I’ve always been a little bit cynical about so called “edutainment” games, as in my experience they are largely dreadful. I have horrible memories of sitting in a primary school classroom as the teacher wheeled in a BBC Micro computer and proceeded to load up a maths program masquerading as a game, where progress sometimes resulted in the questions being a different colour! Luckily, it appears things have moved on in the intervening 40 odd years, and the newest generation of edutainment has started to look pretty decent. This leads me neatly on to Island Saver, a new game from Stormcloud Games. In conjunction with NatWest Bank, they have contrived to make a game that is designed to teach children about money, banking and, well, stuff. Does it make a decent fist of not just teaching the ways of the world, but being fun as it does so?
First off, it has to be pointed out that Island Saver is aimed at children between 7 and 12 years of age, so it’s looking likely that I will have to try my hardest and concentrate if I’m to get the most out of it. Secondly, I just so happen to have a 9-year old son – bang in the target demographic – so it feels only fair to incorporate his thoughts into this review as well.
Island Savers’ presentation is super bright, super colourful and almost overwhelmingly cute. The story of the game is that you are a Bionaut, and you have arrived on the Savvy Islands, an island paradise that is drowning in plastic waste. It’s like Greta Thunburg’s nightmares around here. So, what could any self-respecting person do about this situation?
Luckily, we are armed with a Trash Blaster, a hi-tech piece of equipment that can not only suck up litter and fire it into a relevant recycling machine, but can also suck up water and use it to clean up any nasty black goo that is left behind. Picking up litter and cleaning goo restores the island to its former glory, one patch of plants at a time, whereas cleaning the thickets that are dotted about causes them to produce fruit – fruit which attracts “Bankimals”. These Bankimals vary in size from tiny crabs and red pandas right up to polar bears and gorillas that you can ride, yet when they first appear they are drab and washed out. As they eat the food that they prefer, they gradually become full, and using the Trash Blaster on them will suck all the accumulated money out of them, like a giant, living money box. After they are emptied, they become their colourful selves, walking around the place, happy as a recently emptied moneybox. Apologies for the somewhat tortured metaphor there.
So, the money that you get from the Bankimals and for recycling the rubbish has to go somewhere, right? Well, it’s this cash that is at the heart of what Island Saver is trying to teach. You see, it introduces concepts such as tax, where for every 10 coins you collect, the tax robot will take one. In return, you can get tax tokens, and these can be used to empty the recycling machines when they get full, or even to build bridges to new areas. The coins can also be stored in the bank, by literally shooting them into a bank machine; to activate a new machine, you have to enter a PIN, introducing that concept to the kids as well. Later stages focus on the concept of foreign money, and how to change it into coins at the best possible exchange rate.
There is also a store where you can buy things that you may need, like seeds or even upgrades for the Trash Blaster. The first upgrade is initially too expensive though, so as part of the education again, bank loans are introduced. Borrowing enough to buy the part, we discover the teaching of concepts of interest and the importance of making repayments on time. There is also a literal loan shark who appears to offer a different way to raise the funds.
So, the education part is all there, present and correct, and the banking system is explained in quite simple language. But this is a game too – how does that play out?
Well, as I described earlier, Island Saver is cute and colourful, the Bankimals have a great deal of personality, and the narrator, Kiwi the parrot, is pretty charming as well. As an aside, she requires help finding her “nest eggs” (see what they did there?) and so exploration is encouraged. The basis of the game is pretty simple though – suck up the trash, deposit it, clean the place up and extract cash from the Bankimals, which counts as saving them. And this is pretty much the whole of the game; suck, blow, spend, save.
Later, there are enemies introduced that can be killed by shooting water at them, including some enormous baddies to take out. There are many different biomes as well, with three distinct islands to explore, all with unique challenges. Strangely, seeing as I’m not the target demographic, I actually found this game a lot of fun to play too. It is a nice, calming experience with simple, well-defined objectives to achieve. My son went the other way though – fun for a while, but ultimately the repetition made him feel like he’d seen it all before. I guess he’s been spoilt by the flashy graphics and whizzy bangs of much larger affairs – i.e. Overwatch. Those types of games most definitely engage a kid’s attention more than this more considered approach. And so it appears the target audience of Island Saver needs to be upped to include 47 year olds.
There are only a couple of minor gripes about Island Saver in fact. Number one is in regards to the platforming element, and it just isn’t precise enough to make pinpoint jumps. Sometimes my guy would refuse to jump at all if I was too close to the edge of a platform, so all the years I’ve trained to jump at the last possible microsecond to get maximum distance count for nothing in this game. That said, the action is pretty forgiving, with jumps that you could swear were going awry somehow landing you on a platform. It’s all swings and roundabouts. The other gripe is, like my son said, it does get repetitive after a while, but for a chill-out session where you don’t want to have to utilise the reflexes of a gaming ninja, it’s an enjoyable way to pass an hour. A two player mode would have made more sense to me as well, so you could play with your offspring, but hey ho.
All in all, Island Saver on Xbox One is a good game to play with the kids. It’s simple and slow enough that if their hand to eye coordination isn’t quite there, or if they need more practice with a controller, it is easy to play, offering no threats for the first few levels. Even falling in the sea just results in you jumping back onto the land – there is no death mechanic for the player here. So, it plays well, looks all cute and cuddly, teaches kids about money and it’s free to download. And all this is helped by Island Saver providing a nice and relaxing place to spend some time. Sometimes that is all we need in life. No matter what our age.