After completing the first level, I felt that Beasts of Maravilla Island was fairly good yet not particularly memorable. But then I saw the second level. Its celestial blue-and-purple colour scheme, dotted with glowing plants and vibrant creatures, absolutely delivered on the feeling of awe and wonder that Maravilla aimed to create. For me, that environment took the game straight from ok to good, and guaranteed my interest in both finishing the game and writing a review of it.
Beasts of Maravilla Island is a third-person snapshooter where you control Marina, a wildlife photographer. Marina has grown up listening to her grandfather’s stories of Maravilla Island, a magical-seeming place where he was once shipwrecked. Now, armed with his camera and his detailed journal, she is visiting the area to see if her grandfather’s stories are true, and to share them with the world if they are true.
During the introductory custscene, Marina is on a ship to the island, and at the start of the game she mentions that she will be picked up the next day. This makes clear to players that the adventure will be fairly short, but more importantly, it sets the tone for the rest of the game by making clear upfront that Marina is not lost, abandoned, or in danger.
After landing on the shore, the first main area, the jungle, is just a short walk away. The Singing Jungle is a vibrant and tropical area filled with colourful birds, gemstone-themed beetles, and climbable vines. This area introduces the player to all of the necessary mechanics; moving, taking photos, picking up objects to solve puzzles, checking the book of stored photos, and checking the journal for clues about the creatures.
The second area, which really caught my attention, is the Glimmering River, a night-time zone with waterfalls, glowing rivers and crystal caves. Here, there is a little more interaction with the focal creature, including a charming game of fetch, plus puzzles that gently build on the ones players solved in the first level.
The final level – the Painted Plateau – contrasts with the previous two, as areas of withered grass and barren rocks suggest that trouble has come to the peaceful world. Desert-based plants and creatures like cacti, lizards, and birds of prey prevail here. Bonus points for Maravilla here for being possibly the only game I’ve ever played with spiders that aren’t scary at all.
The Painted Plateau features the only section that could be loosely described as combat: more accurately, its based on avoiding a powerful creature. There is no on-screen injury or death – if you err on this section and get hit by the creature, the screen fades to black and you reappear at the start of the section. This encounter was also home to the only annoying bug I encountered. In the not-quite-combat section, I needed to get a creature to leap towards me. I was stood in a corner of the area, and had slightly clipped the camera into a rock. When the creature leapt at me, it then stuck me inside that rock. I needed to quit and reload at this point. Luckily, as the game had autosaved at the start of this encounter, the only missing progress was a single journal photo.
Aside from this bug, the only issues I experienced during gameplay were minor texture and camera issues, and some slightly clunky animations. The camera occasionally struggled to find the right position when walking on angled surfaces, while objects at the front edge of the screen (i.e. behind Marina, and nearest the player) could fail to become transparent and instead display partial textures on the screen. However, none of these issues were major for me.
While I initially expected Maravilla to take a lot of inspiration from other snapshooters, it instead borrows only a couple of ideas and then builds on them. For instance, Marina can whistle to get the attention of some creatures, which at first looks like a copy of Pokemon Snap‘s pokeflute. However, you can vary the length of the whistle by holding X for longer, which leads to a simple yet effective puzzle of luring creatures out by whistling in the same patterns as their calls. This is a good example of how the developers have judiciously worked on a smaller number of mechanics that all fit the goal of displaying the creatures’ unique behaviours and traits.
Each level has unique flora and fauna to get a photograph of, and one specific important creature who displays multiple interesting behaviours to capture. To convince those creatures to show off their moves, or to reach new areas, you’ll need to do minor puzzle solving. For example, some puzzles require moving a snail to a set location to block.or change light paths, by moving fruit to the right location to tempt the snail over. Others involve light-sensitive plants that react to the flash of the camera. As these puzzles involve natural elements – light, fruit, sounds, and creatures – they can’t really be called “realistic” but they feel coherent and justified within the world. Side note: if you walk off with the fruit after using it, the snail will follow you – I can’t say I’ve ever been jumpscared by a snail before!
The journal works well as a source of information and hints, because it again feels fairly natural within the world – important text is written in green and underlined. As a whole, the game is generous and transparent with its information: for example, the camera viewfinder displays a unique border when a creature is showing off one of its 4 interesting behaviours. Similarly, players are shown a warning before leaving each area that they won’t be able to revisit that area for a while, giving players clear control over whether they move on to the next level or backtrack for any missing photos.Together, these features create a sense that the developers want to keep players able to explore at their own pace, and to focus on the creatures, by smoothing out any points where players feel frustrated by the game or unsure of what they needed to do. For me, this approach worked well.
Marina also drops hints about how to progress through her (unvoiced) comments about the new situations she experiences, such as explaining out the connection between two things she has observed. However, Marina is not as talkative as most environmental narrative game protagonists, and she does not fall into the tropes common to those protagonists such as being obnoxiously sarcastic or being fond of stating the obvious. As a result, she is a protagonist who is hard to dislike but also hard to get too attached to. This choice makes sense in the context of the game’s values, however; the main characters are the wildlife, not the humans. The unlockable extras reinforce this; getting photos of every creature in a region unlocks a gallery of models of each creature, plus concept art that shows their basis on real-world plants and creatures. Unlockables based on game completion – imagine that!
Maravilla can be completed in around 2 hours if you’re not aiming to see and do everything, and 3 hours if you are trying to do everything. There isn’t any in-game need to replay the story, as there isn’t a New Game + of any type nor any objective scoring or quality measurement for the photos you take. You can store up to 10 photos for each creature and plant, and choose your favourite to show as the main picture for each in the journal, but this is purely for your own enjoyment. (While this omission was surprising when compared to other snapshooter games, it does make sense in-universe: in theory, no-one but Marina and her grandfather know that these creatures exist). This means that your view on the game will depend strongly on how well you can switch off the “gamer brain” that chases high-scores and efficient objective completion.
During my first playthrough, I was invested in exploring the world, and so really enjoyed it. However, after completing the game I immediately played through the game again in one go solely to unlock the two achievements that failed to register the first time. Apparently this is a known glitch, which can be resolved by revisiting each chapter using Chapter Select for some people, but can only resolved by starting a new save file for others. During my second playthrough, the “gamer brain” was activated, and the “slow down and observe the world” brain was not. As a result I enjoyed the second playthrough less, and I became frustrated with the little issues that had previously not bothered me. That’s on me, however, for rushing straight back in for the achievements!
Overall, I put Beasts of Maravilla Island in the Cool tier. My playthroughs were relaxing and enjoyable, and the occasional bugs didn’t spoil my experience. While it wasn’t one of my favourite games, it offered up an intriguing world filled with interesting creatures to photograph.
At its regular price of just £8.39, Maravilla‘s slight lack of polish is easily forgiven, especially given that it’s the first game from this studio. The range of people that I can recommended this game to is also surprisingly high, because it doesn’t do many things obviously wrong. Beasts of Maravilla Island is a small-scale, small-stakes, “cozy” game, meaning it is likely to appeal to fans of similar peaceful indie games. As its a buy-once game, with no seasons, passes, or in-game-purchases to worry about, its also safe for younger gamers or anyone who needs to be extra-careful around impulse-spending. Finally, as it features no violence or death, and it focuses on enjoying and respecting nature, it may appeal to people who wouldn’t normally consider themselves to be “gamers”, or to families who would like to explore games together.
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