Castaway Paradise (PS4) Review
A lot of customization options
Repetitive quests and tasks
No day-night cycle
No musical variety
Real-world wait times
First and foremost, before anything else can be said about Castaway Paradise, the village simulator by indie studio Stolen Couch Games, it must be stated that yes, there is quite a lot of Animal Crossing influence that can be felt in this game. While not exactly a crowded genre, Nintendo’s peaceful franchise has reigned supreme since the first game’s release on the GameCube, and it’s evident that Stolen Couch Games are big fans of the series. That being said, there are many upsides to being the proverbial new kid in town. Namely, there’s more than a decade of genre conventions to analyze, pulling what you like and don’t like in an effort to frankenstein a fun and interesting take on the village sim, but is it clear that the developers tried their very best to do so?
The gameplay is fairly standard for the genre. Around the island village, different villagers are waiting to give the player tasks, which can range anywhere from growing and harvesting food to solving puzzles and going fishing. Plenty of tasks are on hand, and most of them have the uncanny ability to turn what would be a mundane undertaking into something more engaging.
Progression in the game is tied to the experience points that are given for practically every task, and the currency earned that can be used to upgrade everything from outfits to the interior of your house (well, tent at the beginning). While in many ways, the customization options felt superior to other games in the genre, the repetitive nature of the tasks given and the real-life wait times for certain crops to grow (to then be able to sell or turn in for a quest) made the tasks feel like actual, real world chores, which I didn’t particularly enjoy.
Perhaps the saving grace of the tedious quests are the characters. As much as I don’t want to compare the game to its peers, the small selection of villagers can’t be ignored. I much prefer the rotating cast of villagers in games like Animal Crossing, but luckily, the small group of permanent villagers that reside on this island are at least likeable. Angus, the island’s resident grump, is a monkey, and the most consistently entertaining thing about this game. Not only was his dialogue varied and hilarious, the tasks he gives are among the most interesting in the game.
The villagers aren’t the only thing that don’t change around the island. I found myself sorely missing a day and night cycle, and I feel that this was a missed opportunity on the part of the developers. It could’ve opened up the field for a different selection of quests depending on what time of the day, or something like that, but sadly we’ll never know on the Island of Perpetual Sunshine. There were small details like this that show that the effort put in to this game falls short, even if only by a little bit.
The controls and presentation are a whole other beast. The graphics are quite crude, and after some research, it quickly became clear why. Castaway Paradise started life as a Facebook game (remember those?) and then was ported to mobile devices a couple years back. Now that the game has arrived on consoles, it’s clear that very little (if any) effort has been made to update the oddly geometric character models or the low-res textures. Another missed opportunity.
Besides the way the game looks, it sounds bad too. Unfortunately, there are only a couple of different music tracks available to listen to during regular gameplay, and the songs become grating very quickly. This is another aspect of the game that reeks of a mobile port, where this lack of variety is a little less frowned upon. And while it’s true that the music can be turned off, good video game music makes you want to crank the dial up to 11, not down to nothing.
The game controls like a three-legged villager (we’ll call him Chaz), and I couldn’t shake the feeling that the game would’ve controlled easier on mobile with touch screens. Parts of the island are locked to the player, unlocked by collecting puzzle pieces, but if even moving is a chore, what is my motivation to explore more the island? I didn’t get a chance to play the Steam version, but I imagine that a keyboard and mouse would be an improvement as well.
Overall, this is an island that doesn’t make me want to hang around. There are some interesting characters and the game is easy enough to get into the groove of, but presentation problems and some glaring mechanical omissions has me scrambling to visit another village. However, if you go into this Animal Crossing doppelganger ready to customize, and unbothered by the repetitive nature of the quests, you might just pitch a hammock and stay awhile. Castaway Paradise is available on mobile devices as a free-to-play with in-app purchases, on PS4 and Steam for $14.99, and on Xbox One for $12.99.