Normally we try to be tactfully indirect when suggesting that a game might be a little bit inspired by another game, but there’s no need for that in the case of Castaway Paradise.
“It’s like Animal Crossing!”
Those are developers’ own words, helpfully displayed in the sitelink text when you search for Castaway Paradise on Google.
That might save you the trouble of reading this review. If you like the Animal Crossing games, you’ll probably quite like Castaway Paradise. It’s not up to the standard of Nintendo’s cuddly island life-simulating masterpiece, of course, but it does a decent impression if you squint, and it’s a lot cheaper.
Castaway Paradise sees you playing as a shipwreck survivor who has the good fortune to wash up on a pleasant little island populated by helpful, friendly – but odd-looking – animals who can talk.
These include Viktoria, a pig who is also the mayor of the island community, as well as a moose called Gustave, an ape called Angus, a duck called Amelia, and more. Characters in Castaway Paradise are distinctive and well-formed, while the dialogue is solid, and even funny at times.
Your new friends are cordial but demanding hosts. As soon as you wash ashore, covered in seaweed that cleverly conceals your sex until you’re ready to disclose it, you’re put to work clearing litter, picking apples, sowing seeds, and watering plants. This soon escalates to fishing, farming, catching bugs, digging out tree stumps, and so on.
Castaway Paradise starts you off on a fairly linear path, with each character you meet giving you a task to complete and an item to complete it with, but it morphs organically into a sandbox experience as you use the knowledge and the items you’ve obtained to forge your own destiny.
There’s a menu screen where you can see all of your active tasks, review your inventory, and so on.
You advance through the game by levelling up, thereby unlocking new items and content. But you also need dough, in the form of gems, in order to do just about anything, from buying furniture for your home to planting seeds. It’s here that Castaway Paradise gives away its free-to-play origins.
Fortunately, there are lots of ways to earn gems. You can complete quests, sell the crops you’ve grown, play the stock market, and so on, all of which has the added benefit of keeping you busy.
Gameplay-wise, Castaway Paradise is basically an endless cycle of planting crops and then doing other things while you wait for timers to run down, over and over again, which inevitably grows repetitive. Annoyingly, there’s no idle progress, so you can’t plant a crop and come back later to harvest it, seriously curtailing your ability to become an island tycoon.
As you can imagine, Castaway Paradise never comes close to threatening Animal Crossing’s crown, but it does a passable impression as long as you’re not expecting too much.
Plus, it’s a lot cheaper than the real thing, making it a tempting prospect as long as you remember that you get what you pay for.