around the island. As you make your rounds, tidying up and fixing things, more animals will return to the area, subsequently giving you more things to snap. It’s a really simple, yet incredibly satisfying gameplay loop that means there’s almost no dead time in your playthrough, as you’ll always have something to do.
So, it has an intriguing story and nice simple gameplay loops, but – in many ways – the key to my enjoyment of Alba: A Wildlife Adventure came through its presentation. From the very first second, it is clearly a game designed to make you smile, and it succeeds as almost every turn.
It’s a wonderfully cute little game, first and foremost, proving that you can still make a game look memorable without chucking a ton of effects on top (yes, I’m looking at you, ray tracing). You instantly feel like you have been transported to an idyllic holiday island with bright yellow sands, blue skies and red brick villas dominating the landscape. It’s genuinely one of the best game locales I’ve visited this year. The island’s residents, both human and animal, are similarly bold in design, making many of them immediately recognisable – from your white-haired and slightly wizened grandparents to the town’s almost Mafia boss-looking mayor to the decidedly shady property developer with his Men In Black garb. It’s not just the look though – even little incidental things, like the way Alba will spontaneously break into a little skip in the middle of a run, all add to the charm.
Rounding out the game’s presentation is a really excellent Latinx-heavy soundtrack that contributes to the overall summery feel of the whole experience and often left me idly nodding my head and tapping my foot as I perused the map. Topping it all off, the game’s dialogue is also really good, feeling very natural and ensuring that in-game conversations rarely feel forced or cringy, which would have been an easy trap to fall into for a game with an important moral message at its core.
Ultimately, where Alba: A Wildlife Adventure succeeds over other games with similar aesthetics is that it never takes itself too seriously or, indeed, tries to be overly wacky. By successfully walking the line between either extreme, it delivers a natural, feel-good experience – the kind we could all do with at the end of a hell year – and, as such, should be played by anyone who has the means. End your year with a smile.
Look up the word “charming” in the dictionary, and you might very well find the cover for this game looking back at you. A bright and breezy game with an important message at its core, Alba: A Wildlife Adventure is a terrific experience, imbued with personality at every turn, that can be polished off in a single session. Another winner in a rapidly burgeoning library from ustwo games.
Alba: A Wildlife Adventure is available now on PC (review platform) and iOS devices via Apple Arcade. A console version is set to be announced later.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we received a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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