Alba and Wholesome Games
December 15, 2020
I spent most of my free time in 2020 chilling at the beach, gardening, and clothes shopping — in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Considering the popularity of ACNH, as well as indie games like A Short Hike and Mutazione throughout this year, it seems like I cannot be the only one who wanted more wholesomeness from games in 2020?
This post is not a rant on violent games, and it’s also not a love letter to ACNH. While I continue to enjoy ACNH, the new little game from Ustwo games, Alba: A Wildlife Adventure is probably the most feel-good game I ever played. I also loved the studio’s previous game, Assemble with Care which came out earlier this year (the devs are also known for Monument Valley, btw).
Alba has super-cute graphics and animations, vibrant colors, and great chill-out music. The gameplay never asks you to do anything in a rush. I know, these are kind of like the wholesome game conventions, but what makes Alba and any game in general cozy for me is more about a familiar environment and mundane tasks. I especially liked the setting of the little warm Meditteranean town in Alba, because I already miss summer, and traveling (who doesn’t?). It’s not surprising that gardens and beaches are very common settings in wholesome, relaxing games because that’s what many people think of as peaceful places. At the same, I think this is why so many people also find such games utterly boring: because there’s nothing interesting to do or see — at least at first glance.
Without spoiling the game, Alba is about environmental activism, but making a difference looks much easier in the game than in real life. In the game, you have simple tasks like helping save animals and picking up trash, which you perform at your own pace while running around the island every day until dinner is ready. The tasks never give you in-game rewards, except for some hearts popping up, and the feeling of doing something good.
An important part of the gameplay is taking pictures of the animals on the island, and as with the other tasks, you don’t have to get it 100% done, or catalog every single animal on the island to complete the game, but taking these pictures was my favorite thing to do in the game. You can also picture other things and save the photos on your phone (which will be in your pictures folder on your computer and I discovered this two days after finishing the game).
When you picture and catalog an animal, you can use your photos to replace old signs around the island, but the game will pick a default image for every animal, even if your picture is cooler. I think it’d be great if I was able to choose which picture I wanted put on a sign, but I can imagine this would be difficult to implement because the game has to know I’m not putting this picture up on a sign about an owl:
Alba: A Wildlife Adventure is available on PC and Apple Arcade. The game takes around three hours to complete, and I already wish I could erase these three hours from my mind and play it again. I need more games like this!