NatWest – yes, the bank – has just released a console game. It’s aimed at children, and attempts to teach them about money management while also clearing the world of plastic. It’s free to play – and it’s surprisingly fun.
Called Island Saver, it sees you set foot on Savvy Islands, a once-beautiful paradise that’s lately awash with plastic waste. It’s destroying the island’s flora and fauna; plants can’t bloom because they’re covered in icky waste, and ‘Bankimals’ – the piggybank-like animals that roam the land – have lost all their colour. That’s where you and your trusty Trash Blaster come in; an all-purpose tool that lets you clean up the island by picking up waste, firing water and more.
It’s not free-to-play in a microtransaction-y way either. It’s genuinely free, and packs in a good 8-10 hours of content. There’s an extra level you can buy for the princely sum of £4 if you want more of the same, but it’s purely designed to be an educational tool. As you play, you’ll be rewarded doubloons for clearing the island and saving Bankimals. The coins you pick up then need to be deposited into the bank – protected by a PIN number of course. For every 10 doubloons you make, one will be automatically deducted for ‘tax’ – but this tax can be transformed into another type of coin, which can be spent on recycling plastic waste and improving the island.
The gameplay loop is simple and engaging, though it does become repetitive. Still, there’s something quite cathartic about walking into an area strewn with waste and grime and slowly cleaning it up. You’ll be forever walking to and from the plastic recycle point, and the bank deposit machine – but shooting coins or bottles into their respective receptacles feels oh-so satisfying.
How exactly does Island Saver teach children about money? Well, every action you complete has a clear reward. Saving Bankimals (which is done by feeding them up, which then allows you to, er, suck coins out of them) earns coins, feeding bottles into the recycling machine earns coins, and cleaning up an area of the island earns coins. You get the picture. There are also things you can spend those coins on. You can purchase seeds to grow new plants on the island, as well as fun stuff like paint to change the colour of your Bankimals or hats for them to wear. But you’ll also need to spend coins to progress to the next area. It’s about balancing your earning vs spending, and not going too mad on those non-essential purchases.
As you play, new elements of the game will be introduced, too. On later levels, Island Saver introduces the concept of a loan, and paying tax remains a gameplay feature throughout. You’ll also be provided with money-based trivia on load screens. Did you know, for example, that before the UK decimalised currency in 1971, there were 240 pennies to a pound?
But even for an adult like me, who has had plenty of experience of bank accounts, bills, tax and mortgages, Island Saver isn’t a complete write-off. There’s something very charming about its bright, colourful world. Running around cleaning stuff up and seeing my bank balance go up is enjoyable – as is getting to ride a rhino or gorilla. Because you can. With its multi-functional gun and bright and bold world, it almost feels like a non-dangerous, super-simple version of Journey to the Savage Planet – and I mean that as high praise.
Sure, a bank releasing a game feels very alien – although it’s not the first time; Midland Bank featured in Theme Park back in the 90s. But in 2020 it’s almost unheard of, and we’re instantly suspicious of such kinds of marketing. That needn’t be the case, though. Island Saver really is just a tool designed to educate kids through having fun. And actually, it manages to be a fun game for everyone in the process.
Island Saver is completely free, and available to download on Steam, PS4, Xbox One and Switch right now.