Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Ikonei Island: Open Beta. Very First Impressions

Remember, back at the beginning of the pandemic, when everyone was playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons? I wanted to play, too but AC:NH is a Switch exclusive. You can't play it on PC. 

Well, you can, if you want to download an emulator and jump through a bunch of hoops, some of which look highly dubious to me. I don't think I'm even going to link to the site with the instructions. I'm sure you can all find it the same way I did if you're curious.

I considered buying a Switch just to play New Horizons but as far as I remember availability was poor. It would have been aberrant behavior for me anyway, buying a console just to play one game. It was 2020, just after the first lockdown and I was still on furlough so that may have had something to do with it

In the end, I found a much cheaper and more reasonable cure for my rare case of FOMO. I installed Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp on my Kindle Fire instead. As I'm sure everyone knows, AC:PC is considered a hugely inferior entry in the Animal Crossing canon but I liked it. I posted about a few times, played just about every day for several weeks and then sporadically for a few months more until I eventually, inevitably, drifted away. 

I occasionally think about playing Pocket Camp again but I'd forgotten all about New Horizons. Or I had forgotten about it until this morning, when I read this post at MassivelyOP. Describing a new game I'd never heard of, Ikonei Island, a quote from the developers namechecks both Animal Crossing and another game I've read a lot about over the years, Stardew Valley.

Srtardew Valley has never appealed to me, partly because of the graphics, which lean very heavily into a nostalgia for a period of gaming that means nothing to me, but also because farming games are boring as hell. Part of what appealed to me about New Horizons as I was reading about it was the way it didn't seem to revolve around planting and watering. 

GIven that level of disinterest, I'd probably have carried on by had it not been for the two embedded videos. Particularly the second.

Four and a quarter minutes of piratical hurdy-gurdying is a hard ask, for sure, although I'd totally rock a red velvet frock coat like Patty's. It says something about the game and its developers that they thought it would make an effective - or even appropriate - promotional tool. I guess they must have been on to something, though. I mean, it landed me.

I watched as much as I could take of the video, which was about a minute, then I took a look at the gameplay trailer. At just over ninety seconds it's a lot more approachable and it shows the game to good advantage - or it does if you can tune out the bilious voiceover. Cheese and ham, anyone?

It immediately reminded me not of the two mentioned games I haven't played but of another I have: Yonder the Cloud Catcher Chronicles. Yonder was one of the first games I bought on Steam. I played and posted about it several times, most recently in June 2020, when I picked it up again after a long layoff for precisely the same reason I've ended up writing about it today: I saw something that reminded me of it.

I have never finished Yonder. I haven't given it a fair crack, even. I realised that as I was reading Kluwes' commentary on his own time with the game. I'd always struggled to find the thread of the narrative when I played, ending up rambling inconsequentially through the gorgeous scenery, getting nowhere and not really minding. Kluwes made it seem a much more coherent, completable game than I'd ever felt it to be. He 100%ed the entire thing and made it sound easy.

I was seriously considering starting Yonder over from scratch but of course I haven't done anything so dramatic. Or decisive. Instead, I seem to have jumped on the first available train heading the other way. 

As soon as I'd watched the videos I opened Steam, found the Ikonei Island store page and registered for the open beta. Acceptance was immediate so I downloaded it and started playing.

It says "Beta" in the description but the version number (bottom left) says "Alpha". Feels more like an alpha build to me.

First impressions are excellent. There's a charmingly illustrated introduction in which an unnamed narrator tells the story of four orphans - two humans, who look like they might be brother and sister, a lizard and a ... pig? - all of whom narrowly escape being taken by slavers (Who are also pigs for some reason.). 

They speed away on a raft powered by a magical wind released from a flask tossed to them by the mysterious narrator and end up, wrecked in a storm, cast up on the beach of some desert isle. It's a great beginning and the gameplay that follows backs it up admirably.

I would go into detail but I've only managed to play for about three-quarters of an hour.. Yes, okay, I could easily spin those forty-five minutes into a five post series if I had the mind to but I don't think that would do the game any favors. I want to leave a good impression because for the short time I was able to play, I really enjoyed myself.

"Rain, rain go away..." Or actually don't. I quite like it.

I can fill in a few notes, at least. The characters, animations and models are delightful, albeit a little hard to see, what with them being so tiny. There's seemingly being no way to zoom in with the fixed camera. The island, what little I saw of it (Mostly the shore and some ruins near the river.) is beautifully rendered in lush blues and greens, all softened contours and rounded edges. 

It rains all the time, which is both a plot point and an aesthetic pleasure. Everything looks and feels like it's been drawn in pastels then gently smdged with a damp cloth. Frogs hop, crabs burrow and occasionally an aggressive plant detaches itself from the undergrowth and has to be soundly clouted with your "sword", a branch with the leaves still attached.

Hedda is the only charracter I've tried so far. I think you can play all four of them although I haven't figured out how to swap yet.

The UI is clear and attractive and I found the controls quite manageable, which may put me in a a very small minority indeed. The game opens with a warning that it's best played with a controller because the mouse and keyboard options aren't optimised and there's a thread on the game's Discussion page, in which the OP describes the beta keyboard controls as "unbearable" and everyone else agrees. I'd have to say I've seen a lot worse. Try playing Final Fantasy XI sometime...

That said, the controls do need some tweaking and the developers have already said it won't happen in the current beta, so even though I'd encourage anyone who likes the look of the screenshots or the gameplay in the video to give it a try, do be aware that it's not even Early Access yet. It's a proper beta. Or maybe an alpha...

Fear my mighty leaf. Sword! I mean sword!

It's so much a work in progress, in fact, that I ran into a proper, gamebreaking bug. When I got to the second area of the island and a new cut-scene played, the game registered a fatal error and shut down. The same has happened each time I've returned to that area, which is why I stopped and wrote this post instead. 

Otherwise I'd still be playing.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for playing and writing about it! Know that the dev team has read this post.


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