Following its release last year on PC and Apple Arcade, Alba: A Wildlife Adventure has now made its way to consoles. And, honestly, I’m gutted I haven’t played it sooner.
Alba: A Wildlife Adventure puts you in the shoes of Alba, a young girl who’s staying with her grandparents on the idyllic Mediterranean island of Pinar del Mar. Visiting her grandparents is an annual activity, so she’s soon in old company with everyone on the island. Among them is Inés, a girl around her age, and the two have become good friends. Both are worried about the state of the island, however. You see, there’s litter everywhere, and it’s affecting the wildlife. The island’s nature reserve has also never quite recovered from a fire some years ago.
When Inés and Alba spot a dolphin tangled up in rubbish on the beach, they know they have to spring into action. And so AIWRL – Alba and Inés’ Wildlife Rescue League – is born. Alba only has a week on the island before she has to return home, so they best get to work immediately.
Their plight becomes even more urgent when the mayor announces that what remains of the nature reserve is soon going to be turned into a luxury hotel resort. The tourism will do wonders for the island’s economy, the mayor boasts – and a handful of residents agree. The rest, Alba and Inés included, are aghast. The nature reserve might not be what it once was, but it’s still home to dozens of species of animals. More than 60, in fact, and alongside trying to save the nature reserve, Alba wants to document them all.
That might sound like it amounts to a lot of busywork, but nothing could be further from the truth. Alba: A Wildlife Adventure is one of the most gloriously relaxing and joyous games I’ve had the pleasure to play in some time. It grabs you from the very moment you start playing, thanks to delicate yet very purposeful little details implemented by the developer. In control of Alba, you don’t simply walk around Pinar del Mar. Sometimes she’ll skip, or she’ll run, with her arms held out either side of her like she’s pretending to be an aeroplane. She’s just a child, filled with wonder – and when in control of her, it’s easy for you to begin to view the world around you with the same childlike wonder, too.
Every time you spot a new animal to photograph is just as exhilarating as the first; with a push of a button, Alba will whip out her camera to snap a picture. It’s not like Pokémon Snap – you won’t be graded on your photography skills here. As long as it’s visible in your shot, that’s all that matters. Collecting all species is the real goal, but Alba: A Wildlife Adventure never feels like a collectathon slog. In fact, by the end of the game’s modest running time, I found myself wishing for more animals to find. Anything to keep me on idyllic Pinar del Mar just a little longer.
The events of the game are split over six days, with most of your activities taking place between Monday and Friday. Each new day brings a new chapter, and often a new activity for Alba to partake in. To begin with, she’ll be picking up rubbish near bins and disposing of it correctly. Then, she’ll gain a recycling bag so she can pick up rubbish wherever she is. She’ll also soon gain the use of a toolkit, allowing her to fix up broken bird boxes, bridges and picnic tables around the nature reserve. Later, she’ll get a medicine bag, allowing her to help sick animals. She’s a very resourceful young girl, don’t you know.
Essentially, working your way through everything that Alba: A Wildlife Adventure wants you to do boils down to a series of checklists. Each area of the island has information boards displaying species of animals that need new photos adding to it. Each area also has a number of pieces of litter to pick up, items to be fixed, and animals to be rescued. Ticking items off your list is rewarding, especially if you’re the type of person who gets a kick out of making and completing to-do lists. Come on, you know who you are (I am one such person).
Seeing tasks get completed and bringing Pinar del Mar back to its former glory is only the cherry on top. The real joy of Alba: A Wildlife Adventure is simply getting lost in the moment and soaking in your environment. If you’ve spent time in some of Spain’s less touristy areas, Alba will transport you back there; whether it’s the Mediterranean-inspired soundtrack, or the Spanish news reporter who blasts out when you walk near a radio. Play this game with headphones on to really get the most out of it; when there’s no music playing, it’ll simply be you and the wonderful sounds of nature surrounding you. Birds tweeting, the sea roaring in the background. It’s magical and meditative. No game has made it easier for me to switch off and forget the stresses of the real world.
But that’s me enjoying Alba: A Wildlife Adventure, as a fully-grown 30-something. This is a game that’s been designed with younger players in mind, and if you have children above six or so, I implore you to play this game with them. Not only does skipping around the island provide wholesome fun, it also packs in some very important messages about taking care of the world around us. That in itself is a feat; here’s a game that has something to say, but it can also be enjoyed by anyone, no matter what their age. Ustwo Games really has created something special.
Alba: A Wildlife Adventure looks amazing, sounds amazing, and provides four-or-so hours of perfect, meditative escapism. Who knew taking control of a pre-teen girl as she picks up rubbish and takes photos of animals could be so much fun? But it is. Don’t sleep on Alba; it really is a gorgeous experience that will have you grinning from ear to ear for every moment you spend with it.
Alba: A Wildlife Adventure Review: GameSpew’s Score