Castaway Paradise begins with you washing up on the shore of an island after a storm. Rather than trying to find a way back to a life and family you must surely have left behind, you decide to follow the instructions of a strange animal person you’ve never met, and live on the island forever. It is the world standard for anthropomorphic animals, after all.
If you’ve ever played Animal Crossing, the game will be instantly familiar. From the moment you find yourself on the island, animals start giving you instructions like you’re a long-serving tropical butler, and when they’re not giving you low stakes quests to complete they’re telling you something odd and/or charming about themselves. I found Angus, a chunky, grumpy monkey, to be particularly entertaining, whether he was bristling about some imaginary slight from another animal or asking you, urgently, to bury some incriminating documents for him before tax collectors turn up. Unlike Animal Crossing, the animals here don’t leave and get replaced by others, meaning there’s the same cast of characters throughout, for better or worse.
The first animal you meet quickly gives you a tent to live in and decorate as you see fit, which can be upgraded into an actual house, and then a mansion, surprisingly quickly. Annoyingly, the extra rooms that this unlocks are already there in your tent, but blocked by barriers until you purchase the upgrade. There are also permanent spider webs in your home that you don’t seem to be able to get rid of, so hopefully you’re a fan of tiny eight-legged monsters.
To decorate, you require furniture and other assorted decorations, which are unlocked by levelling up. You earn experience for basically everything you do in the game, whether it’s growing fruit and crops, cleaning up weeds and trash, or completing a quest. There is a large selection of things to fill your house with featuring everything you could possibly need and then some. Placing them works pretty much as you would expect, though for some reason larger items like the bed come in two parts that must be placed next to each other rather than just a larger item that takes up more space.
To purchase all of these decorations you’ll need a source of income, of which there are a few. You can grow fruit and crops, play the stock market and invest money, and complete quests. The quests quickly become repetitive, often being deliveries or talking to another animal, or planting a couple of trees in a particular area. The latter example was particularly annoying, as they were supposed to be for hanging a hammock between, but a hammock never materialised. In fact, any quest that involves doing something in the environment comes off as pointless when you can literally go and remove them immediately after turning the quest in without it making any difference.
Now we come to the game’s biggest issue; the economy doesn’t work. Playing stocks, investing, fishing, and growing crops all pay out substantially less than just planting fruit all over the place. Some fruit sells for hundreds per fruit, so if you plant 10 of them you get thousands once they are grown. Crops can also only be planted in certain areas whilst fruit can be planted anywhere on the island.
Fruit also requires far less attention than crops as fruit grows in one hour after being watered precisely once, whilst any given crop needs to be watered multiple times after various different wait times depending on the crop. And then crops typically sell for significantly less than fruit does anyway. As a result of this, the best way to make money is plant lots of fruits and, every time they’re grown, harvest and water them again. This is boring, but is such a superior way of making cash that not doing it feels like missing a trick.
Add to this the parts of the map that need to be unlocked, which is obnoxious enough, but using “puzzle” pieces to uncover sections of an image, which then results in bridges being rebuilt. They aren’t even difficult to find as they can be bought cheaply in the shop, in addition to being given as a reward for missions, so it just feels like an unnecessary addition to try and pad the game length for some reason.
Then there are the wait times, which are expected in this type of game but still relentlessly obnoxious. It takes an hour to grow some fruit, an actual real life hour, though if you suspend your game and come back later the timer will not have dropped. Whilst you wait for things to grow, all you can really do is plant more things or do even more missions for animals. As mentioned, this is usually a fetch quest or a delivery, and is dull after the seventh such quest for the same character.
Unfortunately, Castaway Paradise is a disappointment. It simply doesn’t capture interest like Animal Crossing does, whether it’s due to the broken economy, the endless repetition of quests, or perpetual fruit gathering.
Version Tested: PS4 – also available on Xbox One