This weekend I’ve been playing Alba: A Wildlife Adventure, the most wholesome and delightful game I’ve experienced this year. It’s a game that instantly caught my eye when I saw it was coming to the PS5, with its bright colours, casual and relaxing gameplay, and ‘edutainment’ aspects. Once I started playing it, I found it very hard to put down until I’d seen everything, saved the day, and ensured the wildlife were safe and happy, a stark contrast to the other game I’ve been playing over the weekend…
Alba: A Wildlife Adventure was developed by ustwo games, the developer behind the BAFTA-Award winning Monument Valley and the intuitive Assemble with Care. The game originally launched back in December 2020 on Steam, Mac, and within the Apple Arcade subscription, yet it made its way to consoles on the 9th of June 2021, last week. I’ve reviewed the PlayStation 5 version of the game, so that’s what my experience will be based upon, but you can pick it up on the PS4, Xbox One and Series consoles, the Nintendo Switch, and the aforementioned PC and iOS.
In regards to the PlayStation version, I’ll dive into this later on but ensure you buy the correct game for your system as there is both a PS4 and PS5 version on sale, neither comes with a free copy on the other platform – unlike the Xbox version…
Alba: A Wildlife Adventure is the story of a young girl named Alba, who surprisingly finds herself on an adventure that involves wildlife. She’s gone to visit her grandparents on a Mediterranean island, a small close-knit community where everyone knows each other’s names, they look out for one another, and any changes to the island ultimately affects each and every one of those who live there. This short break was meant to be a time to soak in the sun, enjoy the natural wildlife, and reunite with an old friend who you’ve not seen in a while… but where the fun in a predictable and boring holiday?!
Your first adventure begins when you discover a stranded animal in danger, summoning all of the locals to help you save this poor defenceless creature from certain doom. In doing so, you not only gain yourself a new friend of the animal variety but you and your human friend decide your task in life (or at least the remaining days upon the island) is to seek out and save any animals in distress, forming a ‘wildlife league’ duo. It’s all very harmless and relaxing, taking pictures of creatures to identify them, saving smaller animals who may be covered in oil or have their heads stuck in those plastic rings around cans, and fixing broken birdhouses. But, then things get more serious.
Early on in the game, the true goal becomes apparent; the mayor has authorised a new hotel to be built upon the nature reserve, destroying many animal’s houses and potentially ruining the beauty of this small peaceful island. So, you must set out to do what any kid would do in this instance, collect 50 signatures opposing the erection and save the animals! But, time is against you as you only have a few days before you must head home – can you gather all the signatures, catalogue all the animals, and answer calls of help from both humans and creatures alike? I believe in you so yes, yes you can…
You gain new ‘abilities’ as you play Alba: A Wildlife Adventure, allowing you to perform new actions as the days count down to your dismissal from the island. The tool you’ll find yourself using more often than not is the smartphone, or at least the camera within the smartphone. Your main task, other than trying to save the wildlife, is to catalogue and document everything you see, so explore the island and whip out your camera whenever you see something new and take a picture, just as you do in Pokemon Snap.
Once you’ve taken a picture of your prey, you’ll unlock their entry in your notebook as well as receive a polaroid which you can use to place upon the viewing decks to replace the worn-out images that tell people which animals live in that region. What’s the point? The more things you repair, creatures you find, and tasks you complete for various people, the more appealing the island becomes for new tourists and wildlife enthusiasts. By bringing more people to the island, or diverting attention to the current inhabitants, you’ll gain their signatures to preserve the natural beauty and oppose the construction of the hotel.
You have a handy clipboard with your goals placed upon it, keeping track of any daily quests or those given to you by local inhabitants. Generally, you’ll be asked to take pictures of certain creatures, clean up all the trash off the island, and photograph every animal in the game. Just as stated above, completing these leads to more signatures and people coming to the island. Although you only have a few days to finish the tasks, there’s no rush as it’s very easy to complete everything within the short time limit. However, if you don’t finish everything, once the story is over you’re placed back on the island so you can finish off exploring and completing the tasks.
This isn’t really anything to do with the gameplay, but the game utilises the haptic feedback in the DualSense controller, allowing you to feel every step you take in a way not possible on any other platform.
I let out an audible “aww” on more than one occasion whilst playing Alba: A Wildlife Adventure. The visuals are very cute, with the protagonists looking similar to a Playmobile character thanks to their ‘Karl Pilkington’-like round head, and the entire aesthetic is a low-poly simplistic design that is very pleasing to the eye and a delight to explore. The dialogue from your friend, Inés, is also cute, with her personality showing despite having no voice acting – you can ‘hear’ it with how the dialogue is written. It’s a shame there’s no voice acting, it would have added another layer to the overall experience in my opinion.
Although you are given goals each day to complete, I simply found myself just wandering around, trying to discover new creatures and see what lies in every nook and cranny of the island. It’s a very relaxing game, immersing you within the colourful world filled with the calls of animals as you trek through long grass, ruins, the small village, or through a mini-forest.
Although I found this very casual and a game I could unwind with, I wish there were secrets to be found, references to their previous games, easter eggs, or maybe a few fantastical creatures hidden away like the elusive Bigfoot. Yeah, it may have taken the game from realistic to fantasy, but it would have given the game some exciting post-game content!
My only ‘complaint’ about the game is that the developers missed a great opportunity here. Each of the animals you document are real creatures, rather than the fantastical ones I was secretly on the lookout for. However, the information you have in your notebook is simply their name in English and Latin, a picture of the animal, their location, the photo you took (although I don’t think it’s THE photo you took), and the sound it makes (so you can listen out for it). I would have loved it if the book also gave you information about the animal, even if it was just a paragraph or two – making the game educational for younger gamers.
Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed playing through the campaign and discovering all the animals on the island, but the game could have easily have been a learning tool disguised as a game thanks to its kid-friendly mechanics and entertaining gameplay. The story is good for children, teaching them that we must care for animals and the environment, picking up trash to prevent accidents, and helping out those in need. I just wish it had a little push to make it more informative without ruining the casual nature of the game.
As such, although there are some educational aspects to the game, it’s more a casual exploration photographic adventure than an experience that literally teaches you things. That’s not a negative though, as the game was very fun to play, and I’d happily buy it again on the PS4 to experience it all over again.
Technical (platform differences?)
As stated at the beginning, there’s one thing that initially stood out to me, on the PlayStation platforms you have to buy both the PS4 and PS5 versions individually, there’s no Cross-buy enabled, yet over on Xbox, they’re using Smart Delivery so it’s one purchase for both editions. As such, I don’t know why the publisher, Plug In Digital, chose to do it like this – other indie publishers such as Lightwood Games, Ratalaika Games and 10Tons all have Cross-buy on their PS4 and PS5 games.
Another thing I noticed is that the Xbox Store lists the game as having a 120fps mode – this isn’t present on the PS5, it runs at (what appears to be) 4K and 60fps. I’m not fussed about this as my TV only does 1080p at 120fps, but it seems strange that the option may only be on Xbox and not the PS5.
In terms of performance, it’s not the greatest on the PS5 in one instance, using the camera. The camera, when you open it, has a dynamic bokeh depth of field effect, adjusting as you point it at people, objects, or animals, blurring the background to enable professional-looking photos. However, this effect seems to be a bit taxing as it causes the framerate to drop quite sharply if you have the camera up and start looking around. If you move the camera slowly, it’s not too bad, but if you’re tracking an animal as it runs or flies away, you can feel the stutter. This was the only instance where I noticed any slowdown though.
Also, on a side note – the pictures you take in the game can’t be viewed at any point, there’s no album or automatic addition to the console’s photo gallery. As there’s no actual ‘photo mode’, it would have been great if taking pictures actually saved the photo you took as an image on your console (like the newer Yakuza games). This isn’t a big issue, just something I wished was a feature.
In terms of the atmosphere, the music and ambient noises make the game a delight to play. The handy ‘voice’ option in your notebook allows you to listen to the calls of each animal beforehand so that you can listen out for them when exploring, making tracking them down even more fun and immersive. I do wish the characters had voices, rather than just text, but it doesn’t affect the gameplay or take anything away from the charming dialogue as the characters personalities can easily be imagined through how they ‘talk’ to one another.
I really enjoyed my time with Alba: A Wildlife Adventure, it was a casual escape from my lockdown home-based prison which I’ve been stuck in for over a year. Exploring the small island, talking to the inhabitants, saving animals in need, and generally being a very helpful young child was a very wholesome and relaxing experience. I would have liked the game to be a little more educational and informative, allowing younger children to learn things as they play this beautiful game, but the lack of detailed information never affected my enjoyment. If you’re looking for a casual game where you can soak in the atmosphere, charm, and wholesomeness of cleaning up and helping animals in need, check out Alba: A Wildlife Adventure today – out now on pretty much every platform!
Alba: A Wildlife Adventure£15.99
- - Adorable characters in a very colourful world
- - Casual gameplay that lets you go as fast or slow as you wish, either progressing with the story or exploring the island
- - The music and ambient noises immerse you, making the game very relaxing to play
- - Suitable for people of all ages thanks to it's simple gameplay and bold visuals
- - Very wholesome and a delight to play
- - No Cross-buy, both the PS4 and PS5 versions are individual purchases
- - No educational information for the animals you take pictures of, having this would have made cataloguing them more fun and exciting in my opinion
- - If the listing is correct, it appears the Xbox Series version has a 120fps mode which isn't present on the PS5 version
- - There are some performance issues when looking aorund with your camera out, possibly due to the dynamic depth of field effect
- - The in-game camera doesn't actually take pictures and store them in your gallery or an album you can look though