During my time at this year’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, I came across a lot of new and interesting Android games and apps from both popular developers and new studios alike. There was one game that stood out to me the most, however, due to its unique concept and excellent execution. Oniri Islands: Children of the River by Tourmaline Studio, based in Geneva, is a toys-to-life game similar to Skylanders made for Android and iOS tablets. The focus of the game is on cooperative puzzles and following a narrative, and is aimed for kids but can be enjoyed by all. The developers are currently hosting a Kickstarter for the game, in order to fund mass production of the toys themselves.
The big feature that made Oniri Islands stand out, to me at least, is the figurine-based controls for the game. The two characters are controlled by small toy versions of themselves that feature no electronics at all, but instead, a unique base design that allows the game to differentiate between the two characters, as well as their position on the screen. This makes the toys much cheaper, and easier to produce and also makes it harder for them to be broken with rough play from kids. The toys also feature accessory masks that tie into the story of the game but are purely cosmetic and don’t add any functionality to the toys themselves. This unique control scheme adds a layer of deeper interactivity and cooperation to gameplay, as you need two players to move the pieces to progress and solve puzzles.
The toys themselves work very well as “controllers” for the game. especially for having no electronics to connect directly to the tablet. Navigating and rotating the pieces to progress was simple and intuitive, and the game does a good job of not holding your hand through tutorials and instead letting you learn through play. There were some small hitches in using the toys, where my tablet would not always pick them up on screen or wouldn’t exactly follow my movements, but they weren’t frequent and were easily resolved by picking up the piece and putting it back in place. Small kids may have some difficulty at first, but with parental help, they should quickly get the hang of playing the game.
I will say that this game should be played on the largest screen you can get. Tablets larger than six inches are preferred, as the play screen is quickly taken up by hands and pieces on a smaller tablet or smartphone. Also, be mindful of swiping down the notification shade or hitting the on-screen navigation buttons by mistake as well. I had some early growing pains accidentally dropping the shade down, but you can adjust easily enough to avoid interrupting play.
As far as the game itself, it is a simple story about a brother and sister navigating across a fantasy island full of magic and adventure trying to get home. The art style is stunning, with beautiful backgrounds and cute characters that should appeal to anyone’s tastes. The game has a fully voiced narration that is well done and doesn’t get in the way of enjoying the game at all, and the music is top notch as well, featuring an appropriate amount of whimsy and fitting the island setting.
The game spans 6 levels that each take about 30 minutes to complete, which is great for keeping kids engaged without wearing out their attention spans. The core gameplay is cooperative navigation, exploration, and puzzle-solving. no violence and kid-friendly difficulty of course. There are magical powers that come into play as well, upping the challenge and diversifying the puzzles to keep things fresh. In terms of replayability, I can see kids wanting to replay this one for sure. I would hope that the developers consider adding more content post-launch to further encourage a return trip to Oniri Islands.
The developer’s Kickstarter is currently underway, and as of writing is very close to reaching their $29,958 goal. The campaign is to facilitate mass production of the toys and materials. The game itself is developed and fully playable, with a launch window aimed at November according to the Kickstarter page. I had a chance to play the game with the developers at GDC, as well as at home with a review sample. Both times I played I was genuinely surprised and impressed with the game and it’s a unique concept, and that’s the reason I did this app preview because I am genuinely hopeful that their campaign is successful because unique ideas and good game development deserve a chance to be seen by everyone. The project ends on Tuesday, April 18th, check it out here.
If you’re looking for a fun and new experience for you and your kids to enjoy together, I’d definitely recommend checking out this game, and even consider backing their Kickstarter before it’s over. Check back here once the game launches to see a full review of the game!