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Coral Island Review

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We’ve seen an influx in ‘cosy’ farming sims hitting the Xbox, with recent releases of Disney Dreamlight Valley and Everdream Valley. Now another comes along in the form of Coral Island. Even fans of the genre must be at risk of getting bored of the same gameplay, unless this new addition adds something a little different to the mix?

After the usual task of creating your avatar, the story starts and we learn that in Coral Island you are a farmer newly arrived on the tropical island. You’re greeted by the mayor and shown your house i.e. a shack with minimal furnishings, and farm i.e. vast expanse of land covered in rocks, weeds, trees and garbage. First task is to use your pickaxe, axe and scythe to clear some land and gather resources so the carpenters on the island can make your shack a little more appealing. 

coral island review 1
Standard farming sim stuff in Coral Island?

Immediately we were struck with the many similarities in gameplay with one of the OG farming sims – Stardew Valley. Expect to spend a considerable amount of time in Coral Island clearing, hoeing, planting and watering on repeat. Every. Single. Day.

That is not to say that this can’t be enjoyable. We sometimes experienced a calming, hypnotic effect from these highly repetitive tasks. However, much of the gameplay in Coral Island is based on some variation of the same thing, whether it’s farming, clearing rocks to access new levels in the mines, or clearing piles of garbage on the ocean floor.

Yep, in Coral Island your time is not limited to the dry areas of the island. You also get to take part in a spot of underwater fun and can dive to explore a coral reef (after you clear the garbage). This was the first point of difference in the game and we rather enjoyed it from the calming sound of your character’s breathing from their scuba equipment to the discovery of hidden treasure chests and the collection of marine species.

Collection of plants and animals is another theme and this is very similar to Animal Crossing, down to the shadowy fish you can see while fishing, to the ability to catch bugs in a net. You’ll be able to donate many of these to the town’s museum and one of the quests you get at the start is to help fill up the museum to help attract tourists to the island.

coral island review 3
A twist comes in the underwater worlds

You make money by selling crops as well as items that you have collected. This includes wood from cutting down trees on your farm, minerals that you have mined in the caves and trash you’ve cleared up. We found that it took a long time to build up any cash though as crops are where the big money is and most take a while to grow. 

If you are a fan of My Time at Sandrock, you’ll find some similarities in Coral Island such as the ability to craft items and machines like a furnace to make metal bars from ores. You’ll also be given a series of quests, both for the main storyline and side quests, plus the ability to take on extra requests from other islanders. It’s safe to say that you’ll never be at a loss of something to do in Coral Island. The inhabitants fall over themselves to give you tasks to help clean up the island, stock the shop and, in general, make the island a more inviting and productive place. It’s a wonder anything got done before you arrived. However, the sheer number of quests can quickly feel overwhelming, with some being quick tasks and others taking multiple days.

Coral Island has an important message at its heart, one of ocean conservation and restoration of nature. The island was ruined by an oil leak and now strange black thorns cover the seabed. Tourists have stopped visiting the island and it’s been downgraded from an A to an F rating. As the narrative of the game unfolds you learn that it’s up to you to help clean up the island, increase its rating to encourage people to visit and regenerate the island’s economy. 

As well as this very real theme, Coral Island also has a bit of magic and mystery thrown in. We won’t spoil it but this adds a nice bit of sparkle and intrigue to the monotony of simply being a farmer.

coral island review 2
Fishing? Always fishing.

Apart from the black gunk under the sea, we’re surprised that the island has a lack of visitors as it comes across as a thoroughly pleasant place to hang out. Exploring the lush tropical forests and the white sandy beaches took us away from cold, bleak January days in the UK. You can even have a nose around people’s homes which all look straight out of The Sims, and are meticulously designed.

In terms of exploring the island, a map can be accessed by a click on the D-pad (which reveals tabs for many different menus including your inventory, crafting and friendships) but a mini map on screen at all times would have been such a simple addition that would have made finding you way on the island so much more efficient. There is also no option to place a marker on the map, to help you to head towards your destination. Expect to do a lot of running around, at least until a fast track is unlocked. 

We found that time passed too quickly to get much done during a day, but adjusting this in the settings menu is an easy fix. Even so, at the start of the game stamina levels very quickly deplete so there is only so much you can get done in a day, unless you stock up on food, which is difficult until you build up some cash or unlock the ability to craft them yourself. Maximum stamina does increase slowly and this is a common theme in Coral Island – everything takes a lot of time. Trying to build friendships with the other inhabitants? Even with regular conversations and gift giving this is going to take longer than expected. Want to decorate your home? Expect to spend some serious farming hours until you build up enough cash.

One feature that made our lives easier was a box outside your house where you can drop off resources to be sold overnight. This made a nice change from having to fill your inventory and trudge off to the shop every time you want to sell something. Inventory space at the start of the game is painfully small though. To increase it you can buy extra slots in your inventory (for a hefty price) and craft extra storage.

coral island review 4
Make Coral Island your home.

Time passes through the seasons, introducing a variety of creatures to collect, crops to grow, fashions to admire and festivals to attend, such as the Cherry Blossom Potluck and the Animal Festival. These allow you to take part in mini games as well as build relationships. 

It seems that the developers of Coral Island have chosen the best bits from a veritable smorgasbord of farm and life sim games. It has the charm of Animal Crossing, the relationship building of My Time at Sandrock, the farming of Stardew Valley and the look of The Sims, all with the addition of a narrative that will keep you engaged enough to overlook the monotony of clearing garbage piles.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • The best bits from a range of farm and life sim games
  • Appealing tropical location
  • Enough to keep you busy, for a long time
Cons:
  • Tasks can be repetitive
  • Stamina and relationships are slow to build
Info:
  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, Humble Games
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), PS5, PC
  • Release date and price - 14 November 2023 | £24.99
Gemma Young
Gemma Younghttp://www.snapshotscience.co.uk
I'm a part-time gamer and a full-time writer of science-y things. On the few odd occasions that I'm able to wrestle the Xbox controller away from the avid gamers in my family, I enjoy spending time playing puzzle and adventure games.
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>The best bits from a range of farm and life sim games</li> <li>Appealing tropical location</li> <li>Enough to keep you busy, for a long time</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Tasks can be repetitive</li> <li>Stamina and relationships are slow to build</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, Humble Games</li> <li>Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), PS5, PC <li>Release date and price - 14 November 2023 | £24.99</li> </ul>Coral Island Review
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