Mar 30, 2012

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The Island: Castaway Review

The Island: Castaway Review

The theme of being castaway on a remote island is a recurring one in film and literature, and has even popped up in a few video games. The Island: Castaway by G5 Games puts you in just that situation: after a tsunami hits your cruise ship, you find yourself on an unknown island along with a few other survivors. You must gather supplies in order to eke out a living in your new world. Utilizing elements of time management and strategy with some light RPG tropes, is Castaway worth your time, or should you stay away from this island?

You play as Tom, a young man determined to make things work despite being stranded. It isn’t long before you meet several other survivors, including a sailor who teaches you recipes, a young woman with a knack for gardening that helps you grow crops, and a Native American named Mike (yes, Mike) who teaches you to fish, among other things. As you explore the island, you can gather fruit and wood, and soon you learn to fish, catch crabs, and hunt to supplement your diet. Exploring the island uses energy, and you need to eat to refill it, so learning how to cook early will help so you don’t end up being slowed down when you run out of fuel. Eventually, you’ll encounter a village of locals, whom you’ll befriend and help you unlock the secrets of the island.

The game uses a simple quest system, in which different people will ask you for something; sometimes you will need to accomplish someone else’s quest in order to complete the initial one. For example, at one point someone asks you to get him vegetables, but you can’t grow vegetables until you’ve helped one of the villagers find her herbs so she can teach you how to farm (and give you seeds). Part of the fun of the game is exploring the island and discovering new items to collect, and even though the quest system is fairly simplistic, it is enjoyable, especially since you’ll earn “trophies” (which equate to Game Center achievements) for different accomplishments, such as how much you’ve explored of the island, how many recipes you’ve unlocked, etc.

The touch controls work very well for the most part. You touch the screen where you want Tom to walk, and touch an item you want to add to your inventory. You can also use the map to tap the star (corresponding to different characters) to have Tom walk there (especially helpful later once you start exploring caves). Yellow stars on the map (or exclamation points above a character on the game screen) indicate the person has a quest for you. If their star is white, they don’t have anything; red means you have a quest in progress but haven’t fulfilled the requirements yet, while green means you can talk to them to complete your task.

Fishing also works easily; you tap on the dark water to cast your line, wait for the fish to grab hold of the bait, then tap, tap, tap slowly (watching the meter) to reel it in. Catching crabs is a little trickier, since you have to get close and tap on the crab to throw your net, but the game sometimes registers you as tapping to walk, so you scare the crab away. However, with a little practice you get the hang of it, and there are enough crabs on the beach that you shouldn’t have too many issues. The biggest control issue I had was with hunting. You eventually get a bow, but you need to purchase arrows from the village (although you can also learn how to make your own later), which enables you to shoot and kill wild boar for meat. To do so, you tap on the animal to shoot, but again, I also had some issues with the game misinterpreting my taps and would end up getting attacked or wasting arrows. Every time you’re attacked, your energy drops; you need to eat something or you’ll pass out and wind up back on the beach. Later you’re able to purchase upgrades for your bow that reduce the amount of arrows it takes to kill a boar, and you also learn how to make a protective potion that will keep them from attacking you, which makes this easier.

One thing I did find surprising is the game is fully voiced; every character description is narrated, and every character has their own voice and speaks all their lines. While the voice acting isn’t always the best, it’s obvious the dev (and their voice actors) put effort into the experience, and combined with the sound effects and music, makes the experience more vibrant than it would be otherwise. I also really appreciate that the game gives you the option to mute the sound completely or adjust the volumes individually for the music and sound; not having sliders for these features is a huge pet peeve of mine for iOS games. To really appreciate the sound, I suggest hooking up headphones, though. I did have an issue occasionally, though, when the sound would drop out completely for periods of time in the game, sometimes coming back when I reached a new area. I’m not sure if this is a bug or not, but it was a little annoying, especially since the sound is so good in the game that you really miss it when it’s gone.

As far as graphics go, it’s nothing special, although the 2D portraits during dialogs are very detailed, and the colorful environments and well animated characters enhance the experience. Still, this is a port of a PC game, and it may remind you of some of previous generation PC titles. This isn’t a criticism, but don’t expect the most mind-blowing graphics when you play this game. The game is played in landscape mode, although it will allow you to flip the screen to find the orientation you prefer, which makes it easier if you’re using headphones to keep them out of the way of your fingers.

The game autosaves regularly, and playing on my iPhone 4S, I didn’t experience any issues with app switching and losing progress, although you may find yourself playing the game for long stretches at a time anyway. I’m not sure if the game itself was a battery drainer or I was simply so engrossed in it, but I definitely had to stop playing because my battery nearly died more than once while playing for this review.

That said, you will definitely get your money’s worth in terms of playtime with this game. I honestly expected a short, 2-3 hour experience when I first started playing, but was surprised that the game will probably take you at least ten hours, maybe longer, to play through the entire story. Unless you don’t get all the trophies on your first playthrough (which you should), there really isn’t any reason to replay the game, though, but honestly, I didn’t mind because the experience was so enjoyable. It also ends on a cliffhanger, preparing you for the sequel (which is available on PC but not yet on iOS), so I could definitely see myself replaying it when the sequel is released.

If you enjoy a casual adventure/time management/light RPG, then you’ll enjoy The Island: Castaway. It has high production values for a casual iOS game, and will keep you entertained for at least a week or two if you play regularly, more if you’re a more infrequent gamer. I don’t want to end up stranded on an island, but if I have to, I hope it’s as fun as this game.

The Island: Castaway
Platform: iPhone
Genre: Simulation
Release Date: March 15, 2012
Developer: Awem Studio
Publisher: G5 Entertainment
ESRB Rating: 4+
MSRP: Free; $4.99 to unlock full game