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Ikonei Island: An Earthlock Adventure

18 August, 2022 - 2:36 pm by
About 11 mins to read

I haven’t played a ‘build your own community’ game since Harvest Moon was released on the GameCube… so it’s been a minute. As a rule, these kinds of games aren’t for me. While I bow to the popularity of Animal Crossing: New Horizons and the seemingly immortal appeal of Stardew Valley, I have always preferred games that offer a more defined start and finish, and ones that require me to do more than simply make things in my own image. That was before the W.A.S.D. event in London back in May though, where Snowcastle Games were previewing an early build of their new game…

Key Points

Summary 
We enjoyed…  + The simple crafting mechanics
+ Lovely Pixar-style storyboards
+ Addictive “just 5 more minutes” gameplay
We’d like to see more…  + Greater roster of enemies
+ More quests that aren’t island repairs
+ Improved map mechanics
  
Release DateEarly Access Now – Full Release TBC
Available OnPC (Now)
PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch (Upon full release)

I’m a big fan of the original Earthlock; I love the ease of the mechanics, the interesting lore and the playful characters, so I was keen to give the latest instalment in the Earthlock universe a try, regardless of the genre. That quick hands-on at W.A.S.D. certainly piqued my interest and now that Ikonei Island has entered Early Access on Steam, I couldn’t miss the opportunity for an extended look.

Now, I’ll reiterate that the version I’ve played is still a title in Early Access, where you’re effectively playing in the sandbox as the developers build sandcastles around you. It’s understandable then that the game currently lacks polish in some areas and is unfinished in others, but I won’t be nit-picking those things in my preview since Snowcastle Games are still actively working on the game. So, if you’re looking to jump into Ikonei Island in its current state, please bear in mind that you’ll encounter items with missing descriptions, the odd item floating around and some other hiccups, but you can actively contribute towards the games progression by reporting these problems to the developers directly though the game or by joining their Discord channel.

With all that out of the way, let’s discuss the game. Ikonei Island tells the story of four orphans: Hedda, a young hogbunny girl, Jacob, an adolescent octo, and the human kids, Shaun and Eva. Living rough at the harbour, they catch the attention of a pirate crew and have to flee, lest they be captured and sold as slaves. Helped by Earthlock’s Frog Boy, the children outrun the pirates before landing on a mysterious island; exploration uncovers the island’s ancient origins, and the children are asked to repair the magical shield that kept the land shrouded from civilisation until it’s recent failure.

The story is told through a series of hand-painted storyboards, and I have to say that they make for a jaw-dropping introduction to the game. Seemingly inspired by the recent Pixar movie Luca, the style is absolutely stunning; the characters leap off the screen with a playful vibrance that perfectly channels the original Earthlock. I’m hoping that even more of these storyboards make it into the final version of the game, and I’d love to have some voice-acted narration so that I can concentrate on the visuals rather than reading the plot!

The gameplay is part-adventure and part-farming sim, with a healthy balance between the two. You’re charged with exploring each of the islands distinct biomes and restoring the ancient shrines and landmarks that have been broken. Each landmark requires specific materials to rebuild, and you’ll need to look far and wide for some of the more niche items required – thankfully, you’re able to switch between each of the four children to save time when scouring for items across the island. There’s no centralised item-sharing system, so you’ll need to trapse backwards and forwards to share and trade items between characters, and it’s made yet more tricky by having relatively a limited pocket-size early on. There’s a fast travel system though, and it’s certainly helpful to be able to zip around the island when you’re farming items that can only be found in specific regions.

Whilst you’re rebuilding the island, you can also nurture a farm to grow food and flowers, and build all manner of furniture and decorations for you to build your own home on Ikonei Island, exactly as you’d like it! The number of craftable items is already massive and there’s tonnes of scope for personalisation, but Snowcastle Games have stated that even more are coming in the final release.

The crafting system is wonderfully simple and quick to use; your character just needs to be holding the pre-requisite materials, you then select the item you’d like, and it’s created in a heartbeat. Tools and weapons you create have a limited durability, but the thing I found satisfying is how your most basic tools, like a hammer and a hatchet, can be crafted from items you’ll find almost anywhere. In a game where inventory space can be limited and travelling back and forth is already a requirement, I appreciated Snowcastle Games respecting my play time and allowing me to keep making farming tools on the go, saving me a journey.

Those pirates that were chasing our protagonists have also landed across the island, and they’ve imprisoned much of the local wildlife; you’ll have to sneak your way into their bases and boot them out, allowing you to release the animals and have them join you as your companions. The children can bond with the animals, taking control of them using their unique abilities like smashing through stones or chopping down trees. As the bonds with your companions grow, they level up and see improvements to their abilities improve, allowing you to access parts of the island that were previously inaccessible. It’s a really nice system that not only saves your tools but has also allowed Snowcastle Games sneakily structure the pace of your progression.

There’s monsters lurking around the island too, thanks to the pirates installing leaky Amri extractors all over the place. These machines are built to extract magic but are rather ramshackle and tend spill their surplus everywhere, causing plants to mutate into monsters; you’ll have to use your crafted weapons and clothing to defend yourself, lest you get beaten up and find yourself back in the Heartlands. The combat is an easy button-mashing affair that simply serves a purpose – I don’t think that it needs to be any more complex considering the game’s genre, but I would like to see a greater roster of enemies to show off more of the Earthlock universe and to offer players a more varied threat.

The graphical style of Ikonei Island is very similar to that of the original Earthlock, where the environment is as characterful as its inhabitants. Ruins and statues smatter the landscape, and definitely gives Ikonei an ancient feel. I’m a big fan of all the character models in the game – from Jacob’s gangly limbs to Hedda’s stubby little legs and CAT’s Iron Giant-like proportions, Ikonei Island stays true to all of the visual stylings that made the original RPG so beloved. (The dancing hogbunny pirates are especially adorable, and I demand some sort of animated loading screen or save icon with them in!)

I really love the UI too, which personifies Earthlock’s bright and playful aesthetic really nicely. Menus are filled with colourful tabs and chunky images that are definitely in keeping with your child-protagonists, though they can be a little problematic when it comes to the map. With all those chunky icons, selecting what you want is a little fiddly when they overlap one another. This can also stop you from using fast travel entirely, as you can’t highlight the character you want if they’re too close to another icon on the map. It’s an easy fix, for sure, but it will be a very welcome one.

Inspired by playing Stardew Valley with his children, Snowcastle Games’ director Bendik Stang wanted to make Ikonei Island a multiplayer experience, and the developer will be implementing four-player cross-platform multiplayer in the finished version. This will allow you and your friends to explore the island together, and I can’t exaggerate how excited I am for this to go live. The thought of rebuilding Ikonei Island with three friends, each of us snaffling up various items and performing different duties sounds like incredible fun, and the collaboration will add another layer of enjoyment to the game. There’s a risk that things might move a little too quickly with four players rampaging around the island though, and I’d encourage the developers to consider upping the material quotas required to elongate the experience in multiplayer.

Despite its Early Access status and the minor hiccups that come with the territory, Ikonei Island: An Earthlock Adventure is already a great game; it’s tonnes of fun and has an addictive gameplay cycle that makes the hours simply melt away. The simple crafting system, upgradable animal companions and myriad of personalisation options gives Ikonei Island that farm-sim feel whilst offering some enjoyable exploration options for adventure fans too. The island is lively and vibrant, and littered with references to the existing Earthlock franchise that should encourage a whole new group of players to check out the original game. With a dedicated team listening to their community, I have no doubt that Snowcastle Games will wrangle the problems in no time, and with cross-platform multiplayer coming, Ikonei Island is going to be a very popular destination for players come the final release.

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.

Our Rating
Gold