2020 was a year of garbage fires for the planet’s climate, with major wildfires in Australia in the first few months of the year and in California this summer. Just this week, there are reports that November was the hottest on record, and after 2021 you’ll find that if we don’t do anything, the garbage fire will continue to burn.
That’s what our main character, Aruba, absolutely wants to avoid. The broader fight against climate variability may not yet be in the minds of our 11-year-old heroine, but the adventures of home and wildlife very close to her mind.
Aruba (in this case Scotland, not Scotland, but dawn in Spanish) can immerse himself in this idyllic environment when he visits his grandparents on the island of Pinardermar in the Mediterranean. From sandy beaches and paddy fields to natural parks and hilltop castles, the island has everything. Natural parks in particular are one of Aruba’s favorite places.
Sadly, the park has been devastated along with many other parts of the island. For much of her annoyance and the annoyance of her best friend Ines, the mayor is planning a nature reserve and they do not include putting it in place.
Instead, he plans to cover the park with a bulldozer and build a huge luxury hotel.
The mayor’s announcement initially boosts residents, but soon sees them tackling the dilemma of trading what they love to promise jobs and revitalize the local economy.
But you are 11 years old. You don’t complain about work and the economy. You care about parks, islands, and their animals. My grandparents gave me a map, a guide, and a smartphone, so I have a Pokédex-style app that allows me to identify the wildlife around me. Your mission is something that everyone will miss if you follow the mayor’s plans.
You embark on an adventure to photograph, scan and record 62 species of birds and mammals (and one reptile). They span eight different biomes on the island, each with its own unique life. When you show how diverse the islands are, you can open the eyes of the islanders and see how valuable they have.
This is the heart of the game. It’s about walking around, taking pictures, and recording as much as you can. Fortunately, the island is quite dense and you can walk from one side to the other in just a few minutes. This is pretty impressive given the typical 11 year old land speed.
This all means that you can play almost 100% of the game in just 3 hours. However, this is not a game that you will soon forget. Aruba is the kind of game that sticks to you.
It must be said: This game is ridiculously cute. It feels all good and the way Aruba flies around the island is as heartwarming as it gets. It’s a small but real island. From graffiti to posters decorating town buildings, Pinar del Mar feels like a place to live.
It’s also great to see and capture. The camera’s autofocus works as expected, producing the right kind of bokeh you’d expect when looking at the world through the camera’s lens. I often skipped the road and stopped taking sunsets, as I did in real life.
Aruba doesn’t just take pictures. She also helps sick animals, builds bird boxes, cleans up trash scattered around the island, and repairs local tourist offices. Once you’ve taken a picture of a particular species, you can print a new sign on the Wildlife Information Board to bring the island back to its former glory.
The more you clean up Pinar del Mar, the more likely the animal will come out, further facilitating your quest to snap everything.
In short, you’re basically one woman’s city hall, embarrassing everyone else how useless they are.
As this game is exemplary, it’s not all gravy, and there are some real quality of life improvements that can be made. First and foremost, when Aruba pulls out her cell phone to take a picture, she plants her feet like Claire Redfield. Nothing but Nemesis will move her until she cleans up her cell phone.
This will bring the game down a bit. Not being able to move 0.5 inches to the left while taking a photo through a fence is frustrating like all hell. Taking pictures of fast-moving objects, such as geckos and birds running overhead, only makes things worse.
In addition, there are some bugs that can be resolved here. I saw a person staring at the brick wall in front of his face with binoculars. The game freezes twice when I accidentally move the mouse while using the gamepad. Neither will eventually break the game, but they are still eyebrows.
This brings me to the last thing that disappointed me about the game: the lack of real bugs and what eats them. It is suspected that there is nothing smaller than the gecko on the island, and the gecko is the only reptile you see. Talking to the developers, I found that the game was originally focused on bird watching and evolved to include mammals, but macro photography and bug hunting were outside the scope of the game.
Anyway, I would like to conclude with a genuine praise point. It must be said that the studio behind this game is putting money in its mouth. Despite being a small indie developer in South London, ustwo sells each copy of Apple Arcade and donates each unique user to Ecologi as part of a project to plant a million trees.
And spoiler warnings for credit: They start with resources from the United Nations and WWF about what you can do if you want to do more for your local environment. Elegant movement, ustwo.