Ikonei Island: An Earthlock Adventure Review – Not Quite Paradise

It can be difficult sometimes for those of us without kids to review titles which are very clearly meant for kids. We’re used to more “grown-up” content, so the simpler gameplay loops and cartoonish design language doesn’t necessarily land with us. In this respect, I’m kind of lucky in that I can think about my nephews and nieces and how they might enjoy a title. Ikonei Island very solidly lands in the “kids’ game” bucket, and it’s one I wouldn’t mind playing with the younger set.

Ikonei Island: An Earthlock Adventure puts you in the shoes of four friends who irritate some pirates by freeing some creatures the pirates went to the trouble of capturing (and likely smuggling into port). They escape the pirates in a conveniently placed boat, only to encounter a storm which trashes the boat and washes them up on Ikonei Island. The island is wracked with bad weather, hostile creatures, surly pirates, and trash just absolutely everywhere. It’s up to you to take control of the four friends, restore the island to its former glory, and ensure it doesn’t fall apart again.

“Sounds great for you, but what do I get out of this?”

Using the Unreal Engine, Ikonei Island takes a whimsical approach to its visuals. Characters are appropriately cartoonish, whether human or anthropomorphic, while creature designs range from the cuddly to the slightly monstrous. Nothing is outright scary, though some kids who might have a fear of snakes could have some difficulty. The user interface is fairly clean and easily navigable. The trigger buttons handle things like shifting categories on the crafting menu or zooming in or out on the map. When interacting with elements like harvesting resources or restoring various monuments, you’ll either have a contextual button press or an easily readable list of resources you need. In situations where resources cannot be easily harvested by one of the various pets you have to tame, an icon will pop up informing you what level you need to have a given pet to obtain those resources. Lighting and weather effects are a significant element and are put to good use to help players realize their progress. However, certain visual cues for some side quests tend to get lost in the “clutter” of weather effects. As far as the structures and decorations that you can build, they strike the right visual balance of exaggeration and realism. You could very easily picture a cartoon series based off this title, and it wouldn’t hardly take any effort to develop it. One serious strike against the visual presentation, however, involves the fixed camera. All too often, you’re moving behind foliage or rocks, and when you’re in the middle of a fight, being unable to see your positioning or that of your target sucks. Being able to rotate the camera would have been a big help.

As far as the audio goes, Ikonei Island doesn’t do too bad, but there’s certainly room for improvement in spots. Audio effects are pretty well done, with pets having their own distinct calls (and their own unique summoning whistles) and recognizable sounds for the various actions they perform on your behalf. The music is pretty simple, some basic themes and refrains which loop constantly until something changes. There is some voice work going on, as you’ll come across denizens of the island who are more helpful than others, but it’s oddly inconsistent. Some speech bubbles will have voiceover alongside, others will not. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s a bit jarring. But when it’s there, it’s decent work.

Yes, you can possess your pets and use them as you need to. Don’t think about it too hard.

The gameplay in Ikonei Island is simple enough to grasp, and with the multiplayer possibilities, it’s a good enough game for grown-ups to play with their kids. Thing is there’s some deficiencies that even if you’re playing alongside your kids, there’s going to be some needless friction. The early section certainly walks you through the basics of growing crops and taming pets. But once you’ve gotten those basics down, it doesn’t give you much in the way of information to help further refine your understanding. There is a help section, but it’s oddly unhelpful given the amount of information it doesn’t have. As you progress further, you’re having to juggle more and more resources in your head and no good way to reference which raw materials refine into which other materials. Worse, you’ve got no way to know which portions of the island have what in the way of raw materials short of wandering around. The map is decidedly unhelpful in this regard, since it doesn’t offer a way to mark it up to help remind the player where to find things, nor does it seem to update properly with regards to obstacles you’ve cleared out of the way with your pets. It also doesn’t do a great job of differentiating which biomes are best for growing which crops, so you’re having to do a lot of trial and error in that regard.

The combat mechanics feel kind of half-baked. You’ve only got one attack button, but you’ve got no way to lock on to a single target. The practical upshot is that you’re swinging your weapon around a lot and you’ve got to ride the thumbstick to try and keep yourself aimed towards your target. Adding insult to injury, your weapons have a limited degree of durability, so you stand a good chance of winding up unarmed right in the middle of a fight. Worse, if you don’t have the materials to craft a replacement weapon with you at that particular instant, you’re obliged to run away or get knocked out in the attempt. This being a kid-friendly game, the main castaway characters don’t die, and you’re not having to make a “corpse run” to recover gear or materials. But since better weapons require higher quality materials (which you may not have on hand and can’t easily figure out how to obtain), it’s kind of a pain point.

If you can’t smash giant rocks with this guy, you’re doing something seriously wrong.

Adding to the pain is the pet management. In order to harvest anything that isn’t laying on the ground loose, you have to take care of the various creatures you recruit as your pets. You feed them, you wash them, you pet them, and you instruct them do certain tasks. Successful completion of all these build up a gauge to the left of their portrait which ultimately allows them to evolve into stronger versions, which in turn allows them to harvest more difficult resources. The catch is that while you can theoretically have all of your pets out and accompanying your wanderings around the island, anything more than about three becomes a hassle to properly feed, wash, or pet. And just to twist the knife, every one of your pets will do exactly nothing to assist you in combat. It’s almost easier to just summon one pet and go on a series of different resource runs over the course of several in-game days.

Finally, while the story for Ikonei Island sets you up as part of a group of castaways, if you’re playing solo, you’re really playing solo. None of your fellow castaways do anything or go anywhere. They just sit around the spot you washed up on the beach, waiting for somebody to take control of them so they can go wandering around with you and help rebuild the island. They’re essentially semi-permanent material storage, and more likely to stick around than the crafted storage options you’ll unlock as you explore. Though, given the difficulties with the other pets, trying to have companions running alongside you might have been a bridge too far.

“We beat up pirates. With their own cannons. What part of this is so hard to figure out?”

From a narrative perspective, Ikonei Island has a basic story and fairly simple characters. Everything you’re doing is in service to restore the island. There are small side quests which help the rebuilding process, sometimes not terribly well signposted until the point you’ve completed them. The main storyline, however, doesn’t really develop as such. You’ve got the overarching mission to restore the island and…that’s it. A side quest goes into a little more detail, but there’s not a lot driving the story as a whole. While I can appreciate that not every game needs a dense and layered narrative on par with Mass Effect or Horizon Zero Dawn, I would have liked a little more than, “Please fix up my island. K, thnx!” It would have made solo play a little more palatable.

If you’re going to pick up Ikonei Island: An Earthlock Adventure, do so because you’re looking for a decent (if not particularly deep) adventure that you can share with your kids. Something where you can help out, but let them take the lead. It might not take up a great deal of your time, but it’ll be time with your kids, and that covers a multitude of shortcomings that would be fatal in any other game.

Axel reviewed Ikonei Island: An Earthlock Adventure on PlayStation 5 with a review code.

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