I’ve played a number of promotional and ‘tie-in’ games over the years, from the creepy ‘Sneak King’ game from Burger King to the rather disturbing ‘Kitten Squad’ from PETA, but I think this is the first time I’ve played a game published by a UK bank. Island Saver is a FREE Edutainment title aimed at 6-12-year-olds published by NatWest Bank, a title which aims to both entertain and educate children on both financial and environmental issues. However, despite the target audience being much lower than my age (35), I thoroughly enjoyed the eleven hours I spent within this innocent and colourful adventure.
Although published by NatWest Bank, Island Saver was developed by Stormcloud Games, a team who previously helped out on the Crackdown 3 multiplayer and developed the rather unique Brut@l. As there doesn’t appear to be any experience with first-person games on PC or consoles in their list of previous projects, I was sceptical at first that the game would be rather simple and offer little enjoyment to anyone outside of the target audience. However, as you’ll soon find out, I was silly to think such things as this game is easily one of my favourite Free-to-Play games of the generation.
So, grab your debit card and your paying-in book and come with me as we head to the Savvy islands to help out our new friends…
Island Saver is a double entendre, you’re both on the island trying to save the wildlife and flora, and you’re also on the island saving up your money (as the game is published by a bank). Our protagonist is a faceless hero who has arrived upon the beach to find that the once beautiful and colourful remote islands have now become victims to trash, a bunch of plastic, glass, and cans are scattered all around, making the place not only look a mess but also uninhabitable by the previous animals (known as Bankimals – animal piggy banks) who used to live there. So, with the help of your trusty Trash Blaster, it’s up to you to clean up the trash and entice the creatures back.
But, things aren’t going to be as easy as it sounds. Whereas here in the UK, if you leave out a load of trash for long enough you’ll end up with mice, the Savvy Islands have attracted a more ‘sinister’ vermin, the Litterbugs! These pesky guys like the mess and love ‘glooping’ all over the things you’ve just cleaned as well as stealing any unclaimed money you’ve left on the ground. Thankfully, these pesky foes are easily taken care of with a splash of water, the secondary feature of your Blaster, so you’re well-equipped to take care of all dangers thrown at you.
Your objective is to clean the island, rehabilitate the Bankimals, collect and deposit the doubloons you find, and then make it to the end of the island and leave, unlocking the next location for you to investigate. Surprisingly, although being FREE with no microtransactions, wait-timers, or hidden charges, you have full access to three islands in the base game, each taking around two to three hours to complete. There’s even a fourth island which you can purchase, which I’ll talk about later, but it’s not an essential purchase if you’re wanting to get 100% of the trophies – the base game contains them all.
So, the premise is quite simple, but what about the actual gameplay? Let’s take a look…
Island Saver reminded me of a number of games in terms of the visuals and the mechanics. Mechanic-wise, I was reminded of the incredibly fun Slime Rancher, a game in which you suck up slimes and then breed them on your ranch. The similarities end at the fact you suck up things with your weapon, but the visuals are also very similar. You’ll be sucking up money, fruit, foreign currencies, and even animal poop for use in home-made fertilisers. But, just like in Slime Rancher, the Trash Blaster has two settings – suck and blow! So, you’ll also be shooting out all the trash and money you pick up and ‘feeding’ various deposits scattered around the islands.
Another game which I instantly thought of was Viva Pinata, the RARE classic in which you have to create the perfect conditions for the wild animals to visit followed by feeding them the right things to make them stay. As you clean the islands by washing away the gloop and disposing of the trash, colourless animals will return to the beaches and forests. In order to restore their colours and make them want to stay, you need to grow their favourite food and then feed it to them until they’re literally about to burst! Once they’ve ‘showered you with coins’, they’ll become permanent residents and adore you forever, some will even let you ride them!
Finally, there is a hint of Journey to the Savage Planet in the gameplay, in terms of the simple Metroidvania aspect. Remember, Island Saver is a game intended to be played by 6-12-year-olds, so don’t expect difficult puzzles or complicated navigation, but it does have enough mechanics to keep things interesting. For example, you’ll unlock two animals per island which let you ride them, these allow you to get to new areas, break objects, or smash up large piles of trash. So, although the islands are linear, you do open up shortcuts and discover hidden (literal) Easter Eggs as you explore.
Okay, Island Saver is a game by NatWest Bank, a FREE game which is intended for children – so, are they up to something? Are there subliminal messages that pop up as you play, telling your kids to open up a bank account, take out credit cards, and run into debt with massive loans? No, don’t be silly. It’s a very innocent game which aims to inform and educate whilst providing fun for people of all ages without getting too technical or in-depth. Even though I really enjoyed it now, I would have also loved it if I had something like this to play as a kid.
As you play through the game, there are various loading screen ‘hints’ which tells you things about banking aimed at children (with jokes and simple language) and various characters will discuss the task at hand – which often involves money or environmental issues. For example, one of the islands requires you to get a loan as you don’t have the money for an update. However, NatWest declines your application and instead, a literal Loan Shark appears and offers you a ‘better’ deal. Once you’ve accepted the Shark’s deal, you soon find out that you end up paying him much more than you would the bank due to the dodgy practices he uses.
There’s even a part where you’re scammed, along with a lesson that “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” and you even gain interest for the money you’ve stored in the bank (which is more interest than I get with my bank in real life!).
As a secondary education point, Island Saver casually teaches you about various environmental issues as you play. Don’t worry though, Greta Thunberg won’t appear on screen shouting “how dare you!” every time a Litterbug gloops on the colourful plants and trees – although that would have been hilarious, kinda like how Dan Forden pops up and says “Toasty” in Mortal Kombat. But I digress…
Not only are you washing the gloop off the land and throwing the trash into the recycle bins, but you’ll also be using the trash to create various structures as you move to the later islands in order to encourage children to do the same. One thing which I found quite surprising is that the Bankimals, who will casually eat their favourite food and get on with their life if you’re ignoring them, will actually try and eat the rubbish if you’ve not tidied it up. This results in them ‘getting their slot blocked with trash’, requiring you to suck the rubbish out of them so they can breath/survive.
Although funny to look at, as they wobble around and inflate due to having their slot contaminated (where you put your coins), it’s a nice way of showing younger children that waste materials can seriously harm animals as they don’t know the difference between food and plastic, and who’s going to save the poor bloated monkey on Savvy Island when Mr. Protagonist isn’t around? Exactly, nobody!
However, just like the financial part of the game, I didn’t feel either aspect overshadowed the gameplay. I played the entire game almost in one sitting (I fell asleep for a few hours in between playing it), and I became addicted to the actual gameplay – it’s a really, really fun game – whether your a kid or an adult and whether you’re playing for educational purposes or simply because you want to casually clean up a few islands.
I mentioned at the very beginning that there is a single piece of DLC available for Island Saver, this is Dinosaur Island. We were kindly given this DLC as part of the review but it’s retailing at £3.99 on the PSN store. Now, after playing through it I would happily recommend picking it up if you wish to add a further 2-3 hours onto your playtime with the game, but there’s one issue – no trophies. I believe this is the first time I’ve ever seen a paid DLC without any dedicated trophies – I imagine it’s because the base game is Free-to-play. So, although I recommend picking it up, for reasons I’ll get into next, you can 100% the game by completing all three islands in the free edition (there is no platinum).
So, why do I recommend this DLC pack – dinosaurs! You can ride the T-rex, fly around on a Pteranodon, and rescue a number of dinosaurs, all with their own quirky personalities and designs. Also, this particular island has a more robust story attached to it which revolves around you helping pay off Newton’s debts in order to unlock more of the island. Although the story is fun and a nice ‘feel-good’ experience, I’m not sure what it’s teaching children. The inventor has taken out loans, fallen behind, and then had all his utilities cut off, leaving him literally in the dark. Thankfully you, a stranger, come along and go out of your way to raise the money and pay off everything whilst he sits there doing nothing.
It’s almost as if it’s imitating of GoFundMe!
But, I enjoyed the dinosaurs, the dialogue was funny, and it expanded the game by a further three hours, bringing my total playtime up to around eleven hours for the entire game – not bad for £3.99. Also, I’ve just read that all proceeds of this DLC (and possibly another one in the near future) will be going to both Young Money and SpecialEffect charities.
The game is trying to teach kids how to handle their money. You can exchange foreign currencies to get the best exchange rate (which is fun), buy seeds to plant so you can grow the food your colourless Bankimals need, and you can play around with the silly unlockables. If the money you’ve collected is really burning a hole in your pocket, you can buy paintballs which changes the colour of the Bankimals every time you throw one at them, or even purchase a bunch of silly hats for them to wear. These don’t really ‘do’ anything, but it’s always funny seeing a T-rex with a traffic cone on its head!
Does it feel like a F2P game?
No… In a good way! There’s no timers, no hidden charges, no adverts (outside of the NatWest branded objects), and no multiplayer. Island Saver is a single-player experience which delivers around eight hours of Edutainment enjoyment for the grand total of £0.00.
Although the game is very simple and colourful (clearly for the younger audience), I really liked the design the developers went for, it made it feel fun and very appealing. The design of the Bankimals were very playful and each one has its own personality, further bringing the world to life as they got on with their own thing whilst I ran around like a headless chicken trying to suck up all the trash. After playing the game, I feel confident in saying that I’m surprised this is a free game as it’s the kind of game I would happily pay money for. As such, I really hope the developers create something similar, but bigger, in the future.
As far as Free-to-Play titles go, Island Saver is easily one of the best to play for a single-player Edutainment experience. Whether you’re saving up your money with NatWest so you can buy a new upgrade, or you’re washing the gloop off a tree so you can feed a depressed Bankimal, you’ll always have something to do as you explore the three Savvy islands. The education is subtle but presented in a way that children will understand, all whilst you’re playing a very enjoyable and fun game with solid gameplay mechanics and a very colourful visual design.
Seeing as the game is FREE and on pretty much every platform (PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Steam), with a mobile version coming soon, there’s no excuse not to go and download it right now! If you enjoy the game and want to support both Young Money and SpecialEffect, the £3.99 Dinosaur Island DLC adds a new island to the game with a new story and Bankimals to save – I personally enjoyed playing it.
For more information on Island Saver, or for activities to play with your children regarding money and the things you do in the game, check out the dedicated website here: http://www.islandsaver.co.uk/
- - Solid gameplay mechanics which are very addictive
- - Very colourful and bright with a fun art design
- - Costs literally nothing to play and obtain all trophies
- - Educates subtly whilst playing
- - Takes around 6-8 hours to fully complete
- - No additional trophies for the DLC