Bree somehow managed to weasel her way into a game design degree, is perpetually writing, and hasn't stopped playing Skyrim since it first came out.
December 11, 2020
Alba: A Wildlife Adventure is the creation of ustwo games, best known for the award-winning Monument Valley. A game that I literally begged my mum to let me install on her iPhone because at the time I didn’t have a phone powerful enough for it. Monument Valley is a gorgeous puzzle game that enthralled me for hours, and I was definitely excited when I learned that Alba was developed by the same team. What I discovered was a game that, while comfy and simple in appearance, was able to instil a real connection to both the setting and characters in the very short runtime.
The game follows young Alba as she visits her grandparents on the Mediterranean island of Pinar del Mar. She has a keen eye for animals, so her grandma gifts her with a wildlife book and a smartphone. The phone has an app installed that identifies new animals when you take a photo of them. It’s almost like a more grounded version of Pokémon Snap, with one of the main drives to keep playing being a desire to catalogue as many animals as possible. While most of the time you’ll be snapping pics of birds, there are animals like squirrels and rabbits that you’ll come across too. I spent my first day on the island wandering around aimlessly and just taking pictures of anything I saw that moved, excited anytime I found something new. With more than 60 different species on the island, there’s plenty to track down and capture. Though I wish there were a few more woodland animals and reptiles to take photos of. I only managed to find one lizard and the number of other animals isn’t super large.
There is more to this game than just collecting photos for your Instagram though. At its heart, Alba: A Wildlife Adventure is a game about conservation and protecting the local animal reserve on the island. See, the money-hungry mayor is going to have the animal reserve destroyed to put up a five-star hotel in its place. Alba and her friend Ines join forces to save the reserve by collecting signatures from the island’s inhabitants. You mostly do this by cataloguing pictures of rare animals, cleaning up areas of the island and sometimes doing little sidequests. The people of Pinar del Mar are vibrant and diverse, with dialogue that feels very real and relatable. A real standout moment for me was when I went up to a guy eating ice cream on the pier and when he turned around I realised he had top surgery scars. The game didn’t draw attention to it, he was just a guy chilling and enjoying his ice cream, it was so refreshing to see.
Pinar del Mar itself manages to feel like a vacation and also like home at the same time. The whole island is sunbaked and sleepy, there isn’t a single moving car, everyone is just vibing all the time. At the same time though, the characters are all so well written that it feels like you’re talking to someone you know. It definitely gave me fond memories of spending a few days with my grandparents during the summer holidays, and the chunky art style is so happy and bouncy that it’s impossible not to just feel comfy.
“The whole island is sunbaked and sleepy, there isn’t a single moving car, everyone is just vibing all the time.”
Alba’s movement is beautiful as well. Her run cycle is actually three that she switches between, just like a kid who gets bored easily. She changes from a regular run, to a skip, to what I could only classify as a Naruto run seemingly at random. Her hair and backpack bouncing along with her the whole time. The music only compliments the aimless exploration, subtle ukulele tracks that make the island feel warm and welcoming. It also manages to be a game that gently teaches environmentalism instead of feeling like a lecture. Everyone on the island is quick to help when a dolphin is found washed ashore, or when a beach is covered in rubbish. It’s more of a lesson about how working together can make a real difference than it is a reminder of our own failures, which would be little more than a kick in the kneecaps in 2020.
The finale comes hard and fast. While not being so serious that it feels like a complete tonal shift, it still managed to catch me off guard. Even though it only took me around four hours to get there, I found myself having a good cry as the game reached its end. It was like living in a spot of paradise, if only for a moment.
Alba: A Wildlife Adventure was a joy to play. When I first picked it up I was planning to only play about half an hour, but I was so hooked that I ended up finishing it in one sitting. During times of stress, a game like this is perfect with its friendly world and characters, alongside a very zen gameplay loop that will keep you snapping photos of the elusive Great Tit for hours. I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did, but it happened to be exactly what I needed. I hope it can be that game for someone else too.