Release date: 2021
Version played: Xbox Series X in 2022
Developed by Banana Bird Studios, LLC, and published by Whitethorn Games, Beasts of Maravilla Island is a story-driven, third person photography game. Taking control of aspiring wildlife photographer Marina Montez, players must explore the mysterious titular Maravilla Island and document the various flora and fauna written of in her grandfather’s journal.
+ finding the specific animals or plants to take photos of is a simple joy. This is often not difficult, but crouching, angling your camera and waiting for that perfect shot is the kind of stuff I love. Marina can perform a small whistle which can be used to interact with a select few animals in some fun ways
+ the creatures themselves range from adorable to acceptable. Some personal favourites are the various bird species of the starting forest location
– unfortunately, the various locales are very linear and there is often no real interaction with the island a la New Pokémon Snap. Creatures will essentially just go about their business, only a handful of which will even acknowledge Marina’s presence or whistle
– the photograph aspect itself is very bland. There are no filters or lenses to change things up, and any mystery about how to get a photos (such as, a creature performing a specific aspect) is outright explained to you by the main character. This whole system boils down to ‘point and click’, and the photos you take don’t even get that glow up to make them look pretty when you put them in journal
– the game is very janky, with lots of visual glitches, clunky climbing sections and frankly quite amateur animations. Marina slides across the ground as she runs, and those aforementioned climbing sections are a real pace killer. Even playing on the XSX I was surprised at how poor the framerate could get, and how slowly the world would load around me
– this game is also very short. I finished it in a single ~90 minute sitting, with only the ‘off the beaten path’ achievements left to get. There is almost no replay value, especially as there is no scoring system (again, unlike New Pokémon Snap)
> I was drawn to this game a while ago, alongside the similarly based ‘Eastshade‘ (which is paintings, rather than photography) and Pupperazzi. I obviously became side-tracked with other things, but I was quite pleased to see it as the Games with Gold offering for the month
> purely as a personal thing, I feel like “Beasts” in the title is not quite an apt description. Maybe something like “Creatures” or even “The Mysteries” might have been a better fit
Should you play this game: As far as free Xbox Games with Gold, this is the kind of thing that should always be offered alongside the meatier, mainstream games. This was short and simple, but I enjoyed my time with it and makes me keep an eye out for future games from Banana Bird Studios. Were the developers to use this as a base for a hypothetical “Beasts of Maravilla Archipelago“, they might have some really special, but this game is not quite there.