A beautiful summer adventure has just arrived in the build up to Christmas.
We all have those childhood summers that we wished we could return to - the ones where time seemed non-existent and all that mattered was basking in the warm glow of the sun and enjoying the company of our friends and family. Alba: A Wildlife Adventure is a game that wonderfully encapsulates these cherished memories, and at its heart, it has a very powerful message about the importance of nature. It comes from Ustwo games, a British studio, who previously found moderate success with the puzzle game Assemble with Care.
The story sees you step into the role of Alba, a young girl who is spending the summer visiting her grandparents on the gorgeous Mediterranean island of Pinar del Mar. Not long after first soaking up the sun's rays and being reunited with her long-time pal Inés, Alba learns that the island's mayor is planning to build a supersized hotel in place of the wildlife conservation area. Being understandably enraged, Alba sets out to gather signatures to try and put a stop to the mayor's money-hungry plans before she has to depart back home.
The bulk of the 2-3 hour story sees you obtaining signatures by opening the eyes of the townsfolk to the true beauty of the island. By completing selfless acts like restoring an old dilapidated castle, new creatures will flock the area and this will soon catch the headlines. The game might be bright and colourful and silly in tone, but at its heart there's a very powerful message. Its central message is that nature is something that we should cherish and that even the smallest people are capable of making an impact.
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Right from the get-go, the island of Pinar del Mar is yours to explore and you're given the freedom to photograph its many creatures, talk to its residents, and make some much-needed repairs. Something that I loved about playing Alba: A Wildlife Adventure was exploring the open world, looking for new creatures to document with my iPhone knockoff. Photographing these creatures feels a lot like Pokémon Snap and filling up my journal with all the different creatures I had sighted had the same addictive quality as filling up a Pokédex. The animal sounds in this game are also incredible. Much of the time, there's no music present, just the sounds of nature, and I often was fooled into thinking I could hear something like an owl outside my window.
Alongside cataloguing these creatures, there's also several other tasks you can complete scattered throughout the island. You can assist residents by completing small favours for them and you can help the island by cleaning up litter or repairing broken signs and birdhouses. These side quests admittedly are a little bit simple and there didn't appear to be any in-game reward for completing them, but they did feel therapeutic and gave me incentive to go back out and explore the gorgeous scenery. What is great too is that when you have finished the story you're free to continue completing leftover quests at your own leisure.
The island of Pinar del Mar is a stunning locale to explore and I was surprised at how much variety was packed into its relatively modest size. Members of Ustwo games grew up in these types of Spanish towns, and I think it really shows as it feels so faithfully recreated. There's wooded areas, a beachfront filled with tourist attractions, and also a gorgeous castle sat on top of a hill overlooking the entire town. Due to the variety, searching for different creatures and fulfilling quests never felt dull and it was easy to pinpoint my exact location.
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I found Alba: A Wildlife Adventure to be an absolute delight and one of the most therapeutic gaming experiences that I had in all of 2020. It has a gorgeous open world, which is filled with plenty of simple yet addictive tasks, and at its heart, it has a very powerful and profound message. Its central story is a little on the shorter side however, and I can't say that it presents a great deal of challenge, but really, these are only minor weaknesses. If you're looking for something heart-warming and easy-going to unwind with after a long week then this is certainly the game for you.
8 / 10
Its setting is gorgeous, its Pokémon-snap inspired gameplay is addictive, it carries a very powerful message.
It's on the short side, it doesn't represent a great deal of challenge.