When Alawar Melesta, creator of the popular Farm Frenzy-series, decides to develop a game that can be compared to the surprise hit My Kingdom for the Princess, this could be interesting. While the lack of a proper tutorial for a rather complex game and a somewhat choppy and shortish storyline appear a bit daunting in the beginning, Island Realms nevertheless turns out to be more innovative and engaging than the usual more of the same entry in the casual market.
As the name of the game indicates, the player visits a large number of small islands throughout the game. Your basic goal is to reach the next island, but doing so requires a lot of work and strategic thinking, which is without a doubt more challenging and hectic than what some casual gamers are used to. To reach another island, you have to load a wagon at the end of the current island with various goods, such as food, stone, coins or wood.
Though this may sound simple at first, it is clearly not, and just like in the Farm Frenzy series you will have to restart numerous levels more than just once to figure out the appropriate strategy to leave the island in expert time. This can certainly be frustrating, but most of the times it fortunately is not, because there are various ways to beat any level, so that a fresh start really feels like a totally new level.
The goods you are going to need on your journey are produced at the mill, the stone quarry, the sawmill, or the forge, and depending on how far those buildings have been upgraded, you need the according number of men to produce food, stone, or wood. To be able to upgrade any building, you first have to purchase those upgrade permits at the store, one of the rare buildings that are there from the beginning on, and which are not in your possession.
Furthermore, the delivery of the goods is a strategic element of the game that should not be underestimated. Most of the roads between the different buildings have to be constructed right in the beginning, and to fulfill production and delivery tasks you have to train more men to become more effective. The control of your men and the assignment of tasks works absolutely brilliantly, which is definitely worth a nod towards the developer, because the A.I. is nearly flawless.
The exchange of different goods at the store is one of the core features of Island Realms. Here you can spend all your goods for coins, the latter ones being the last requirement to leave any island. Later on there are also piers on your island, where different ships will stop at on a regular basis, offering what can be called special discounts. Here the player is able to exchange goods that are not available anywhere else on the island, or you will get just a very good deal out of it, so these ships are always worth to check out.
Another very unique aspect of Island Realms is the addition of an enemy. Fortunately the game still is not overly violent, but the theme of conflict might still rub some gamers the wrong way. On most of the islands you will find a bunker accommodating your enemy’s soldiers, who will make the life as difficult as possible for the player. Some of those soldiers will destroy your roads, others will steal your goods whenever they can, and those are only a few of the bad surprises they come up with. But there is no need to be too afraid, because Island Realms offers a lot of tools for the player to handle the enemy and to prevent any further disturbance.
The graphics are actually great, with fantastic animations and comparatively detailed people. The interaction between your own men and the enemy is hilarious to watch, maybe except for those moments at which every second counts, and where it is absolutely frustrating to see your men, currently delivering the urgently needed goods, being sandbagged by the patrolling men of the enemy. The landscape and the buildings look beautiful, too, but are mainly functional, and it’s to the game’s advantage, that the scenery is not overly crowded, so that the player can fully concentrate on the action itself.
If there is one sharp point of criticism with Island Realms, it’s the blatant lack of a tutorial. The already rare instruction boxes are not very detailed, a lot of features are not explained at all, and a few more elaborate tips would surely have been a welcome and helpful addition to the game. It definitely is possible to figure out everything on your own, but this takes time and patience, as well as the willingness to restart a level because you were not aware of an important detail right from the start. The game is definitely worth it, but not everyone might have the time to learn the rules of the game in a "Do-it-yourself"-manner.
Island Realms is definitely on the challenging side, with comparatively long and complex levels right from the beginning. Interestingly enough, the game is another example of the successful approach of the casual and the hardcore gaming market. The trial version should suffice to assure whether the game is to your taste or not, but especially those of you who already liked the old classic The Settlers will absolutely adore Island Realms.