Hello Kitty Island Adventure is great for the first week, but new updates might help

At least there's no microtransactions

The first time Hello Kitty Island Adventure popped up on my radar was a few days after its late July launch on Apple Arcade. Online gaming publications compared it to Animal Crossing — and I love Animal Crossing. I was also looking for a new mobile game, so it felt like a match made in heaven. And for the first few days, it was.

It’s a confident mobile game with great graphics, gameplay and controls. It hits harder than it has any right to. Plus, it’s on Apple Arcade, so you can play it on any Apple hardware with cloud saves. But after a while, how much you like the core gameplay loop may depend on your love of the Sanrio characters more than the game itself.

That said, before I knew it, I was addicted to exploring the map and unravelling the game’s mysteries. It was a fun few days that kept it feeling fresh as I discovered more areas and game mechanics. Uncovering what items offered maximum friendship points or hidden items scattered around the map is an awesome mobile experience and a good showcase for Apple Arcade.

But after a while, Hello Kitty Island Adventure started to show its limitations.

Welcome to the island

The game begins with a fun parachute landing on a resort island. In typical cozy game style, your custom character and the Hello Kitty crew start to restore it. To start, you need to reconnect with all the characters strewn across the map, and in turn, explore the surprisingly intricate archipelago.

There are islands to traverse, mountains to climb, and a huge undersea area you can venture beneath once you reach the mid-game. Poking around all the nooks and crannies is what makes this island feel fun early on. There’s even a stamina bar like modern Zelda games for climbing and diving, adding to the limitless exploratory feel early on.

The map is designed to be a little maze-like before you unlock the ability to swim. During this time, it felt like there was a new character or discovery around every corner, and it kept my interest in the game. Venturing too far off the beaten path and finding a hidden area before the story revealed it, felt like being let in on a secret, and helped build my anticipation for the story moments when I unlocked them.

The main story chapters are tied to your friendship level with each character. By giving them gifts each day, you get closer to them and get rewarded with items, abilities and the highly sought-after story elements. Depending on how much each character likes the gift denotes how much friendship experience you gain. The character’s abilities are also very helpful. For example, travel with the explorer Chococat, and there’s a random chance you’ll get an extra item when crafting. Then, once you get him above level ten, he’ll also spout out tips in the hidden ‘Puzzle rooms.’

However, the main reason to level up your friendships is to unlock story quests. These add substance to the game and, more often than not, lead to fun environmental changes that I wasn’t expecting. As of the time of writing, most characters have between 15 and 20 friendship levels, and anywhere from two to four of those might include story quests.

Beyond that, you can catch bugs/fish, shop, craft, decorate vacation homes for other characters, and participate in a few mini-games scattered around the map. These all vary in fun levels, but the exploration and mystery stole the show.

The dark side of island life

There are in-game days that change the look of the Hello Kitty Island Adventure’s lighting, but many things on the Island don’t actually reset until a full 24 hours have passed.

One example of this is the limitation of giving three gifts to each of your friends per real day. In the beginning, this isn’t a problem because you level up at a quick pace regardless of what gifts you give. After a while, you have to start being precise with your gifts, which takes a tedious amount of time.

For example, to get three mid-level friendship items for Tuxedo Sam, this is what I did every day;

  • Find Chococat
  • Get him to follow you around so you get access to his bonus ability
  • Head to a crafting table
  • Make six ‘Fabric’ swatches, one at a time. If you’re lucky, Chococat’s ability might get you an extra one or two of these.
  • Combine your fabric with nine Feathers and 15 Sand Dollars.
  • Realize you only have 9 Sand Dollars
  • Quickly search the nearby beach to find 6 Sand Dollars
  • Back to the crafting table
  • Pray you have all the feathers (you do)
  • Combine your fabric with nine Feathers and 15 Sand Dollars to make Tropical Fabric
  • Drop Chococat
  • Pick up Hello Kitty
  • Give gifts to Tuxedo Sam (again, one at a time)You need to do a variation of this for most characters, but some don’t want crafted items and would rather have intricate coffees, puddings, or baked goods. The way the game is set up suggests I should just take my time and check in for a short session every day, but I find myself wishing I could play this game more like Stardew Valley. If the game has all these intricate systems for me to take advantage of, I want to do it, especially if this is what’s standing between me and completing its story.

Note: On August 25th Sublink released the game’s first content update (1.1). It includes the ability to craft more than one item at a time. On one hand, the fact this feature was delayed to a month after launch speaks to the unfinished nature of the game, but on the other, it’s nice to see the fix added. 

Other shallow aspects of Hello Kitty Island Adventure include fishing and critter catching, two Animal Crossing series staples. There is a museum-type ‘Nature sanctuary,’ but it’s only for critters and doesn’t offer much incentive for filling it out with all 40 animals. You can give specific fish as high-level gifts or trade-in 10 per day for some extra Sand Dollars, but beyond that, there’s little to do with them.

The limited collection extends to clothing and furniture as well. There are eight sets of furniture with ten pieces each and enough outfits that I’m very sure I’ve seen them all in the store over my time playing.

An example of the modern game pipeline, for better or worse

I recently learned about a term called ‘Agile development.’ It’s a project management philosophy for game developers that aims to get a viable product out the door and then support it for a time period with feature updates.

If you’ve played other video games in the last few years, this probably sounds familiar.

Hello Kitty Island Adventure, for better or worse, is shackled with this business model, and for me, it didn’t work with how I wanted to play. Since it’s an Apple Arcade title, I expected the game to offer full experience. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a ton of awesome content in Hello Kitty Island Adventure, and I wouldn’t be writing this story if I didn’t enjoy my time with it, but I kept running into things that felt not quite finished.

Then, on August 17th, the game received an update that proved this issue was more than just a feeling on my end.

One of Hello Kitty’s unlockable abilities allows you to level up character friendships 25 percent faster, and the developers decided to lower it to 10 percent to slow down people who were finishing the game too quickly. As someone who aimed to finish the game, this meant more tedious resource gathering, slow crafting, and fast travel trips around the map. So, after 20 hours, I decided to call it quits at 85 percent complete.

Others criticized this update online, and the development team responded on the game’s official Discord channel, stating that they’re planning to support Hello Kitty Island Adventure for years to come, but that they need to keep people playing, or they won’t be able to do that.

They also mentioned that they hope to add story quests to every friendship level in the game. Revealing another aspect of the game that’s unfinished since most characters currently have 15 levels and two quests instead of 15.

Overall, I still enjoyed my time on Hello Kitty’s island, but when a game is so clearly still mbeing actively developed, it feels like I’d be more incentivized to play in a year once a few major content updates are out. Sure, I’d like to support the devs, but on the other hand, this is a Hello Kitty title on Apple Arcade; it’s not that out of place to ask for top quality. At the very least, the game’s ‘1.1 update’ with multi-crafting proves it needed at least one more month of development. This could have been a tight 25-hour game with great mobile graphics, an interesting story, and fun side content to play through, but the insistence on developing Hello Kitty Island Adventure as a service makes it feel incomplete unless you love Hello Kitty.

Hello Kitty Island Adventure is available through Apple Arcade ($5.99/month) on iPhone, iPad, Apple TV and Mac.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.