Review – Pretty Princess Magical Garden Island
I have never, in my life, liked Animal Crossing. I have tried the game across multiple platforms: Gamecube, DS, even the ill-fated Amiibo Festival on the WiiU. It’s simply not for me, no matter how much people say it will be. The idea of constantly needing to check in on a regular basis with a carrot and stick FOMO threat turned me off completely. As much as I love playing video games, I’m awful with being responsible. If I don’t visit my village once a day then the crops will wither and Bungle the Talking Manatee will move away? Good riddance, you’re not endangered anymore, head into the sea and don’t come back.
With Aksys Games publishing Pretty Princess Magical Garden Island, however, I can finally see the appeal of titles like Animal Crossing a little better. Moreover, I can also understand more why the risk/reward and urgency scale are so important for this type of simulation game. Without having the need to assess and cultivate your in game world at regular intervals, the connection therein falls apart and your desire to interact just withers entirely. That is, it does for an adult with the ability to play or do literally anything else. For children, particularly mine, the engagement is modestly strong, which I guess means the game is doing exactly what it intends to do.
Believe it or not, Pretty Princess Magical Garden Island is actually a sequel to Pretty Princess Party, a game I thought was a parody title used in an episode of Teen Titans: GO! or something to that effect. You customize your main character, a princess of limited hair styles and faces, and are trying to get back the magic to make a Carrot Cake, because that’s some kind of be-all-end-all amazing treat for everyone. You’re joined by other princesses who will sell you stuff but not actually help you, and talking rabbits who ask you to do chores and then pay you for it. Like a real princess! Do hard labor all across the island and create a working industrial town in order to bake a cake in this cute but mildly confusing title. Wholly confusing. Frankly baffling but whatever it’s for kids.
As I mentioned, this island is full of layabouts who do nothing but will happily applaud you for doing it. In a full dress and makeup, have your princess plant and harvest crops, mine ore and spices, catch bugs, pick fruit, fell trees, build different businesses and go fishing to get everything for everyone else who are apparently inept. Your princess gets awarded in lumina, a magical currency, and gratitude, which, ironically, puts more responsibility on your shoulders when it levels up. The more you’re appreciated, the more you can do for them! You keep doing everything until you can finally summon this cake, and then you can keep playing because cute outfits exist and why not customize yourself.
Some smart decisions have been made for Pretty Princess Magical Garden Island. There isn’t any need to eat or sleep, nor is there a stamina meter, so you can completely focus on the tasks of the people. The island is a decent size, so being able to hold down B to run everywhere and not need to take it easy is ideal. I sincerely wish there was the option for autorun, but that would require there to be actual options under the settings that aren’t volume and nothing else. Seriously, if you’re going to bother making an options menu, have it do something other than what the physical buttons on the Switch can do. Or the damn home button sub menu.
Additionally, the timing for things is parsed out to create action, reaction and compartmentalization. The timing for everything to come to fruition (growing crops, dying wool, chickens laying eggs) is a flat five minutes, and this timer runs with or without the game being active. So, in the early stages of the game, you can easily align several events to transpire, let the Switch sleep while you do something else, then return and reap your rewards. It’s a satisfying setup that doesn’t rely on you being constantly engaged. Also, not having fruit spoil on the vine or having errant crows steal your food is always a good thing, and helps you really keep in the princess mindset.
Controls are…questionable. Besides binding run to the B button and asking for always pushing it down, gathering requires using a variety of tools that come from the directional pad menu. You select something with one button push, then further select it with the L stick, then confirm it, then use it until you drop it with down on the directional pad. So if you’re in a situation where there’s a fish in the water, a butterfly near the beach, a deposit of sea salt AND a shell in plain sight, you’ll need to go through a full choreographed button dance to get it all before the fish swims away or the butterfly departs. Plus, targeting is based off a grid directional system that isn’t always in alignment with the lay of the land, so mistargeting is a constant problem that can be frustrating, even moreso for young players.
The game also seeks to keep you engaged ad infinitum with plenty of dopamine hits that come from all sorts of places. Sure, you need to get that Carrot Cake and it’ll genuinely take you about 8-12 hours to do so, but why stop there? Why not compete in the island challenges and get items unavailable elsewhere?? It’ll take you about five days to actually get three hundred seashells based on spawn and your own patience, but at least then you can build a gazebo! Yes, you could already build a different one, but what about a GRAY one? This might sound positively crazy, but I can easily imagine people grinding their weekends away milking cows just so they can dye their clothes ocean blue instead of peasant blue.
Pretty Princess Magical Garden Island is rather saccharine in both appearance and tone, so be sure to be ready for this level of absolute sweetness before entering. Everything is cutesy without a hint of sarcasm or bite, and the repeated niceness can be a bit belaboring for someone looking for a bit “more” to the game. You, the princess, are friend to all, can greet everyone once a day, never grow tired, never get discouraged, and will never run out of supplies if you don’t want to. Everyone is supportive, the music is just the most repetitive tones of idyllic frolicking and Nippon Columbia (the developers) want every child who plays this to feel like they’re in a fairy tale. A Fairy tale of chores and progress bars, but a fairy tale nonetheless.
As a result, there’s some shortcomings that exist because of what could have been. Since Pretty Princess Party had multiplayer minigames, players who are fans of the franchise (surely there must be a couple) might be disappointed that this is a solo endeavor through and through. There’s nothing more to see than this island with the constantly disappearing horizon, the lagomorphic supporters, and your fellow princesses who are willing to take your lumina (the money of the world), cheer you on and look the other way when the list of requests gets too long. Hey, they’re busy selling you new clothes, they can’t be gathering salt for rabbits.
I guess that’s my big gripe and takeaway is that this is for children or people looking for low stakes gameplay, but it carries a heft to it that feels like a grandiose endeavor, which it isn’t. This could have been a mobile game that charged you to speed up the crop harvesting, or it could have been a cute idea with a bit of online connection. After all, the longplay is based on you customizing your island and everything in it, so why not show it off? Then again, given the target audience, this is definitely a game where a child runs up to you and eagerly thrusts a Switch into your face with no context, just expecting you to praise their eight swing sets next to each other.
Still, it’s cute, it’s really chill compared to many games of this ilk, and it’s properly housed. Children won’t be spending extra money on it, and they can put it down at any time with no consequences that aren’t positive. Pretty Princess Magical Garden Island isn’t the game for me, but, if it’s down to this or Tom Nook breathing down my neck over bells, I’m putting on my ball gown and going fishing.
There’s something endearing about a game that isn’t trying to be more than it wants to be, visually. Princesses, check. Bunny rabbits everywhere, check. Way too many individual sprites for worthless decor and items, super check.
Walking around and gathering things is the alpha and omega of this whole game. The inability to autorun slows it down incredibly. Madness abounds trying to toggle between activities and it can be quite frustrating.
Took me straight back to my childhood of trying to push through the loud carnival music at the entrance of a fair so I could go do the things I really wanted. Fits the mood but doesn’t fill me with joy.
Its competent, it doesn’t charge out the nose and it’ll definitely suck up your time if you choose to let it. Undemanding but still engrossing, I can see this being a gateway for parents trying to get their kids ready to trade them turnips in the future.
Final Verdict: 6.5
Pretty Princess Magical Garden Island is available now on Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Pretty Princess Magical Garden Island was provided by the publisher.