Island Saver is an interesting example of modern Edutainment. Developed by Stormcloud Games and published by Natwest Bank of all companies, it was designed to help kids learn important money lessons. Set on the Savvy Islands, this game features a whole host of mechanics, locations, and “Bankimals” to teach young players about money.
The player takes the role of a Bionaut, a person tasked with cleaning up the Savvy Islands. This can be in part done by hoovering all the aforementioned discarded plastic. Other ways to help clean up is by getting rid of the black gunk that covers the plant life, and rescuing the creatures of these islands. This quickly becomes an engaging game loop.
Mechanics upon mechanics
It starts off simple with the notion of collecting discarded plastic to recycle for gold coins. These coins can then be deposited into a bank account. It doesn’t take the game all that long to introduce concepts such as earning interest, loans, buying and selling though. Taxes are also included, all of which make things just a little more complicated. They do get layered on steadily as the game progresses, so the learning curve isn’t too steep.
A major mechanic is making the creatures become so full of their favourite foods that they convert this food into money. This money is then extracted harmlessly from them. I don’t know what that says about taking advantage of animals for your own personal gain but it does generally come across as pretty harmless overall. Aside from feeding them, players can also paint them different colours and even ride a select few. They also poop. So, it’s just like looking after a real animal. Kinda.
Bright and colourful
Visually, the game looks very appealing. Bright colours and big chunky creature designs. When playing, I had distinct flashbacks of the creatures from the Viva Piñata games on the Xbox 360. Even the idea of helping the Bankimals get their colour back, feeding them and extracting money from them. It’s very reminiscent of the candy inside the piñatas. In fact, every new Bankimal gets introduced in a similar fashion. I’m obviously not saying this concept is a blatant rip-off, rather, it’s clearly a play on the famous piggy bank motif. It’s just kind of a weirdly nostalgic element to the game for me which I did not expect.
A load of rubbish
After a while, the game does start getting repetitive. There are only so many plastic bottles that can be picked up before it starts feeling like a chore. If your child is resistant to cleaning their own room, the idea of cleaning up plastic bottles might not appeal to them. There is an obvious environmentally friendly angle behind the game, which is very well-intentioned.
Island Saver does have several things to juggle at the same time, players may end up waiting for things to replenish or reappear if the tasks aren’t done efficiently enough. I’ve noticed the loading times are pretty lengthy too. Luckily, there aren’t too many of them. Starting the game for the first time can take a while, and actually loading a level is also time-consuming. Whilst the controls are simple enough I struggled with the movement. Jumping in particular feels quite floaty. One section where I had to jump across the backs of several turtles to save myself from sinking into the sea, was very annoying. There isn’t a life system or anything but it does disrupt the gameplay. A simple swimming mechanic would have been very much appreciated.
Plenty of history
Mixing education and entertainment has a long and detailed history. The gamification of education has been a staple of getting kids to learn stuff for decades. The advent of video games helped open a whole new avenue for potential brain-engaging activities. Gems like Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?, The Typing of the Dead and The Oregon Trail have all helped to merge entertainment and education together.
These games can vary wildly in effectiveness and quality. Happily, Island Saver doesn’t seem that bad. There’s definitely a few hours of potential fun without having to pay anything. Along with a bit of useful financial information for free. No need to sign up for a NatWest account. No micro-transactions or loot boxes either! There are two bits of paid DLC, neither of which are that expensive. Which is fine. As rightly pointed out in the comment of this article by Big Bamber Boozler, all net profits are donated to charity. In this case, it is split between Special Effect and Young Money, rather than going to Natwest, as I implied.
I feel like Edutainment games are a very rare thing nowadays, especially on consoles. Will Island Saver usher in a new era of Edutainment? I don’t think so. The fact that it is a free game on consoles that helps teach kids about money is pretty novel. It makes it stand out enough, especially with the well-designed cute animals. Plus, the kids playing might learn something about handling money. Not even the money-savvy Tom Nook of Animal Crossing fame gives such an in-depth explanation of money. Despite him dropping a mortgage on players right at the start of most games!