Beasts of Maravilla Island released for Xbox on July 9th 2021, and I got to play it on day 1. Given the success of Pokémon Snap, I was intrigued when I saw that there was an indie game with a similar premise. However, when you get into the actual gameplay, Beasts of Maravilla Island is actually very different. Of course, there’s the obvious similarity of using a camera to take pictures of fascinating creatures, but other than that, there’s really not much in common between the two games. At its core, Beasts of Maravilla Island is an adventure game, whereas Pokémon Snap relies purely on the novelty of taking photos. With so much to say about it, I just had to do a Beasts of Maravilla Island Xbox review!
I have to say, I had a whole bunch of fun playing Beasts of Maravilla Island. The game has gorgeously vibrant colours right from the main menu, and I loved discovering all the unique creatures and vegetation that grew on the island. There were a few issues which I’ll get into further on in the review, but on the whole I had a lot of fun.
I won’t spoil the ending, but let’s get into the basic premise. Beasts of Maravilla Island starts with a beautiful opening cutscene where you learn what prompted you to make the journey in the first place. Years ago, your grandpa visited the island, and was fascinated by what he discovered. He documented his findings in a journal, and when you were little he’d share his stories with you. He recently passed away, and left you the task of revisiting the island to get proof of the incredible creatures that live there. It was his dream that the majesty of Maravilla Island would be shared with the world. Armed with your grandpa’s trusty camera, you set out on a mission to take photo of the many forms of life that the island has to offer.
I really like the inclusion of the journal, and it’s fascinating to see the hand-drawn notes and images that are inside. It’s a unique way of learning about the island, and it gives insight into our relationship with our grandpa, too. You slowly learn more about the lore of Maravilla Island, as well as our grandpa’s history with it. Without getting into details, the ending is pretty shocking and unexpected. It had me rethinking everything we’d seen so far, it was a clever little twist. Honestly, a game like this didn’t need too much of a detailed story, so I think the developers did a great job with it. It wasn’t too much or too little, it was just enough to keep you hooked.
Beasts of Maravilla Island got it spot on when it came to making this game fun to play. My biggest complaint about Pokémon Snap was that you had to follow a set path, whereas in this game you can move around wherever you like. Having that extra exploration aspect really elevated the gameplay. The movement is pretty smooth, although there are issues with the camera which I’ll talk more about later. You can’t jump, which I always think is a shame in any 3d game. I do understand that jumping adds a lot more for the developers to think about when it comes to the coding, but it can make walking around seem more fun.
Having said that, I liked that you could interact with the island. There are special plants that are photosensitive, and when your camera flashes, it causes them to grow into beanstalks that you can climb. There are also animals that you can use to make other plants grow to raise and lower you between platforms. You can find lots of different objects in the game that make it so you’re not just walking around on a flat surface, and so you never feel boredom in the way you might do in some other games.
The game has 3 main areas which you can explore, each with a different theme. I’ll be honest, I was quite shocked when the game ended after the third area, as it felt way too short. The whole thing took me about 2-3 hours to beat, and that was with me trying to be a completionist. However, when I realised that the game is only £8.39, I thought that was very reasonable. It’s a fun experience, albeit short, and well worth the money in my opinion.
The Picture of Perfection
Now, the exploration part is all good and well, but let’s get down to the good stuff. Taking photos. That was what initially sold me on the game, and made me excited to play it. I’ve always loved games with a photo mode, and hated that it was nearly always an optional facet. I love it when games actually integrate photo mode into the campaign. For example, in Canis Canem Edit when you need to take a picture of everyone for the year book. (Wow, that takes me back to my PS2 days)! Anyway, Beasts of Maravilla Island uses the camera as a means of collecting things. Instead of picking up collectibles, you take photos of different island phenomena. Each area has a set number of animals and plants that you need to find and photograph.
There’s a decent number of different animals and plants in each area, and it’s really fun scouring the land to find them. Often the plants will come in various colours of the same species, which poses an interesting challenge. You may think you’ve found a new plant, when really it’s just a different colour of one you already have! You can take up to 10 pictures of each phenomenon, so you can capture all the colour varieties.
The coolest thing is that each area has its own ‘primary creature’. As well as just taking a normal photo of it, you have to capture different behaviours. These behaviours are triggered by location, as well as your actions, and so you have to use your grandpa’s journal to figure out how to take every photo you need. Searching for these special photos really helps you connect with Beasts of Maravilla Island, and builds the immersion.
A Whole New World
I really adore the creativity that went into designing this game. You can tell how passionate the developers were, and their imagination really shines through in the creatures and plants that populate the island. Each animal fits perfectly in its area, and wouldn’t make as much sense in another section. There’s biodiversity, whilst still having coherent themes. Some of my favourite animals are the birds in the first area, which is jungle themed. There’s a Banana Peel Toucan that looks like… You guessed it… A banana! All the birds have really distinctive colour patterns, and I think they’re so cute.
With bugs, birds, bats, butterflies, frogs, reptiles, and raptors to look for across the areas, you’re never short on excitement. You get to take photos of loads of different creatures, and it’s a really beautiful, fascinating game. The plants, too, are really cool in their designs, and exploring Maravilla Island really does feel like discovering a whole new world.
Graphics and Audio
As I mentioned earlier, this game is really beautiful. Being an indie project, it didn’t have the high budget of other games, and that is very apparent. The model designs are often simplistic, and you won’t be blown away by the details. However, that doesn’t detract from the experience. The colours are so vibrant and breath-taking that it makes the game feel more detailed than it is, and you find yourself gazing in wonder as you look around at all the different phenomena that the island has to offer. And honestly, I actually really like the rough-around-the-edges style of the models. It adds to the charm, in my opinion. You don’t go to an indie game for perfection, you go for heart, and this game has heart all over. The opening cutscene is particularly beautiful, with a 2d, hand-illustrated style.
The music in Beasts of Maravilla Island is neither bad nor amazing. It’s fine, and it certainly fits the theme of the game, but I think maybe it could’ve been a bit more exciting. It’s very jungle-y, and includes a range of instruments, mainly percussion or woodwind. It feels tribal and yet also relaxing. The music changes as you progress through the game, with each section of an area having its own theme. These transitions are very subtle, so you don’t really notice the tune changing. There are also ambient sound effects, such as birds tweeting, or frogs croaking. I really like this, as it helps make the game feel like a more full experience.
The Not-So-Good Stuff
Unfortunately, not everything in life can be perfect, and this game is no exception. As you can tell from the rest of this review, I really loved this game. However, that didn’t make me blind to the several flaws that were present in it. Most notably, the camera wasn’t very smooth. Not only was it a bit jittery when moving it, but there was pretty bad drift. It would pan to the side when you stopped moving it, which was doubly problematic as the camera would regularly clip inside of objects, obscuring the screen. This clipping issue was very prevalent in tighter sections, where it would constantly go inside walls. Manoeuvring the camera was a challenging skill in itself.
There were also quite a lot of glitches, where your character would freeze for no real reason. One example of this is when you’re about to progress to the third area. You climb some vines, and a message pops up to confirm you want to proceed. While the message is on screen, your character slides to the bottom of the vines. If you select that you want to continue exploring the second area, you find yourself stuck at the bottom of the vines, unable to move or press any buttons. There are several other instances where similar things happen, and you end up having to reload the game.
Speaking of glitches, the Xbox version has several achievements which the game won’t acknowledge. This is an issue if you’re a completionist, and you want to get your 1,000 Gamerscore. However, the developers are aware of this issue, and are hoping to fix it in an upcoming patch. That’ll be excellent, as it’s otherwise pretty easy to earn achievements in this game, and is great for quick Gamerscore.
On the whole, I really enjoyed this game, and would certainly recommend it. It’s rather short, but I’d rather a short game with good pacing, than a boring, prolonged experience. I do think it could have been improved by having photos be rated on quality. That would have given you more incentive to play for longer, trying to get higher scoring pictures. However, it’s still great fun to collect pictures of everything the island has to offer. There were also a few more minor issues that I didn’t think were worth mentioning individually. It’s a real shame about the camera and the glitches, because otherwise I’d be able to rate the game even higher. Still, I think it’s an excellent game, especially considering how inexpensive it is.