Sometimes the most simple of things can be the best. At others, that simplicity can be the ultimate downfall. Unfortunately with Beasts of Maravilla Island, the utter simplicity that is in place works against it, leaving a shallow gaming experience that is hard to recommend.
Beasts of Maravilla Island sees you placed into the shoes of Marina, a photographic adventurer and young girl looking to follow in her Grandpa’s footsteps in the hope that she can understand the mysteries of Maravilla Island. Armed just with her camera, that setup is an intriguing one, giving access to an island that is full of colour and delight as she goes about snapping the world around her.
It’s this world which is teeming with life; populated and inhabited by all manner of weird and wonderful creatures. There are beetles and spiders climbing trees, butterflies flutter around and pond skaters dance across the nearest piece of water. Eagles and parrots soar high in the sky, fireflies help light the way and as you head into the latter stages you will discover tortoises, geckos, chameleons and a host of different types of flora filling out the land.
The three unique areas of Maravilla Island are gorgeous affairs, open to exploration and adventure at your own pace, as you stop and snap the creatures at will, filling your Grandpa’s journal in the process. The adventure is split across the Singing Jungle, the Glimmering River and the Painted Plateau, with each able to deliver plenty of uniqueness in terms of those which call them their home.
But the animals you’ll come across aren’t just your everyday creatures; each of the lands has a rather unique mythological beast that occasionally comes out to play. In the jungle that is the humble Rainbow Crested Quetzal Monkey – otherwise known as the Binky – whilst the riverside tasks you with hunting down the Maravillan Scaled Otter, and the plateau introduces the Golden Crowned Griffin.
These animals act as the boss-style elements of the game, with Maravilla Island requesting you to take snapshots of each performing certain actions before allowing for progress. This may mean you need to snap the Binky as it glides through the treetops, or the Otter as it spits water at plants, helping them grow in the process. That may sound tricky, but with a simple whistle emitting from Marina’s lips, it’s easy to get the shot you require. In fact, it’s getting a decent image of the Griffin which is the only tricky aspect of Beasts of Maravilla Island, with very slight combat elements that come to the fore. Nabbing a shot of this beast gusting and ruffling its feathers, as you dodge its movements, is pretty much the only time you’ll find any kind of excuse for your gaming skills to be utilised.
By using your trusty camera and filling out the pages of your journal, progress is made, letting you take in the 90 minutes or so of gameplay that is found within.
Yet there’s more to just taking pictures and the odd puzzle crops up too. For instance, certain plants grow as your flash goes off, helping you move to higher spots, whilst interaction with specific creatures, mostly by whistling or throwing them an object, will have them opening your path up further. Again, there is nothing here that will tax anyone familiar with how a controller works.
At no time are these puzzles tricky to solve; instead popping up as simple affairs as part of the linear journey. For this reason, beasts of Maravilla Island disappoints and it would have been great to have seen Whitethorn Digital and Banana Bird Studios find it within themselves to add in some kind of trickier gameplay element, or at least to open up the Maravilla world in a less structured fashion. I guess the route that is taken here will ensure that Maravilla Island is accessible to all types of gamers – young and old – and so that has to be applauded, but for those who spend every waking hour with a controller in hand, Maravilla will probably disappoint.
In fact, this comes across as something very much in the vein of a walking simulator, and as there is a little more to it than simple walking, talking and the use of a camera, there’s little to get involved in.
Things aren’t helped by hit-and-miss visuals and gameplay mechanics either. The young girl you take control of is as bland as they get, moving around the Island in a stop-start manner. Movement physics are poor and there are plenty of times when she’ll happily walk through rocks, or get stuck at an invisible wall. And as for the few moments when we ask her to hop, skip and jump across lily pads, it’s here where Beasts of Maravilla Island easily conjures up memories of gaming generations of the past.
The visuals are weird too and whilst there is some vibrancy in the colours of this magical island, character and creature models are on the detailed yet basic side. There is little definition in anything that moves, and when you throw in a camera that frequently wants to battle those controlling it, and well, that basic and simple theme that is present throughout Maravilla Island once more comes to the fore. It’s all well and good throwing a ton of colour at the gamer, but rarely will this island wow.
What’s more, the menu system is also clunky. Once your adventure through Maravilla is complete, heading back into specific chapters in order to sweep up missed photos, collectibles and Xbox achievements is doable, but you’ll have to work through the slow and unresponsive menu system first.
For all the negativity though, what has been attempted here does need a little bit of positive light thrown on it. The story is absolutely fine and sets the scene nicely, and the amount of textual detail found in the ever expanding journal is lovely. But unfortunately those two things alone aren’t enough to warrant a trip to this island. At the end of the day, should you be looking for a simple, casual little playthrough in which interactions are kept to a minimum, the mysterious world of Beasts of Maravilla Island may just about keep you quiet for two hours tops. But don’t expect to be wowed by what could have been a magical journey into the unknown.
Snap the Beasts of Maravilla Island on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One – find it on the Xbox Store