7 October, 2022 - 10:37 am by
About 6 mins to read

Aka caught my attention earlier in the year when the chonk of a red panda sprung up on Steam. You see, there are a few things I absolutely lose my mind over –  heavy metal when played in normal places, alliteration, and fat red pandas. Developers Cosmo Gatto settled on the latter point for their latest endeavour and despite already being sold, they pinged across an early Beta build for me to get my paws on. 

Key Points

We enjoyed…  + The cutscene artwork is adorable
+ You’re a rotund Red Panda
+ A deep and engaging story from the off
We’d like to see more…  + Adjustments to the controls
+ Clearer objectives
Scheduled ReleaseQ4 2022
Planned platformsNintendo Switch, PC

Aka is an open-world simulator that tasks the loveable panda, known as Aka, with bringing an island back to life after a tumultuous war. All of the staple tropes are present like scouting for materials, farming supplies and helping out the island’s inhabitants with short quests. On paper it sounds very Animal Crossing, but peeling back the gameplay mechanics reveals a deeper, more impactful story that is set to underpin the entire experience.

From the off, Cosmo Gatto managed to hook me into a surprisingly emotional world in which players must build Aka’s new home. Within the first few moments arriving on Pine Tree Island, Aka’s wartime experiences smashed through the screen and sucker punched me right in the feels. The problems faced by the squishy mammal quickly became my problems and the game became less of a cute farming sim and more of a mission to face Aka’s past.

The demo lasted four in-game days, or around an hour or so in the real world, and during this brutal set-up that involved saying goodbye to departed friends, Aka’s sweet aesthetics certainly baited me in but in a surprising way. Without spoiling what I uncovered, I can already see the plot heading off in numerous directions, and am excited to see how the heavy subject matter plays off the wholesome gameplay and how cute the game looks.

Boy, am I a big fan of Aka‘s art direction. This hand-drawn-esque presentation, seen in games like Pikuniku and Child of Light, seem to win me over every time and Aka is no exception. The world is mesmerising, vibrant and colourful, like a painting, and yet retains a certain charm that it feels real. The locations I experienced are right at the beginning of the game and feature a small wooded area, a sandy shoreline and pools of flowing water, and what’s impressive is that each section is clearly defined in a way that invites exploration. 

The characters are equally engaging, like the ghosts that drift over the coastline at night, or the owl who wants to clear up the bear traps on the island. While the Aka demo had a limited selection of characters, each had their own personality and was memorable for one reason or another. 

As touched upon, the core mechanics of Aka seem to be an equal mix of farming and adventuring. To start, I was given a farm to plant seeds and grow crops but by talking to the island’s populace, I was handed quests to not only improve the land but also unlock additional tools or recipes that can be utilised later in the game. Aside from the obvious demo restrictions, Aka does appear to let me plod along at my own pace.

The relaxed approach does seem deliberate; the story is quite heavy, and not having to rush the gameplay elements does give Aka (and let’s face it, the player) time to process what’s going on. It’s not all great news though, as the farming sections do seem a bit clunky to control. When playing with a controller the buttons seemed out of whack and a little unresponsive. Likewise, there is no clear guidance in some of the missions; for example, I entered a forge to craft a hoe – I was told what parts I needed to make it, but not how to obtain said parts. After fiddling and fumbling around, it turned out I needed to collect metal objects and melt them down prior to crafting.

For the most part I hate games hand-holding a player but even a small hint would have been nice. Don’t get me wrong, this  is a personal preference and my short time with the demo could have also played a factor in this.

These slight issues aside, Aka is shaping up to be one heck of a video game when it releases. The casual, unpressured nature of the game is one that will relax players into a life that takes you away from the stresses of the world, although the story is set to ground Aka in ways which will undoubtedly surprise a lot of players. During my short time with the game, I was convinced this will be a day one purchase for me, even if I find the farming side not to my taste. 

Aka will be released in 2022 for Switch and PC. You can wishlist the game on Steam now.

In the interest of full disclosure, the publisher provided VGamingNews with an early build of the game in order to conduct this preview. Experiences from the full game on release may vary.