During my youth, banks and building societies would often offer small gifts to entice new customers. Things that would appeal to students, generally, including OurPrice vouchers and season train tickets. It was believed once a customer had signed up they would remain with that bank for life, so it made sense to lure people in at an early age.
That was back in the ‘80s and ‘90s – times have changed. In this digital age, Natwest Bank clearly believes a free game is the best way to get the kids on board.
Island Saver – available on PC, PS4, Xbox One and Switch – is a child-friendly first-person adventure with educational value and an environmental theme. A combination of the indie hit Slime Rancher and Rare’s Viva Pinata, if you will, starring a cast of colourful animals (Bankimals) and a main character armed with a tool used to inhale and exhale objects.
The gameplay loop is simple, yet rather compelling – it’s your job to vacuum up the plastic bottles strewn around a tropical island, while using jets of water to remove the ominous black goo from the fauna and flora. After restoring trees and bushes to their natural beauty they start to produce fruit and nuts, which in turn attracts animals.
After gorging themselves the colourful critters become full, turning into overstuffed piggy banks. Once the cash has been inhaled and all Bankimals saved, it’s time to move onto the next area, which each having its own hazards and features. Over 40 Bankimals feature in total, some of which can be ridden to access new locations, or require extra coaxing.
The educational value lies within the cash the critters cough up – it must be banked, which requires opening a faux Natwest account, including a pin number. Over the course of the adventure such thrilling things as taxes, interest rates, and loans come into play – every 10th coin earned is collected by a tax robot, and tax coins are required to empty recycle bins.
There’s also an online store that’s used to purchase seeds and extra gizmos – complete with a faux facial recognition system – as well as a bunch of collectable ‘nest eggs’ to find.
As a free release, Island Saver isn’t bad at all. Its messages are clear and concise, and visually it’s reasonably accomplished – the characters are expressive and full of personality, and the brightly coloured gameworld is inviting to explore. It’s also simple enough for children to grasp thanks to using a similar inventory system to Minecraft.
Calling it one of 2020’s biggest surprises would be a little off the mark, but I have no qualms in calling it a pleasant way to spend a few hours.