Coral Island Review – An Island Paradise Without the Soul-Crushing Debt

    Title: Coral Island
    Developer: Stairway Games
    Release Date: November 14, 2023
    Reviewed On: PC
    Publisher: Humble Games
    Genre: Farming Sim

Coral Island Review: A Fresh Take on Familiar Farming

Humble Games has a knack for discovering niche indie games and bringing them to a broader audience by releasing them on multiple platforms. This trend has provided a platform for games that might otherwise struggle to find an audience. Coral Island is their latest indie title to grace Steam, initially in early access to allow players to help refine the game before its full release.

So, what exactly are we farming for? Is it to find someone who will sweep us off our feet? Or perhaps to defeat a shady corporation that seeks to turn Starlet Town into a haven for corporate greed? Well, yes, but that’s not the only goal for players diving into Coral Island for the first time. Starlet Town has recently suffered from an oil spill that drained its coffers, leading the mayor to sell off many of the town’s assets to cover the costs.

Pufferfish, an oil corporation, has set its sights on drilling for oil in the town’s ocean. In return, they promise to revitalize the town by bringing in workers and restoring commerce. Their workers would have plenty of places to spend their money, benefiting both the town and Pufferfish’s bank accounts. Meanwhile, players take on the role of a farmer who has chosen to leave the city for a quieter life after vacationing in Starlet Town. Now, players must farm, dive, mine, and ranch to rejuvenate the town before Pufferfish turns their capitalist dreams into reality.

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The charming Disney-inspired character art style adds an endearing touch, making characters like Alice and Suki instantly lovable.

This overarching narrative involving the Pufferfish Corporation effectively ties together the diverse elements of the game and provides players with a clear goal. The town’s struggle is depicted vividly, with pollution tarnishing what would otherwise be a picturesque landscape. The pollution takes the form of inky, oil-based tendrils that creep and recede, lending a sinister quality to the environmental threat and symbolizing the darkness of the Pufferfish corporation. Both entities appear intricately linked to each other, slithering through the town, aiming to transform it into something unrecognizable from its origins. Twisted by greed and pollution, these tendrils serve as a catalyst for the townsfolk to grapple with the choice between two potentially life-altering, and not necessarily beneficial, paths.

So who are these characters?

Despite pollution and Pufferfish’s encroachment, life in Starlet Town goes on. Players will interact with a wide array of characters, each possessing a well-defined personality to keep players engaged. However, I couldn’t help but notice something early on that stuck in my mind throughout the game. When conversing with characters, a portrait appears, a common feature in farming sims. The difference here is that the art style feels heavily influenced by Disney and Pixar.

The characters most affected by this style are Alice and Suki, twin owners of the local inn, both of whom are romanceable. While playing, these two became some of my favorite characters, but they bear a striking resemblance to Rapunzel from Tangled. It’s not an exact copy, but Alice’s expressions particularly reminded me of the Disney princess, while Suki often wore a sarcastic smirk, distinguishing her from her twin and adding depth to their personalities beyond their appearances.

Charming Character Art: Disney-Inspired Delights in Starlet Town

This isn’t necessarily a drawback; in fact, I found myself growing fonder of the characters once I made the Disney connection. The art style exudes charm and nostalgia as if I had grown up with Coral Island rather than discovering it for the first time this year.

Even the town’s numerous festivals evoke nostalgia as they celebrate different aspects of life with nature. These events allow players to interact with each villager, fostering connections before participating in the various festival activities.

Nostalgic Festival Events: Building Bonds in Starlet Town

The festivals represent some of the highlights of daily life in Starlet Town, featuring mini-games that reward players with money and resources for their performance, along with a main event concluding each festival. These events transform the festivals into special occasions, reminiscent of childhood anticipation for summer vacation and the opportunity to grow closer to someone.

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Speaking of getting closer to the villagers through gifts and conversations, players will unlock events that provide deeper insights into their lives. These events are endearing and typically brief, lasting only a minute. What sets them apart is that many events don’t involve the player directly. Instead, they showcase interactions between characters, with the player merely listening in on their conversations.

Engaging Narrative: Battling Corporate Greed in Coral Island

This approach may feel a bit peculiar at first, as I sometimes felt like a voyeur when inadvertently stumbling upon a married couple’s argument. My character chose not to intervene, opting to eavesdrop from behind a tree as they bickered. Later, the husband sent me a message seeking assistance in finding a gift to make amends with his wife. While this method helps integrate quests seamlessly into the game and avoids abrupt appearances, it occasionally feels out of place, especially when player-involved events align better with the game’s aesthetic and leave a more lasting impression.

Ultimately, it’s the simple moments shared with the characters that resonate the most, rather than the incidental snippets overheard while passing by.

Farming: A Beginner’s Guide

Obviously, survival requires money, and players won’t be clocking in for a job in Starlet Town. Why move to an island to escape the city only to work for someone else eight hours a day? Here, we get to be our own bosses, cultivating vegetables, fruits, fish, and whatever else we can get our hands on.

Farming isn’t a groundbreaking concept in this genre, and Coral Island largely adheres to the mechanics found in similar games. Players plant crops using seeds purchased from the store and must water them daily. The crops should be planted during the appropriate seasons to prevent withering.

Coral Island is a delightful blend of familiarity and fresh, polished presentation that’s become an instant favorite of mine this year.

This familiar formula is left mostly untouched, providing a comforting familiarity for players who have experienced titles like Stardew Valley or Rune Factory. Engaging in various daily tasks earns experience in specific skills, unlocking crafting recipes, and a slight stamina boost. Most of these skills will feel quite familiar, including fishing, ranching (taking care of animals), farming, foraging, mining, combat, and two unique to Coral Island: catching and diving. Each skill features a basic system that lets players choose a related perk every two levels.

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Unfortunately, this system feels overly simplistic, offering only marginal improvements such as increased item yield or higher-quality items. The perks seldom activate, and when they do, it often goes unnoticed unless a small pop-up announces it. With only six skills per stat and five points to allocate to each, the system feels somewhat underwhelming. On the flip side, each level-up feels significant as it translates to a stamina boost, allowing for additional swings of the pickaxe, more fishing casts, or extra time spent watering plants.

Mining and combat also mirror their counterparts in other farming sims. Mining is essential for obtaining ore to upgrade tools and construct animal housing. The real appeal lies in bug catching and diving, which offer more unique activities for players to enjoy.

The festival events capture the essence of nostalgia, offering players a chance to bond with villagers and create lasting memories.

Diving and Bug-Catching: Unique Thrills in Coral Island

Bug catching requires a net obtained through an event, along with a fishing rod. Players must approach insects cautiously to avoid startling them and causing them to flee. I must admit that I had a blast catching bugs and exploring their spawn locations. Although this mechanic isn’t entirely novel, it feels refreshing since many farming-focused games don’t emphasize bug-catching. Instead, they prioritize activities like fishing and ranching to generate income while waiting for crops to grow.

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The bug-catching and diving mechanics inject a burst of excitement into the game, making it stand out in the crowded farming genre.

Diving is similarly enjoyable, enabling players to collect trash from the ocean floor and combat pollution using ancient technology to heal the ocean. Special kelp must be collected to develop technology that automates farm tasks, such as harvesting crops, planting seeds, fertilizing, and watering. Some of this kelp is required for even a single technology upgrade, making diving just as important, if not more so, than mining. The ocean floor is also home to various creatures, including shrimp (even some rather provocative ones), jellyfish, and aquatic insects, all of which players can catch with their bug nets. Diving proved to be the most enjoyable aspect of the game and left a lasting impression.

Coral Island’s well-crafted narrative, centered around the menacing Pufferfish Corporation, provides players with a clear, engaging goal.

Regardless of how players choose to spend their time, each skill offers a fun and worthwhile pursuit that keeps boredom at bay. Whether it’s mining, farming, ranching, or diving, players are likely to have a blast with their chosen activity.

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Coral Island: Familiar Yet Refreshing

Coral Island may take inspiration from many other whimsical sim adventures, but it’s presented in such a neatly packaged and polished manner that it feels oddly fresh, invoking nostalgia in a way that lingers in my memory. Whether it’s the beautifully illustrated characters available for romance or the excuse to explore the ocean’s depths in search of treasure, I couldn’t put Coral Island down. It swiftly became one of my favorite titles of the year. So, sit back, relax, and maybe even find love; regardless of your chosen path, Coral Island offers an experience that farming fans should not miss.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Nathan Mejia

The guy who will play anything you throw at him. Will talk your ear off about anything and everything Video Game, Music, and Anime related. You have been warned.