Island Time Review

Maui is my favorite Hawaiian island and I love going there on vacation. Even though more and more resorts are being built along its beaches, it's the one place in the world where I can unplug myself from social media and technology. Rather than snorkel or see the sights, I’m perfectly content sitting on the hotel room balcony with my collection of books, a tasty snack, and a steady supply of Blue Hawaiians. There’s no better place to relax as I let the sound of waves crashing on the shore and wind blowing through palm trees lull me into a rum-induced slumber. Island Time, a PSVR game developed by Flight School, is not the idyllic island getaway I had expected. Instead of swinging lazily in a hammock while beautiful island girls feed me fruit, this virtual island adventure is a constant struggle for survival. Trapped on a small island with no rescue in sight, it’s up to you to craft tools to make your own meals in this inventive, good-humored VR experience.

The beauty of Island Time lies in its simplicity. Trapped on a parcel of beachfront property no bigger than a beach towel, the goal is to survive against starvation by using natural resources, like coconuts and bamboo reeds, to prepare meals with. The game is largely a race against time as a health meter, located on a wristwatch, constantly trickles down until it’s empty. At that point, you’re, well, dead and can start a new game. Survival elements along with a genuine terror that comes with the randomized nature of the game turn Island Time into a challenge to see how long you can survive. My record right now stands at twelve minutes and I’m pretty proud of that! The key to sustaining yourself is learning how to make good use of the island’s materials. Sound simple? It is! Well, kinda, sorta. See, Island Time makes use of cartoony, point and click adventure game logic. For example, to catch a fish to eat, you’ll need to combine two items that will let you pluck one from the ocean. You’ll come across items that can be combined in different ways, though their effects are readily apparent. So, experiment and see what works!

Island Time takes place in a beautiful slice of the ocean that offers the best seat in the house for magnificent sunsets and yet, this is hardly a vacation. In truth, this is a pretty stressful game! It's defined by a constant, desperate scramble for resources. You’ll have to make do with what you have because it is impossible to predict what items will arrive on the island, making it easy to find yourself in a position with nothing to eat, no fire to cook with, and nothing to ward off pesky seagulls that will steal your stuff. By some small mercy, bamboo reeds and coconuts (which offer a small boost to your health) are the only items that re-spawn with regularity. Logs and rocks, two of the essential items in the game, are a finite resource that you can only get from cargo drops that wash up on the shore. However, even that is not a guarantee. One of the most heartbreaking moments I experienced was how hard my feelings of elation over finding a crate was furiously crushed when there was nothing inside, dooming me to yet another death.

The more I played, the more protective I became of everything I collected, and I learned the hard way how easy it is to lose an item for good. While trying to ward off a seagull, I accidentally used my last rock as a means to scare the bird away. To my horror, I discovered too late that by throwing the rock away, I couldn’t make a fire and feed myself. In another playthrough, I accidentally let go of a grabbing tool and cried as it fell into the ocean, never to be seen again. There was another time where I made the mistake of dawdling after a cargo crate arrived. Because my attention was set on something else, I failed to notice that the crate stays beached for a short time before it gets washed away, as did my hopes for more logs, tools, and rocks. The contrast between the first game and the tenth couldn’t be more different. In my first play session, I was pretty careless about keeping myself healthy, opting for an aloof play style as I tried to figure out how everything worked. By the sixth playthrough, my island looked like an episode of Hoarders.

Keeping you company on the island is the game’s main character, Carl the Crab. He's worth pointing out because he's voiced by Kinda Funny contributor, Greg Miller. Now, I’ve tried to listen to Miller’s podcast several times but couldn’t get into it. I find Miller’s personality a bit grating but I admire the work he does. It’s funny, then, how much I loved him as Carl. The writing, whether he or someone at Flight School was responsible, is delivered with sincerity, charm, and believability. Miller plays Carl as a needy, overly enthusiastic crustacean that’s starved for attention after existing through a severe bout of isolation. He’s very much cut from the same “lovable doofus” mold that created Wheatley from Portal 2.

Island Time is a fun and frantic VR game that you’ll want to make sure you play in an area clear of furniture and friendly housepets. I thought that the PSVR and camera did a good job of tracking my movement but there were situations when I tried to reach for something, putting the wands outside of the camera’s detection. It made me think that perhaps the camera could be a little bigger to help it catch a larger field of view. This happened quite a few times forcing me to pay more attention to my position in the room.

Simple but oh, so challenging, this is one of those games that would be fun to play with a group of people to see who can last the longest. Greg Miller is a funny chum to have around and I enjoyed how his wide-eyed, childish exaltations of your successes run counter to the constant fear of trying to stay alive. I was pleasantly surprised with how addicted I was to Island Time, as each death was a personal challenge to do better and last longer. It’s one of those games I keep thinking about when not playing, drawing mental ideas and strategies for item management and tactical seagull intercepts. Though it doesn’t offer the comforts and stress-free environment of my real world island adventures, Island Time still manages to be a whole lot of fun.

Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.