Drawing inspiration from classic games such as Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon, Castaway Paradise adds another title to the stack of farming simulators that have a protagonist magically find themselves as the sole savior of a disheveled town. In Castaway Paradise’s world, however, the disheveled town is a tiny little island that has recently been wrecked by a terrible storm. Upon washing up on Castaway Paradise’s shores, players find themselves covered in a mess of kelp and face to face with the island’s mayor – a pig named Veronika. Veronika explains that the storm made a mess of things, and asks your help in picking up. You choose to tell Veronika if your character is male or female under all that kelp, and she helps you reveal yourself. Following the tutorial phase, Veronika invites you to stay in a tent on the island provided you’re willing to help out the rest of the community as payment for their hospitality.
The island in Castaway Paradise is populated by a handful of anthropomorphic animals such as Gustave, the local baker who also happens to look a lot like a moose, Amelia the delivery duck, and Angus, the monkey – or, sorry, the ape – who is perpetually angry with your attempts at beautifying your new home. Along with the mayor, these residents of the island will provide players with a nearly limitless supply of quests ranging from the mundane picking up of trash from the beaches to the more exciting efforts of catching fish and bugs.
The early stages of the player’s time on the island are fairly limited. There’s additional areas to explore and characters to meet, but the bridges and archways leading to these locations were – obviously – damaged by the storm. By completing quests for the NPCs, players can unlock puzzle pieces as a reward that can be traded in to open up a new path way. The rewards issued by the NPCs for quests can seem quite random and underwhelming, but the coveted puzzle pieces initially feel incredibly rare. It only takes a little exploring, however, to discover that the resident shopkeeper – a goat named Samir – actually keeps puzzle pieces in stock at his little store, Stuff2Buy, with a lowly 2000 gem price tag. Once you discover this, Castaway Paradise’s reward and experience system goes a little off the rails. It becomes far more viable to simply game the system and earn a ton of gems by selling the garbage you pick up from the beach or extra fish and bugs you acquire then outright buy the puzzle pieces rather than just slogging through an endless array of fetch and delivery quests. That’s not to say that the NPC quests are without their merit, they do plenty to inject humor and backstory as characters like Viktoria and Amelia implore you to plant more flowers but the ever disgruntled Angus then demands that you destroy the bulbs you just worked so hard to plant and replace them with piles of buried garbage instead.
These quests, while humorous at times, can become repetitive very quickly if you continue to go to the same NPC. Amelia is almost always going to ask you to make a delivery to the other NPCs, for example, and Angus is almost always going to ask you to chop down a tree or dig up a flower you literally just planted 30 seconds before. The game’s HUD does allow you to keep tabs on your currently active NPC quests and their progress on the left hand side of the screen, as well as the daily quests that are available, but this comes with its own host of issues. It is not uncommon for the description of the active quests on the HUD to vary from the task that was described by the NPC. At times, even raw code would make its way into the HUD display, instructing the player to ‘Water [amount_id]’ as opposed to actually describing what type of plant was meant to tended to.
Some NPC and daily quests relied on the player completing certain tasks that aren’t always available because of the random nature of item spawning and quest generation. In some instances a NPC may request that the player grows a specific type of crop, but there are only 24 available growing areas in the game (2 little ‘gardens’ with 12 plots each.). If the player has already planted a seedbox in one of those plots, then a timer is started until the crop can be harvested. Once those timers are active, it is not possible for the player to clear the plot without waiting for that timer to clear – sometimes more than 24 real time hours – before they can carry on with the quest. Even plowing the plots can not be undone, so if the player leaves the garden plowed but unplanted, and a NPC requests that you plow up a certain number of plots the player is forced to plant something and wait out the timer before the plot can be cleared and replowed for the quest. This becomes even more frustrating when you take into account that there is no way to cancel a quest from NPCs. Once you’ve spoken to the NPC and been given the quest, you have no choice but to complete it in order to free up the slot for a new quest.
While there’s not currently any microtransactions, the decision to have certain collectibles locked to daily logins and quests just feels like a cheap way to force players to come back to check on their game every few hours. There’s a lot to do in Castaway Paradise, from catching dozens of different types of fish and bugs to collecting seashells that wash up on the shore, to donating these collectibles to the on island Museum. The seashells, however, only spawn once per day. It does not matter how many times you close your game and reload it, there will be no new seashells if you’ve already collected the ones for the current day. Come back tomorrow. Didn’t get the one single seashell you need to finally finish your collection because the beaches were awash with old tires and broken umbrellas instead of seashells today? Better luck next week. In the beginning there were plenty enough items to keep things interesting that this wasn’t a big deal. But as players progress, the pool of items that you need for your collections becomes smaller and rarer, and less likely to show up. It’s an unusual mechanic that makes the game feel as if it doesn’t want you to invest any great length of time. Pop in, clean up the cobwebs in your house, hope you get what you want for collection, and see you later. The real time mechanic does come with a unique perk, however. As the seasons change in real time, so too do they change in Castaway Paradise. While it is currently summer, both in reality and in the game, there are a plethora of really adorable items to scatter around including beach towels, lounge chairs and BBQ pits. Stolen Couch has plans to continuously update the game, shifting the seasons along with real time and bringing new item packs to the game to match the seasonal themes.
Castaway Paradise is a charming little game that does an okay job at scratching the itch for fans of these sort of simulators. The controls are simple enough that even younger children can figure them out and have a field day farming broccoli and artichokes while catching bugs and fish. There’s no voice work for the characters, sadly, and the soundtrack is limited to one song that’s just on loop in the background so if you’re planning a longer play session then you may want to queue up your own playlist. Graphically the game is adorable with its quirky, slightly more modern take on the N64 aesthetic of its inspiration, and it plays solidly without any crashes. It does have some minor glitches, like the previously noted errors in displaying quest information, and it could benefit greatly from the ability to cancel quests.