This week, Alba: A Wildlife Adventure is one of those admirable indie games playing the plucky little David to the AAA Goliath, with its Nintendo Switch, PlayStation and Xbox release coming just one day before Ratchet and Clank’s new entry stormed into the world.
When a huge new game like Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart comes out, it’s always worth sparing a thought for the smaller games that have launched in the same week. Those titles that maybe don’t have a massive marketing budget behind them, which lack a pre-built franchise fan base that can help to spread the word.
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Alba does have some pre-existing goodwill (its PC, Mac and iOS release was pretty well received last year), but it’s still not an enviable position to be in, trying to make an impact when most of the gaming world is looking in another direction altogether.
Alba is a great game, though, and one that really deserves to find an audience. And so, with that in mind, we’re very proud to name it our RadioTimes.com Game of the Week for this week.
The set-up to the story of Alba is a fairly simple one – you play as a girl (called Alba, obviously) who takes a summer trip to visit her grandparents on a Mediterranean Island, and she decides to help out the local wildlife while she’s there. A big, ugly hotel is due to be built on top of an old nature reserve, and it’s down to you to protect the island’s environment and all the animals that live in it.
Described as a ‘Chillectathon’, this is very much a chilled-out experience where you’re wandering around a beautiful island collecting things and completing simple tasks. In a year as stressful as this one, it’s nothing short of blissful to step into this world to explore and have some low-energy fun.
Alba is all about preserving wildlife and showing some love for your local area, so the gameplay tasks you with simple but helpful jobs like picking up litter, fixing up broken bird boxes, and helping animals that need assistance. You might find a bird that’s stuck on a piece of plastic, for example, or a squirrel that’s sick because of some misplaced sludge.
There’s also a photography mechanic which allows you to take pictures of the animals you see, kind of like Pokemon Snap but with real-life creatures and the ability to walk around (whereas Pokemon Snap is on rails, in Alba you’re exploring a small but loveable open world). Trying to photograph the 60-odd animals on the island, and using those pictures to update the knackered signage dotted around, really is a sweet way to spend some time.
The only flaw really is that the actual gameplay mechanics can sometimes be a little fiddly. Each direction on the D-pad is assigned to an item (phone camera, map, to-do list, binder with animal pictures), and it’s very easy to bring up the wrong thing and get momentarily annoyed before you correct yourself. Similarly, it’s easy to mix up the buttons for taking a photo and zooming in on the camera. These are pretty small gripes, though. The graphics seem simple on the surface, with the character models looking cartoonishly cute, but the island itself is actually quite beautiful, with stunning vistas at every turn. There’s also a lovely orchestral score which helps the colours pop. And although there’s no voice acting, there are animal sounds and lots of charming written dialogue.
The game is fairly short (you should be able to finish the main story in under three hours), but there’s something very special about Alba. It’s a game that will make an impact on you, and possibly even change the way that you look at the world next time you go out for a walk. Certainly, you’ll find it harder to walk by a piece of litter without picking it up and popping it in the bin. As Alba teaches you, little acts of kindness like that can lead to great things, and they can also be pretty therapeutic to take part in. If you’re looking for a game to help you chill out, definitely give this a go, and it might spur you on to help the environment in your own way too.
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