The timing behind this Mediterranean adventure is impeccable. Presenting an idyllic island to explore – one that’s full of wildlife and features several picturesque resting places – it’s able to provide a taste of paradise at a time when worldwide travel is a no-go. From the sandy beaches to the quaint whitewashed town, it successfully captures the essence of visiting a tourist-friendly island, almost guaranteeing to reignite pleasant memories from any holiday spent abroad.
Its timing is perfect for another reason too – photography is the core mechanic, so if you’re hankering for something similar to New Pokémon Snap, this is a viable alternative.
You play as Alba, a young girl with a fondness for wildlife and a passion for photography – two interests that go hand in hand. After saving an endangered animal, Alba and her friend Ines form a wildlife protection agency and begin cataloguing the island’s species using a handy mobile app. A long list of birds, mostly, although there are a few surprises waiting to be discovered.
The very next day, the island’s future is jeopardised by a rash decision made by the mayor. The only way to make him see sense is to restore the disused nature reserve, tidying up the island in the process, and collect fifty signatures from the friendly townsfolk.
To snag a signature for the petition, a good deed must be performed first. Rather than this resulting in lots of tedious busywork, the majority of tasks – fixing bird boxes, picking up litter, helping animals, etc – requires no more than a few button presses. Not only does this make for swift and smooth progress, but it also makes this ideal for young gamers. There’s very little here to frustrate or confuse, especially when the task list and map are likewise just a button press away.
What then ensues is a short story spread over five days, with each day having a handful of events to discover, taking Alba from the island’s ruined castle to the rice fields below, meeting new characters along the way. Time passes after every completed event, and once dinner time rolls around – complete with an alluring sunset – the option is there to explore for a little longer or head to her grandparents’ home for the night, which in turn commences the next day.
Our playtime clocked in at 3.5 hours with an almost complete photo album. Dilly-dalliers can add another hour or two. It’s easy to find yourself constantly stopping for a few seconds to take in the views and soak up the atmosphere.
Attention has clearly gone into the sound design. Unique bird calls make each area sound distinct, from the gulls on the beaches to the sparrows and pigeons in the town. The unique sounds also make it possible to track birds you may have missed. Visually it’s equally pleasing, using a low poly and minimalistic style. There are some cute details (we particularly liked the bird feeders made from old bottles and pencils), and the behaviour of the birds is well observed – they’re skittish yet curious.
The only downer when it comes to presentation is that textures are occasionally prone to flickering. Sometimes you’ll swear there’s a bird in a nearby bush or tree when it in fact it’s simply a texture glitching in and out of existence.
In terms of gameplay mechanics alone, Alba: A Wildlife Adventure is remarkably simple. Even the core photography aspect is rudimentary – although ‘snapped’ animals are ranked by rareness, there is no scoring system to speak of.
Yet, due to the wholesome values and quaint setting, this remains a trip well worth taking. Every townsperson has a distinct personality and role to play, leading to an experience brimming with personality and memorable moments.
For younger gamers especially, this is an easy recommendation. The messages conveyed hold great moral value, and there’s plenty of variety to prevent minds from wandering thanks to the introduction of new tools. Older gamers won’t find it remotely challenging (aside from the quest to find and snap every species, perhaps) but will still likely find solace within its relaxed nature. As a relaxation tool, it’s ideal. Maybe, just maybe, it’ll awaken your inner birdwatcher too.
Alba: A Wildlife Adventure, from ustwo games, is out now on PS4, Xbox One, Switch and PC.