Embracing The Extraordinary Of The Everyday
HIGH The beautification of ‘ordinary’ animal species.
LOW Photos taken by the player are not saved in the catalog.
WTF Having to nod or shake Alba’s head at every yes or no decision.
Prospects for global warming and environmental degradation appear dim due to humankind’s domination of nature. Videogames typically conform to the narrative of man as rightful dominator of nature, but for those of us who wish to see things differently within this medium, there’s Alba: A Wildlife Adventure — a game set on a peaceful and pleasant Mediterranean island. Here, humans and animals live together in relative harmony, yet, this harmony is under threat by an all-too-familiar evil, and the player is encouraged to help the environment win this struggle.
In Alba: A Wildlife Adventure, one week of summer is brought to life in third-person open-world adventure style when a young girl is gifted her grandmother’s camera phone. The girl, Alba, along with her childhood friend Inés, is tasked with documenting all 62 animal species on her island.
Alba’s core gameplay loop of looking for, photographing, and recording animals into a catalog is thoroughly engaging, and the player is free to explore the beautiful open world whenever they please. Common species such as pigeons, domesticated cats and chickens are easily spotted. Within a few hours, it’s possible to have about half of the species documented.
There are no bears to tame or dragons to ride in Alba. Instead, I spent twenty minutes searching for a common city owl and felt just as triumphant when finally capturing it on camera as some may feel when defeating a more grandiose beast in an epic adventure. There is no spectacle necessary here, as the ordinary satisfies in Alba.
Though on its surface Alba seems like a low-stakes exploration title, themes of environmental conservation are abundant.
After a few days of exploring, the mayor announces a plan to build a luxury hotel requiring the destruction of the island’s nature reserve. When Alba and Inés hear this, they decide to collect the necessary amount of signatures to overturn the mayor’s decision. However, the adults are less keen on this, and Alba and Inés must complete sidequests in exchange for signatures. Completion of these sidequests causes increased tourism, rarer animals will spawn, and an overall revitalization of the island’s habitat occurs, triggering increasingly-prevalent themes of wildlife preservation as the story progresses.
These sidequests also allow Alba and Inés to get acquainted with one-dimensional (yet charming) townsfolk. From a mother wanting to find a quieter nesting place for her child to sleep, to an ice cream shop owner who lets Alba try her annual specialty, they’re all endearing personalities.
Though Alba is oozing with charm, I had two slight issues with the experience.
First, photos of animals are not saved, even in the menu’s compendium. Instead, Alba shows a generic stock picture of each species. This feels like a disservice to the player along with a strong disconnect from the central concept of taking photos of the creatures that live there.
The second issue is that Alba struggles to communicate its environmentalism through gameplay.
Aside from taking pictures, Alba cleans up toxic waste, rebuilds signs, and saves animals — all of which can be accomplished with the mere press of a button. This effortlessness makes Alba appear like a prodigy, reinforcing the narrative of humans dominating nature by a supreme individual instead of through a harmonious collective. While I understand that the alternative of making such activities into hour-long minigames just to illustrate the effort isn’t a desirable alternative, I would have liked to see Alba provide an ecologically-sound alternative that doesn’t abide with the conventions of the medium. Granted, it’s not an issue in a functional sense, but more in thematic consistency for which there is no ‘solution’ in videogame conventions yet.
Regardless of these minor criticisms, there is little to dislike about Alba: A Wildlife Adventure. Whether it’s the pleasing aesthetic, organic open-world, adorable animals, or the soothing soundtrack, Alba is a title that lifts spirits. It chooses a distinctively optimistic approach to humanity’s environmental crises, and succeeds in making the player appreciate the uniqueness of the ordinary.
Disclosures: This game is developed by UsTwo Games and developed by Plug In Digital. It is currently available on iOS, PC, PS4/5, XBO/X and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles cannot be altered and/or resized. (See example above.) The subtitles are presented in chat bubbles. Some audio clues indicate the presence of a rare animal, and there are no accompanying visual cues.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. The game offers controller options when relevant. Generally, movement and navigation of menus is on the left stick. Third-person camera rotation is on the right stick. Proceeding/choosing/interacting is A. Cancelling/going back is B. The pause menu is +. Right on the directional pad is the camera function. On the camera function, L is zoom out, R is zoom in, ZR is capture. Down on the directional pad is the map. Up on the directional pad is the objective list. Left on the directional pad is the catalog. On the catalog, X is home. R is next page. L is previous page. ZR is next category. ZL is previous category.