I’m not really sure where to start with Castaway Paradise. On the one hand it’s a simplistic and charming little life simulator that presses the right buttons. But on the other it’s a game inspired by the titans of the genre (Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon states developer Stolen Couch Games), and when I look at the game from this perspective it’s a somewhat simple, shallow experience. I guess what I struggle with is trying to work out if that is a good thing or a bad thing? After all the developer is only drawing inspiration. But those statements set certain expectations, expectations that I would argue the game doesn’t fully stand up to.
So, what is it exactly? Well Castaway Paradise is more akin to Animal Crossing. A life simulator title that sees you build a life on a tropical paradise that has been ravaged by a recent storm. The islands residents – of which there is only really about 10 including the shop vendors – are in need of some help restoring the island to its former beauty, as since the storm hit the island it is nothing more that a smattering of fallen debris and collapsed buildings. And for your help they are willing to offer residence. A quick tutorial takes you over the basics of the game. You’ll learn how to fish, catch bugs, run errands for the residents and how to grow crops. You can take these tasks at a pace that suits you, but if you’re like me you’ll want to crack on and start earning the cash required to repair everything and the puzzle pieces that are required to unlock the other sections of the island.
Farming is what the game edges you towards initially, where a small plot allows you to grow 12 of any crop at a time. Work through the clunky controls to firstly cultivate the land and plant some corn, and then water your plants until they are ready to sell for a tiny profit. This sets the expectations for the game, that earning substantial sums of cash is going to take some time and therefore fixing the whole island is going to take a while. Once you realize just how little return on investment you get for farming, you’ll switch to fishing and catching bugs which can net you a decent profit for a lot less effort than farming. Running errands for the islands residents is also another decent way to unlock items and earn money, although the tasks they ask of you are mostly along the lines of ‘walk here and talk to x’. Every now and then you’ll be given something a little more meaningful to achieve, such as planting some flowers or trees, but then you’ll end up being given a quest that you won’t be able to complete. For example, I’ve had a quest on my list for a while now that requires me to build a specific item, but the item I need isn’t available for purchase in the shop. So until the item I need is rotated into stock, I’m pretty much stuck unable to progress any further with that specific resident.
There are other ways to make money, the game has a 3 company stock market that you can play around with. And you can always invest money with the bank with a guaranteed return rate some time in the future. The amount you can invest however is capped, and this seems purposeful to ensure that you can’t grow your bank balance too quickly. But then you get to fruit, and once you realize just how much fruit is worth you’ll be planting as many trees as you can. Purposefully or in error i’m not really sure, but coupled with the fact that all trees crop when you level up regardless of the time remaining – normally you have to wait at least 1 hour for a tree to bear fruit – and within hours you’ll have the cash required to unlock and repair the entire island, and suddenly you’ll be into the end game and left with nothing really compelling to keep you playing.
There are some things to do. Collect shells, fish and bugs that you can donate to the town trying with the goal being to complete your collections. There are also a decent number of items, decorations, wall papers, outfits, etc to purchase allowing you to really personalize your house. But without an overall goal, such as clearing your debt with a crooked shop keeper or working to build relationships with the residents there really isn’t anything driving you forward, and as such the enjoyment quickly comes to a stuttering halt. Compared to those titles that inspired it, it’s more a sampling that best serves as an introduction to the genre before you graduate to one of the more deeper titles such as Stardew Valley, or Animal Crossing when Nintendo inevitably port it to the Switch.
Overall Castaway Paradise is a charming title that’s fun to begin with but quickly comes unstuck. Visually, I actually really like the game’s art-style which evokes a certain charm through its simplicity and colour pallete. The geometry and animation is simple, but cute at the same time. But the pacing and balance of the game needs work, especially if it wants you to come back and see the island as it changes through the seasons. But for me, and what I’d say is the majority of gamers it’s just a little too shallow. It perhaps best appeals to children, where simple works well. But a lack of multiplayer or the ability to visit other islands again doesn’t help it much here. I can see some potential in the title, and there is some scope to improve the game with further work. But as it stands it’s a fun albeit short experience that I doesn’t really scratch the itch like the titles that inspired it.
Castaway Paradise was provided to us by Xbox/Stolen Couch Games for Xbox One. It was reviewed on an Xbox One S and X.