Amazing Island (GameCube) review
"Entitling a game Amazing Island is not a matter to be taken lightly. Although most of us have a concrete notion of what an "island" is, definitions of "amazing" vary from person to person. What is amazing to you may be horribly mundane to me, and vice versa. Of course, you can't please everyone all the time, so it's inevitable that Amazing Island will disappoint many people by default by providing action that clearly does not pass the standards of amazement that many people have cemented ..."
Entitling a game Amazing Island is not a matter to be taken lightly. Although most of us have a concrete notion of what an "island" is, definitions of "amazing" vary from person to person. What is amazing to you may be horribly mundane to me, and vice versa. Of course, you can't please everyone all the time, so it's inevitable that Amazing Island will disappoint many people by default by providing action that clearly does not pass the standards of amazement that many people have cemented in their minds already. So, instead of undertaking the impossible task of making a game that's enjoyable to every possible demographic, developer Hitmaker focused on the audience that's easiest to please: small children. To anyone over the age to seven, this game probably won't live up to the title, but there is fun to be had regardless.
The best mental image I can provide is that Amazing Island is equal parts Magic Pengel and Mario Party with a villain thrown in as an afterthought. After completing a survey, receiving a ready-made monster based on your answers, and completing a novice course of mini-games with that monster, you're given the ability to create your own monsters by looking into a vortex called the "water mirror" and drawing outlines around a frame that will gradually flesh out into three-dimensional body parts.
I make this sound simple, but believe you me, it isn't. Drawing a monster is a precise affair that only the truly artistic may be able to fully appreciate. Hours can be spent on a single monster getting every detail exactly right, if one feels so inclined to plant his or her butt in a chair for that long. Tools like the mirror pen and the straight line offer symmetry and precision and help make up for the frustration caused by the rigidity of the freeform pen. If you mess up, you have varying degrees of erasers handy that can leave the pattern of the line you just drew showing or smudge it out completely. Even though the pens have a bit of a learning curve to overcome, this is nevertheless the greatest degree of aesthetic freedom a console game has ever offered. The television is your canvas, and you are limited only by the power of your own imagination.
Incredibly, this isn't even the best part of the game; that comes after the monster's body shape has been finalized. If you're male, this is one time in your life when it's okay to enjoy accessorizing. I can't remember the last time I indulged in diabolical laughter when creating something. Starting with a dog skeleton, I took some liberty of imagination with the body design, giving my canine a spiky tail and a hump that would make Quasimodo cringe. I then added two tongues wagging from his mouth in perfect synchronicity, buzzsaws emerging from his sides (later changed to chainguns), and dual mufflers - replete with pouring smoke - on the back of his enormous hump, topping it all off with a coat of crimson steel all over his body. Because in games such as this I often name my creations after song titles, it stood to reason that this baddest of all monsters could only bear the name of the baddest of all songs ("Eruption" by Van Halen).
With the monster you've made yourself or one from the assembly line, you then go off to compete in a series of minigames in the hopes of collecting orbs and eventually squaring off with the Black Evil (who, I was disappointed to find out, was not Wayne Brady), whose presence on the island has not so much brought peace to a halt as made things greatly inconvenient by turning the natives into little monsters. Most of the games either test your endurance skills or your sense of timing, and very few involve the use of more than one button. At first you're just playing to pass each event with the minimum score of 700 points and collect the seven orbs that will allow you a chance to face the Black Evil and restore peace to the island. Of course, these games can be revisited later so you can better your score and unlock prizes such as new body frames, accessories, and monster cards (from which you can derive more pre-assembled monsters, if art just isn't your bag).
The plot involving the Black Evil helps add a little weight to a game that would otherwise be 100% fluff. After you defeat him - a task that can be completed within five hours of starting the game - all that's left is to either continue breaking your own personal records on each of the different courses or retreat to the water mirror and indulge in endless experimentation. Each activity's longevity is helped by the fact that they feed off one another - that is, if you want better monsters, you need to play the minigames several times to collect cooler accessories, and if you want to improve your performance in mini-games, it's imperative that you learn the Zen of the water mirror so you can make the best creature possible.
That's really all there is to it. In this era of such complex video games, Amazing Island's simplicity is both refreshing and maddening. Most of the action here is explicitly designed to appeal to children. For example, on Amazing Island, monsters never die (unlike, say, in the Monster Rancher universe). Barring unforeseen acts of carelessness wherein one forgets to save a monster to the memory card, there's literally no way to lose a monster to the inexorable grip of death. Also, since most of the minigames require only the A button's use (sometimes in conjunction with the control stick or B), they're easy to learn and subsequently become skilled at. Standouts include the water-skipping game where you get a running start, then carom off a ramp and keep flicking A at the right time to skip over the lake, and a test of strength that requires focus - and again, timing - to destroy all the blocks in a gigantic stone tower. Compared to these, however, most of the games are pretty lackluster, and sadly, the final struggle against the Black Evil is rather anticlimactic. If you're looking for depth and satisfaction here in your island activities, you'll come up empty in your search.
A few other additional features, such as the ability to link up the Game Boy Advance and transfer your favorite pet over to it for a card game-type battle a la Yu-Gi-Oh, try to make up for the general lack of things to do, but all of them remain overshadowed by the fact that it's too much fun drawing animals into existence and not enough fun jumping them through hoops for prizes. To this end, breeding simulations require special attention in their development. It's easy to find the concept of monster birthing alluring enough that all the creative energy ends up being plunged into that. When that happens, the rest of the game suffers, and too many games fall into the trap of having an interesting creation process without remembering to follow through on making the life of the monster fascinating.
Amazing Island is simply the latest victim of this tricky snare. Even though the entertainment level of the minigames is about on par with the three-legged father-son race at a company picnic, the drawing and accessorizing features are to die for. If I got this game as a Christmas present this year, I'd probably squeak out an insincere but believable thank-you and palm it off on my sister once we got home. But to be her age and receive something like this would be the perfect prescription for the broken crayon blues. By purchasing this game, you certainly don't win, but by no means do you lose, either.
We'll call it a draw.
Community review by snowdragon (September 29, 2004)
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