Castaway Paradise is, to put it bluntly, a budget Animal Crossing game with a hint of Harvest Moon. Originally released on mobile devices back in 2014, Stolen Couch Games have since released it on Steam and now PS4 and Xbox One. The game has been adapted for non-mobile devices by removing all in-app purchases and adjusting the in-game timers to make it more accessible for gamers who buy it at full price up-front. I guess the question is, did the developer make a decent job of the port or are the microtransaction timers still obstructive within the console version?
I both like and dislike the story to Castaway Paradise as it’s fun and family friendly yet its ‘plot’ is littered with as many holes as a giant piece of swiss cheese! Our story begins when our protagonist is out in his small boat one day just bobbing along without a care in the world. Suddenly, the oceans begin to get rough, the clouds darken and before they knew it, they were capsized and sent down to Davey Jones’ locker! Before too long, a kelp creature emerges from the depths upon the shore of a mysterious island, a creature who is soon unveiled to be our protagonist covered in, you guessed it, kelp! You’re greeted by the Mayor of the town, Viktoria, and it’s here where you decide if you’re a boy or a girl – I like how the kelp covered up everything until this point so that the intro doesn’t have to be changed regardless of what you pick.
Once you’ve chosen your gender, Viktoria explains that all of the houses and special buildings were destroyed on ‘Castaway Paradise‘ and they would love it if you could give them a hand in rebuilding their small town. Without any hesitation, you agree to help and set off to introduce yourself to the rest of the inhabitants upon this small floating land. Now, my first issue with the story as a whole begins here. The island is called ‘Castaway Paradise‘ yet they have a working ship and submarine, so surely they could return to the mainland whenever they want? They never even offer to take out character back home either – they make out like “now you’re here, you can’t leave”. I know it’s only a game, but as soon as I saw the boat at the dock, I was wondering how I could steal it and go home!
Anyway, I digress! Your mission here is to raise enough money to rebuild all the buildings, fill the museum back up with all the lost items, help out the villagers with their mundane tasks and perform a bit of gardening on the side. If I’m being honest, the story is quite similar to Animal Crossing only Castaway Paradise has made a few crucial mistakes which I feel have made the game too easy and ‘simple’.
I like the way you look and feel!
Castaway Paradise is very user-friendly in terms of its controls. Everything is clearly shown on the screen along with it’s allocated button prompts at all times. For example, you move with the Left Stick (as expected), Square is your ‘use tool’ button, Triangle is your inventory, Cross is you ‘action button and Circle is to cancel an action/choice, and the D-pad picks a new tool. As well as the controls, you always have your list of daily goals on the screen and any quests, or invitations for quests, clearly on the left-hand side of the HUD. Yet, even though there is so much information visible, nothing ever feels cluttered or obstructive. Well…
…The only issue I had with regards to the HUD and the visibility was during the tutorial in the first 10-15 minutes of the game. Whilst within this section, you had a rather massive objective banner at the top of the screen, a banner which was opaque and literally blocking out anything at the top of the screen – including if you opened the menu and tried to browse the various tabs. However, the hand-holding and obtrusive banner only last during the tutorial, once you’ve completed it you’re left to your own devices.
Okay, so what will you actually be doing in Castaway Paradise? Animal Crossing was about surviving and helping out the locals until you paid off your ever-increasing debt and Harvest Moon is about running a farm until you get married and die of old age. Castaway Paradise is a little more simple than that. Sure, you have crops you can plant and tend to if you wish and there are an infinite number of NPC fetch quests given to you, but the overall goal is to get enough money to repair everyone’s house, fix all the passageways and re-stock the museum. So, let’s talk about each aspect and then dive into where I feel the game has gone wrong in its port away from the mobile platforms, which will most likely be a controversial opinion, to be honest.
Castaway Paradise has a fair amount of crops to plant and tend too, all of which have an obligatory timer on them. This is how I knew it was once a mobile game – just like Deiland, which I reviewed a while ago. For example, you’ll plant some tomatoes and they require you to water them seven times each at various five-minute intervals in order for them to grow into ripe fruit which you can pick and sell. Now, on the mobile platform you had ‘energy’ which would deplete with every action – so watering the fruit would use it up very quickly. The console version has no stamina meter, no day/night sections, and no limited use of tools. Simply water, chop, smash, and hoe as much as you want.
The only thing left intact from the mobile version is the timer on the growth of the fruit and vegetables. The longest I’ve seen were the leeks which take approx 48 hours to grow – yes, 48 real-life hours. Thankfully, you can actually complete the game without actually planting and obtaining any of these at all – apart from when an NPC gives you a quest demanding some and for a trophy. I think it’s a great idea having these mechanics in the game, I just feel it’s a little broken – which I’ll get to soon…
Go here; Do that…
Throughout the game, you’ll be introduced to a small number of inhabitants who live upon Paradise Island. Every now and again their face will pop up in the corner of the screen which means they have a quest for you to participate in if you go and see them. These are simple requests such as grow X amount of a crop, talk to X about Y, bring me X amount of Y item and a few other random ones like burying treasure to annoy one of the other inhabitants. After a few hours, these quests can get a bit samey as you’ll be effectively doing the same thing but with a different item being requested or a different person. However, completion of these will give you experience, money and sometimes an item or a puzzle piece.
Fixing the houses:
For me, this was the second longest part of the game yet the biggest letdown. You’re tasked with financially rebuilding many of the buildings upon the island followed by the obligatory timer for the completion of the build – which was around 1-2 minutes. Upon completion, there are a few buildings, like the museum, which serves a purpose in the game but all of the other houses – including yours – are pretty much a waste of time outside of getting the trophies for doing so. You spend all your time upgrading your house from a tent to a real building just so you have access to two more rooms to place objects in. This wouldn’t be that bad if you had to return here and sleep at night, but the day never ends. I don’t think I went into my house more than twice in my entire playthrough.
The same issue lies with rebuilding everyone else’s house. Sure, the houses look great on the inside and there is so much character and personality put into each one, but the owner never goes home and you can’t interact with anything within the building. Just like with your house, if rebuilding these mean the owner would sometimes go home or maybe you could use the bakery to buy bread, for example, it would have added so much more to the experience and motivation to fix up these houses.
Fixing the passages:
Again, I believe this process is broken but I’ll explain what it is first. As you help out the villagers, you’ll sometimes be given XP, Gems, an item, a puzzle piece or a mixture of all of these. You unlock bridges and doorways by using nine ‘puzzle pieces’ on their signpost. The issue here is that the puzzle pieces can be obtained elsewhere without even performing any side missions. Plus, they are called ‘puzzle pieces’ yet all you do is place them on the sign and the gate/bridge opens. If it was an actual puzzle then that would have added to the process.
Stock the museum:
Anyone who has played an Animal Crossing game will know how long it takes to perform this action! Castaway Paradise is no different with this part most likely accounting for the longest time you’ll spend in the game. You’re rewarded trophies for delivering a certain amount of each bug, fish, and shell collections to the curator. For the completionist out there, you’re also rewarded a trophy for finding and donating every single one of these as well. Thankfully, unlike some other games, the fishing is much easier and more accessible with a simple button press when the cursor hovers over a green marker – a bit like in Deiland. It’s not super strict as well, so nobody should have an issue with it.
Bugs are caught a little different than similar games as well as you’re required to slowly creep up on the unsuspecting creepers as you wave your bug catching net at them. The fun thing with both the bugs and the fish is that everything you catch has its size displayed upon successful capture and you’re ranked against everyone else who has played the game that week. Even if you find a boot or a can of tuna in the sea, it will rank how big the can was that you found compared to everyone else – which I thought was a neat addition. I even spotted quite a few people I know in the list as it popped up.
Okay, so aside from the above, you also have various things you can do around the town in order to raise a little capital to help you with your renovation projects. One of the most original aspects I’ve seen in a game like this is the ability to dabble in the three stock markets which are present in the game. Here you can see what the stock prices are, if they are going up or down and if you wish to buy or sell up to 20 options at a time. It’s a fun distraction but with the lack of a day to day cycle within the game, it felt a little off. I feel AC did it well with it’s ‘Turnips’ exchange, even though that was very random and not literally stocks like it is in Castaway Paradise.
You can also purchase a tonne of items and clothing from the in-game shop with all the money you’ll amass within Castaway Paradise. As you can see in my images, my guy decided to buy a dress and proceeded to wear that for a few hours! There are no restrictions on what clothes you can and can’t wear on this island! Seriously though, the developers have given us plenty of things to splash our cash on in order to pimp out our home and dress the way we want. I just wish we had to go to our house in order to see what we’ve done, as I mentioned earlier.
Another thing you can do in the town hall is put your money in the bank. I really liked this idea but I feel it’s a little backwards. You can invest a small amount for five minutes and you get back 150% – if you put in a bigger amount for longer, you get less increase on your money. I put in 2k with a 30% increase over six hours. So, I’ll end up with 2,600 after six hours. If I had invested 100 gems every five minutes then I would have paid in 7,200 gems and got back 10,800. I imagine it’s done like this because nobody will sit there for six hours and put in money every five minutes, but still – I would have thought the longer the money was in the bank, the higher the payback would have been? Although, this whole process is pointless when you look at the game-breaking issue…
Okay, I’m not going to go into detail with my process here as it effectively breaks the game due to a few glitches and unintentionally helpful ‘side-effects’ I found. However, you can technically make over 100k within a few minutes and then make the same amount less than five minutes later – over and over again. I also figured out how to unlock all the items and gear above your level which you shouldn’t have access to. If I stumbled upon this then others will as well. The developers are well aware though and they are looking at balancing the game to make it more enjoyable and rewarding – if you ‘cheat’ your way through the game then it kind of ruins the whole experience. You can also use this ‘unlawful’ money to buy Puzzle Pieces, which effectively means you don’t have to wait for them to randomly drop in NPC quests.
The graphics within Castaway Paradise are so reminiscent of Animal Crossing and even Minecraft to an extent with its blocky look and feel to it. Everything is really colourful and bright with its bold look and child-friendly aesthetic. I could literally play the game for hours and never grow tired of seeing the creative characters walking around and the cute new species of fish of bug I capture today. The game also states that it’s Summer at the moment and it seems it may be hinting that the game is going to swap seasons but I’ve not seen it do that yet so I can’t be sure if it will. I would love to see other seasons play out within the game, even if they were added as small updates along with new trophies for you to capture all of the season-specific creatures.
Soundwise, the sound effects work well and there is no voice acting, just like in the games it took inspiration from. The only thing which could annoy some people is the music. Personally, I really enjoyed it as I started humming along to it as I played and it was a nice tune to play along too, but it does repeat quite often and it’s very obvious. The main issue here is that the game was initially made to be played in short bursts on a mobile device, so you would only play 15-30 minutes at a time. On Consoles, you could literally spend hours at a time playing and progressing in the game, so you’re going to notice the repetition of the music a lot more than a mobile user.
Okay, so did I have fun playing Castaway Paradise? Despite the issues and points I made above… yes, I did! I sunk in about 5-7 hours the first night I got it and around 3 more hours last night. The main appeal and crux of the game lie in its collection stage. You must capture and donate every single shell, bug, and sea-life creature in order to work your way towards the platinum – this is by far the longest part of the game and what you’ll spend the majority of your time working towards. Also, if you don’t use the glitch or the developer fixes it, then you’ll also have to complete chores like smashing rocks, chopping wood, helping others, and building things so that you can unlock the higher-tier plants and seeds for another trophy.
As a casual “play for 10-20 minutes a day” game, I can see this lasting you a long time – not as long as something like Stardew Valley, but long enough to justify it’s asking price. It just needs a bit of balancing here and there as the transition from mobile to consoles has kinda tipped it too much in favour of the player and made it so you can blitz through it faster than I feel you should be able to do so. If you play the game legit and don’t see and abuse the various mechanics, like I did, then I can see this game bring really enjoyable for younger children and those who want an Animal Crossing fix on Nintendos rival platforms.
One thing I would have liked this game to do is to go handheld with the Vita. This game is perfect for it as it is technically a mobile game – you even have ‘daily bonuses’ for booting up the game up to seven days in a row. I can imagine more people would grab it if it was on the vita as they would play it on journeys, in bed, on the toilet, on the bus etc… for short bursts at a time. Personally, I feel that’s what this game is – best played in short bursts in order to get the most enjoyment out of it rather than blitzing through it and seeing everything there is to offer within 4-6 hours.
Castaway Paradise is a great alternative to Animal crossing which can be played on rival platforms. Mechanics and processes have bled through from the original mobile version into the console port and while most of them have adapted well, there are some which have been heavily balanced in favour of the player. Usually, that wouldn’t be a bad thing, but I feel this game should be time-consuming and more involved rather than handing you everything on a plate like certain things do at the moment.
That being said, I really enjoyed playing the game and I’m obsessed with trying to complete my museum of random creatures and shells! Don’t expect the game to last as long as Animal Crossing, but you can easily get over 15 hours out of this little gem if you aim for the platinum.
- Cute aesthetic design
- The fishing, bug catching, harvesting and farming are addictive
- Always new quests for you to do if you don't know what to do next
- Simple controls
- Plenty of items to buy, tools to upgrade and clothes to wear
- The quests can get a bit samey after a while
- The game has been balanced to much in favour of the player, making it too easy to breeze through
- At launch, there are a few glitches which you can take advantage of to effectively cheat the system
- Not a negative but I would have loved to see this on the Vita