Amazing Island is the upcoming game from Sega that puts you in the role of a young boy or girl (your choice) who is tapped to save a magical land full of monsters. The game's premise draws on standard game conventions and throws in some Neverending Story for good measure. As the story goes, a magical island was once created by men, and then it became home to a menagerie of critters of all kinds. As with most cool things that lean heavily on the fantastical, this island faded from memory. The character you play discovers evidence of this legendary place in the form of a picture book. Faster than you can say "plot device," our hero is summoned to the island by an SOS. The land has been possessed by evil, and the creatures that live there are now holding out for a hero. Now you'd think a land teeming with all types of monsters would be able to save itself, but this is not the case on Amazing Island.
While it would be tempting to leave the monsters with some self-empowerment books, maybe even some audio tapes and a pep talk, and then head home, your character is made of more helpful stuff. You're corralled by the local elder who fills you in on what's going on, sets you up with a monster helper, and sends you on your way. The basic gist of what you're asked to do is as follows: defeat Amazing Island's evil squatters by collecting magical orbs, of which there are eight, and live happily ever after. You'll collect the orbs by participating in different courses of minigames, and there are 30 of these to test your skills. The various games range from WarioWare-style twitch fests to more traditional track-and-field button mashers.
While it may sound pretty shallow, and it is at first, the game opens up once you gain the ability to create your own creature. When you first start playing, you're stuck with a loaner; however, once you gain the ability to make your own creature, Amazing Island becomes a lot more interesting. The game features a robust critter-creation system that deepens the more you play and the more options you unlock for it. You'll be able to unlock radically different skeletons to build from, plus facial items, like eyes, and all kinds of accessories to trick out your own personal monster.
The basic system is pretty ingenious: You'll start with a skeleton that you physically draw on with a pointer to buff out your creation's extremities. Once that's done you'll pick a color pattern for the skin, some fetching eyes, a voice for it, and then you can choose accessories to tack onto it to give it some individuality. The nice twist is that your tinkering affects your creature's overall stats in the game, which determines how it performs in competition. While you'll start out with a limited number of items to craft your monster from, winning competitions will unlock a plethora of goods to use, not to mention performance-enhancing potions. As you progress through the game, you'll find that certain monster types are better suited for certain competitions, therefore, you will adjust how you play accordingly, which adds some rudimentary strategy to the mix.
In addition to the game's single-player story mode, you'll find a multiplayer mode that lets you take on up to three other friends in the minigames that you had encountered in the single-player game. You'll be able to trade and import monsters via GameCube memory cards, so you can see how your custom-created team stacks up against a friend's. Amazing Island also features Game Boy Advance connectivity, which lets you download a simple card game that you can play against friends.
The game's presentation is solid and skews fairly early. The graphics in the game sport a cartoony, anime-inspired look that's heavy on the big eyes, peppy smiles, and bright colors. While the graphics engine doesn't really push the GameCube hardware much, it fits the action quite well. The character models in the game are rotund creations that feature a lot of simple tribal-style patterns on their faces and clothing. Your main character is more conventional and bears a passing resemblance to the lead characters in Animal Crossing. The environments sport similar aesthetics in that they feature modest detail that's highlighted by bright colors and simple geometry. The textures in the game are simple and in-line with the art style, and they keep the look of the faces and places you'll encounter consistent. While this may sound a bit underwhelming, Amazing Island manages to shine when it comes to the critters you'll end up creating. The game's simple look allows for a pretty hefty amount of customization and variety when it comes to your minion.
As far as audio goes, Amazing Island keeps it smooth with low-key sound effects, upbeat tunes, and a modest selection of voice samples. The sound effects are pretty bland for collisions and the sounds you'll hear in the exploration and action sequences. The music seems to be faring better with an animated collection of themes used to frame the onscreen action. The tunes may be like those found on a game show, but they end up doing a good job of fitting the adventure. The voice samples in the game that are used to give your creation a means of expression are decent and end up being pretty varied once you unlock all the different types. The voice options include everything from your standard generic roars to animal cries and even some robotic sounds. You'll get more mileage out of what's offered, thanks to the option to change the sampling rate, which results in higher- and lower-pitched variations as well as distorted versions.
Based on what we've played so far, Amazing Island is shaping up to be a solid action game with a good chunk of appeal. As with most games of this type, the core story mode is overshadowed by the character-creation process. The robust system with which you'll craft your minion is unique and lends itself to some imaginative uses. The GBA connectivity is a nice bonus for an underused feature of the hardware; it gives you more to mess around with once you've blown through the single-player game. Given the lackluster variety of titles in this genre on the GameCube, Amazing Island should end up being an engaging entry for players craving some monster-creating action. Amazing Island is currently slated to ship exclusively for the GameCube this August.