Hello Kitty Island Adventure isn’t the Animal Crossing clone that the screenshots suggested it might be. It is, vaguely, similar aesthetically, but it’s an entirely different beast to play. However, what the game is is wholesome and delightful, and easily the finest game featuring Kitty and her pals to date.
The premise is simple. You – a self-created animal-like avatar – have joined Kitty & Co on a flight. Then, for some reason, everyone jumps out of the plane and lands gracefully on a massive and mysterious island. Your first goal is to reunite with everyone, as they’ve been scattered about the place. Your second goal is then to unlock the mysteries of the island and return the place to its thriving glory days.
You do this by completing tasks. Lots and lots and lots of tasks. An endless stream of tasks. You’re given tasks to track down things for pals, to build things using resources and a crafting table, to solve Zelda Breath of the Wild-inspired dungeons (albeit far simpler ones), and to solve puzzles to unlock more parts of the island. Then there are minigames to play, fishing and bug catching to indulge in and even photography tasks to complete. This is why Kitty differs from Animal Crossing. That game is really about existing in a space. Sure, there is stuff that you can do, but it’s almost a work of absurdism for the way it presents aimlessness and a lack of ambition as the ideal state of being.
Kitty, meanwhile, is very task oriented. There is never any pressure or urgency to actually complete the tasks if you don’t want to, and the incentive – that you get to wander around the colourful world and interact with some of history’s finest mascot characters – is reward enough. However, it’s no exaggeration to say that Island Adventure makes Ubisoft games look relaxed on the task list. These tasks are at least enjoyable and can quickly result in hours whizzing by, but they do give the game a totally different texture to the Nintendo property that most people will compare it to.
While the entire Sanrio cast is way too expansive to squish into Island Adventure, the main ones are all there. You’ll get to hang out with Kitty, and My Melody, and Cinnamoroll. Retsko (from Aggretsuko) and Pekkle (otherwise known as the absolute best duck) even put in an appearance. Now, I will say that the developers could have done so much more to inject personalities in here. Each of the characters only has a couple of lines for the player, and they’re more there to give you quests and rewards, and occasionally let you give them gifts. It seems also a waste to have a mascot-driven game not do anything to enhance people’s understanding of the mascots. Last week’s Disney Illusion Island (battle of the islands!) did a better job as far in driving character and give people context about why these characters are so great.
But then again, Sanrio’s mascots were never about having a defined personality (with the exception of Retsko, of course). They were always blank slates so they could be a cuteness delivery system, and Island Adventure has that in spades. There is so much joy and bright wholesomeness in the presentation that you’ll have a big ol’ smile on your face every time you bump into one of the denizens.
The aesthetics are both simple, but effective. Island Adventure is a truly massive place to explore, and regions are broken up into various themes – volcano area, swamp area etc). Each of those spaces is a colourful feast for the eyes, and makes exploring and playing around in each of them bright and fun.
Hello Kitty Island Adventure is one of those games that could only come from Japanese culture. There aren’t many other cultures that see an inherent spirit and soul in a mascot, and to most of the rest of us, mascots are tools to use for branding and marketing, or otherwise become famous because of their association with a product like a film or a game (hello Mario and Mickey Mouse). It’s rare that a mascot IS the product. But that’s what has happened with Hello Kitty. Before today, most Kitty games came across as a cheap effort to extract more cash from that lucrative product, but Hello Kitty Island Adventure is different. This is a genuinely worthwhile use of your time, and the fact that it’s “free” but also free of microtransactions, thanks to being an Apple Arcade title, makes it all the sweeter.