I love games with a unique story or goal. When I saw Island Saver by NatWest for free on the Nintendo Switch eShop, I didn’t hesitate for a second. While playing, it suddenly dawned on me. The publishers of this game is an actual English bank from Westminster. Is this free game a hidden ad for their bank or is it a fun game? Or is it something else? Well, allow me to tell you about my experience as a Belgian citizen who doesn’t know anything about the English banking system what my 100% honest thoughts and opinions are! Meanwhile, I also invite you to write a comment about your thoughts and/or opinions on the content of this article and/or the game in the comment section down below.
Let’s save the world!
In this game, you play as an unnamed Bio Agent, and your goal is to clean up a peaceful island from pollution. You get equipped with a blaster which can vacuum and shoot out items. This also doubles as your water gun to clear out the goop on the island.
The story in this game is very light. To be brutally honest, the story isn’t anything to write home about. It’s a very generic plot. Yet, I’m going to praise it for something else. As an IT admin in two art schools here in Belgium, I have seen a lot of “edutainment” games that try to teach children things. But most of these applications and games I have seen are mostly exercise machines with a pretty skin.
Not in this game! The basic mechanics and idea’s of taxes and the risks of pollution are explained with mechanics. You also get from time to time, quick and small pop-ups referring to the real world. But, these are far and few between it isn’t a problem at all. This game really reminded me of those old school Humongous Entertainment games, those that sneak actual education in their games without it feeling like a lesson.
NatWest also provided some nice work sheets together with this game on their website for teachers and parents to use. Yet, nothing about this is forced into this game. All these mechanics feel natural in this game, and it all flows extremely well.
Now, what is it that you have to do in this game? Well, in this game you go to various islands to go from area to area, to clean it all up and help the animals living on the island. You do this by vacuuming up all the trash in the area so that plants can grow. You deposit this trash in the correct recycle bin while these animals eat from the plants. These animals are special bank animals, which have to fill up to be saved. As soon as you have saved all the animals in a certain area, you can move on to the next one.
There are a few other mechanics, like you can only store 20 items of the same kind per inventory slot. You also have to clean the goop left by the enemies in this game. But here is one of the first negative things about this game. This game does have enemies but besides undoing some cleaning progress and temporary ink your screen… They don’t do much.
We are so close, oh so close.
The disappointing enemies are the perfect example of one of the biggest flaws in this game. This game is way too easy. Because of this, the game barely has any challenge.
Yet, the gameplay loop of cleaning up the island can be enjoyable for some people. Especially if you enjoy games like Slime Rancher. But there is no real risk in this game.
You could argue that the challenge can come from collecting the special twenty items on the island. But, that’s an optional collectable. When I finished the first island, I found 17/20 without even really trying. So, even that isn’t challenging.
So, let’s see if there is any challenge to be found in this game? Let’s see, you sometimes have to buy seeds to progress from the in-game store. But wait, the game showers you with coins… I can’t remember one moment where I didn’t have enough coins to purchase what I needed.
I’d talk about various other examples, but the biggest issue is that this game doesn’t have enough meat around its bones. And then, the cracks start to show. Because of the repetitive nature of this game, it’s better played in short bursts. And to be quite frank, if you have played the free islands… The DLC islands don’t offer too many new things to justify the asking price.
It’s a shame, since a lot more could have been done with the world that was created here. Maybe we could have used the trash we vacuumed up to create new houses for the animals, or maybe we had to water the plants more than once to make them give off their fruit. But, alas, the game stays too much on the surface level and doesn’t dare to dive into the depth of its possibilities.
I wish it did since there is a lot of potential here. Visually, this game looks amazing. Colorful and family friendly. It’s also easy to understand so the tutorials are short, sweet and to the point. But, then the game lacks a map screen so, it’s a pain to find certain areas when you get lost in the later parts of the level. It’s also a pain to sometimes find a full bank animal in a large area… Since, when a bank animal is filled, it stays in place until you vacuum out the coins from its belly. Yeah, these bank animals are basically walking piggy banks.
The animation in this game is adorable and works really well. Together with the clean UI, it quickly shows the player all the information that you need… But, then finding the enemies can be a pain with the annoying radar. You barely see the distance between you and the enemy. And on top of that, the amount of times the enemies just stopped in front of me, so I could shoot them. It’s painful.
Beware, it breaks.
It’s clear that a lot of passion and love was put into this game. The joyful and relaxing music and charming sound effects are another examples of that. This is a game you can wind down with and relax.
At one hand, I miss some challenge in this game… But, on the other hand it’s still enjoyable to have a game that you can wind down with after a long day at work.
The fact that this free game isn’t riddled with microtransactions left and right is a blessing. The only content you’ll have to pay for are two optional, additional levels. But, here is where I have to report on something. I don’t know yet if this is a freak occurrence but, in one of the DLC levels, the game broke for me.
Broke as in, really broke completely. Just look at the following Tweet I posted yesterday. So, some background. Quite often I play games I want to review on the train from and to work. During one train ride, my game decided to crash during a cutscene that would allow me to go to the next area. Now, I think some variables got flipped but not all. And sadly, the automatic saving system screwed me over here.
Since, when I reloaded that save after rebooting the game, I was unable to vacuum up any items. The gun kept being stuck in the vacuum mode and my rumble went into overdrive. And when I tried to open the pause menu or the menu to summon a bank animal to ride… The game went into a full softlock. This is a situation where a game keeps working, but almost everything locks up, and you can’t do anything about it. Sadly, to recover from this, I had to fully wipe my save file and restart everything. It’s a shame to see that certain softlocks and bugs are still in the game. Thankfully, a lot of the reported ones got fixed but, I don’t see this issue getting fixed almost 2 years after release.
Just like I don’t have high hopes of seeing the power-ups coming to the game. Since, it always says: “coming soon”… But the last update to this game was in September 2020.
Yet, I don’t think I can complain too much. I mean, this is a free game released during a pandemic. Also, when you look at the website of the developer Storm Cloud Games, this is the first game that greets you. It’s also released for free on almost every platform. The amount of work that this would have taken is just insane.
Overall, this game is clearly an edutainment children game that put entertainment first. With easy to learn and easy to master controls, this game is quite enjoyable to play in short bursts but the lack of depth in the game and the repetitive nature of the game makes you wish for a bit more. The game has the charm but not the “umph“. I’m honestly afraid that other similar games like Slime Rancher blow it out of the water.
Would I recommend playing this game? Yes, I do recommend it for casual players who are looking for an enjoyable charming adventure game. But, don’t set your bar too high… Since, this game doesn’t dare to go deeper into the ocean than dipping its toes into it. But, maybe that’s enough to have an enjoyable train ride to school or work for you.
But, with that said, I have said everything about this game I wanted to say for now. I hope you enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it. I hope to be able to welcome you in the future, but until then, have a great rest of your day and take care.