What a journey this one is. A title first dropped as a joke in South Park to make Butters look uncool becomes an Apple Arcade game and somehow against all odds is actually fantastic. Hello Kitty Island Adventure () might look like Animal Crossing in screenshots, but that’s really just one facet of the game. There’s a bit of The Legend of Zelda in here, and it even reminded me of A Short Hike at times. How is a game based on Sanrio characters as clever and fun as this? Really a well-done effort all-around. Let’s look at exactly what it is.
The first thing you’re presented with is a fairly limited character creator, after which you will find yourself on a plane with various Sanrio characters. You have the chance to talk to everyone, after which Kitty causes a mess, Badtz-maru drops a movie reference that everyone who has played this game has taken a screenshot of, and everyone is forced to parachute down to the island below. It once played host to a theme park, and you’re all there to… you know, I don’t remember? Visit it? Get it up and running again? The important thing is that it’s a pretty big area and not all of the passengers landed in the same place. Most of you luckily ended up in a central seaside area that is perfect for learning how to play the game. What luck!
The various characters will give you quests to complete. Some of them are fetch quests. Lots of them are, really. Completing them will of course give you some rewards, and might increase your friendship level with that character. Leveling up your friendships will give you access to more quests and more rewards, some of which are tools you can use to explore more of the world around you. You can actually explore a surprisingly large area from the start, but your inability to swim will keep you from going too far. Eventually you’ll get items that allow you explore more thoroughly, and the world opens up to a shockingly big degree. There are some overarching goals that you’ll stumble upon before long, plus tons of smaller ones that may or may not lead to something important. There is also an absolute bucket load of side activities to do like fishing and bug collecting. There are even little mini-races that award you with trophies of various levels based on your time.
You’ll also sometimes find yourself exploring underground, in buildings, and around other structures. There are honest-to-goodness puzzles in these places, often variations on switch problems but often something else entirely. It’s never excessively difficult, likely in deference to the idea that young kids might be playing, but some of them do require a bit of creative thought. Speaking of difficulty, there’s no real way to get hurt or die in the game. At most, you can end up falling off the screen or into the water before you have the right items, at which point you’ll just respawn at the last safe place your feet were touching.
It’s interesting because while there is a lot of Animal Crossing in this game, there’s also a lot more structure to send you off on linear threads if that’s what you want. Go solve the mysteries of the islands and track down the other characters. Get all of the tools so you can explore fully. Or just hang around and try to bake every single thing possible. Go fishing for a bit. Decorate houses with furniture that you buy, find, or craft. Invite guests and complete the quests they issue. Design some new threads for your character. Wear silly costumes. Take selfies with all of the hidden Gudetamas. See if you can improve your island’s Vibe score. It’s amazing how much this game checks off the life simulation boxes while also giving you more traditional gamey bits like exploration and puzzle-solving.
The controls are very simple, with a virtual stick for moving your character around and a few buttons on the other side for using your collected tools or talking to people. Pressing on the right side anywhere but the button spaces makes you jump, and you can press it again to float with your balloons. The platforming is a bit clunky at times and you can easily get stuck in places, but the game will always get you out of any messes you get into. Various menus allow you to change your tools or check your items, and a robust map and quest log ensure you’re never stranded about what to do. You can also easily see how much of each collection you’ve finished.
Simply put, Hello Kitty Island Adventure is a game you can really get stuck into for hours. I ran down my battery practically without noticing the time go by on multiple occasions while playing the game for this review. I was expecting a simple Animal Crossing clone because that is really all it had to be. You don’t have to flex that hard when you’re using characters as familiar as Kitty and My Melody, after all. It’s just a game for little kids, right? But developer Sunblink went and made a game that I think just about anyone can enjoy, regardless of age or familiarity with games. I also appreciate how cleverly written it is. That is one of the secret strengths of Animal Crossing that so many of the games inspired by it don’t get right.
Apart from some weirdness with the platforming and clipping, the only real knock I have on this game is that the multiplayer didn’t work properly for me during the whole time I was playing the game. I bet it would be fun, but for now it just doesn’t seem to connect. I’ve been informed the developer is working on a fix, but right now it is what it is. Luckily the game is immensely enjoyable in single player, so it’s not going to hurt things too badly.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think Hello Kitty Island Adventure is one of my favorite mobile games of this year so far. It’s so much more than I expected it to be, so much more than it needed to be, and I genuinely appreciate just how compelling it is from head to toe. I’ve been vocal amongst my peers about how Apple Arcade needs more reasons to subscribe these days. Well, here’s one extremely good reason. Butters was right the whole time.