Coral Island Early Access First Impressions
Coral Island takes elements of every farming simulator you’ve ever played, throws them in a blender, and adds a storyline about an environmental disaster and a town in crisis. The mixture is then poured over a sprawling world with a diverse population, beautiful scenery, and plenty to explore. In short, Coral Island is shaping up to be one farming simulator to unite them all.
Surprisingly, one genre trope you won’t find is a grandchild inherits a farm from their grandparent and has no idea where to start. Instead, you have made the choice to move away from the city and start a new life on Coral Island, although it seems that something else may be at play, since a supernatural element sees you connect with what appear to be nature spirits in order to start healing the island. This intriguing storyline leads into a game that blends the best farming sims have to offer.
Coral Island is still in early access, and there are some areas where this is more obvious than others, such as a couple of festival features marked as ‘not yet available’. However, the world itself feels full and vibrant. You start your new life on an overgrown patch of land, but it’s far prettier than I expected. I love having unique scenery, and the water sources around the place make crop watering much easier in the early game. There are also some interesting features around the plot – which I’m still trying to guess the function of – and most things you can place can go anywhere on the very large patch of land, allowing for creative freedom. Just make sure you think about where you put down your furnaces and kilns first, since editing your farm isn’t a simple process right now.
The town itself offers all the activities you could want, including festivals to attend, stores to visit, and villagers to befriend or romance. There are also different ways to upgrade and customise your farm, so you can tend crops and raise animals. The unique thing about Coral Island is how these tasks are executed. While the basics function as farming sim fans have come to expect, you can upgrade not just your tools but also your crops, using fertilizer to increase your yield. There are even scarecrows made out of trash. As part of the farming gameplay, there’s a crafting and processing system in place to allow you to turn useless resources into useful items. These add an extra layer of complexity which means building up your ranch is slower but more satisfying. You’ll need to think more about the practicalities of different materials, and how many you need to convert, in order to meet the goals the game sets out regularly.
Alongside these basics are mining, diving, and scavenging systems. You can enter the mine and start to extract resources pretty easily. However, as well as ore and gems, you’ll also find mobs that you need to defeat, some hazards on the floor, and there are some markings on the walls that look likely to be another interesting mechanic I’ve not yet figured out. Mining won’t just use your stamina here, but can also cost you your life, especially on lower levels.
While scavenging is safer than mining, and more predictable, it’s diving that offers the other mechanic that’s unique.
A pier at the bottom of the island allows you to explore the ocean itself, clearing the debris of the oil spill, and healing the coral with the help of a cute robot called kibble, for some reason. Despite being named after pet food, you can’t feed him to the sharks, and instead, he helps guide you around the ocean floor. Kind of. This is an incredibly satisfying endeavour as you hack away at the trash to reveal terminals that help heal the coral. Not only can you see the ocean blossom, but you’ll also gain some rewards for doing it. Even scavenging has a reward, since you can take bugs, plants, and fossils along to the museum and donate them to help Ben build up his collection. He may not be as cute as Animal Crossing’s Blathers, but he won’t tell you 27 facts about everything you donate either, and he definitely doesn’t shudder when you add bugs to the collection.
These aren’t even the only features of the game. There’s an overarching storyline that looks set to affect different elements of the island. You can also attend festivals, go fishing, and hang around the local bars. The island is fully fleshed out, with some areas looking likely to be expanded in the future. If you want to know exactly what else is in store there’s even an in-game roadmap detailing approximate times for huge planned updates.
Overall the Coral Island experience so far feels very much like playing several different games at once. There are elements of Story of Seasons, Harvest Moon, Animal Crossing, and many more. Yet Coral Island still feels unique, thanks to its execution of the mechanics, the twists in the implementation, and its beautiful and diverse world. This is one destination I’m looking forward to staying at.
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