Sega's Amazing Island combines monster-raising with the traditional party game. Unfortunately, it doesn't carry on the tasks of either of those genres particularly well. Despite sporting plenty of cute characters, Amazing Island hardly lives up to its name--perhaps "OK Islet" would be more appropriate.
The plot puts you in the role of a little blue-haired moppet who is, under extremely vague circumstances, transported to the titular Amazing Island, where he or she is charged with fending off the Black Evil, which has been turning all the cute little Octorok-looking natives into cute little Octorok-looking natives who are kind of evil. By using a monster of your own design as an instrument of island justice, you'll engage in a series of minigames, with a set of special glowing orbs being the object of your desire.
The monster creation system is a welcome change of pace from the prefab oddballs that populate other Pokemon-knockoffs. The system itself is fairly unique--that is, if you missed out on Agetec's 2003 release of Magic Pengel for the PlayStation 2. And in all likelihood, you probably did. Anyway, in Amazing Island you're presented with the frame for the body, which gives you an idea of the general stature of your monster. You then give shape to the different body segments by drawing shapes over them. After you've built the basics for your monster, you can apply different color schemes and accessorize with horns, claws, eyeballs, and other monsterlike stuff.
At the start, your options for body frame and accessory options are pretty limited, and as a result, most of your monsters will look like freaky alien insect monsters--words like "thorax" and "mandible" will often come to mind. But as you progress, you'll regularly be rewarded with new body frames, more manipulation options, and a wider selection of accessories, which progressively get weirder and weirder. Decking out your monster with wings and sneakers has a definite aesthetic value, and certain accessories can also impact the actual abilities of your monster as well, though the nature of that impact is not always explicit. If you don't consider yourself much of an artist, or you simply want to cut past the monster-building mess, you have the option to answer a series of seemingly Freudian questions, such as "If you were traveling through a tunnel, what would be on the other end?" and "You wake up one day as a puppy. What do you do?" Based on your responses, the game will automatically generate and accessorize your monster for you.
You've got your monster built up, so now it's time to go fight the dreaded Black Evil, which means it's time play some minigames. The minigames constitute the actual "game" part of Amazing Island, pitting your monster against a demon representative of the Black Evil, or just against preset records, in simple challenges of timing, reflexes, and good old-fashioned thumb endurance. Before you're done, you'll put your monster through a foot race, enter him in a free-throw contest, skip him across the water like a stone, launch him off a catapult, and fair amount of other, more archaic challenges. Games like this are generally only as enjoyable as the minigames they contain, and Amazing Island is a little inconsistent. It has a habit of relying on somewhat archaic rules and controls. That these rules aren't always explained very concisely beforehand can often lead to a string of frustrating losses. The game stays remarkably fresh through the first few rounds, though it eventually begins recycling minigames, with some of them benefiting from the revisiting more than others. Amazing Island tries to alleviate this by regularly introducing additional challenges or rules to games you've already played before, and it is somewhat successful in this endeavor. The strangest thing about the minigame portion of Amazing Island is the absence of a multiplayer mode, as most of the minigames seem tailor-made for two-to-four-player action, and the rest would require little tweaking to be made suitable for competition.
Aside from all the monster-making and minigaming fun, Amazing Island offers some simple GC-to-GBA connectivity, allowing you to transfer monsters over to your GBA to do battle with the CPU, or in an unlikely scenario, fight it out with friends who have transferred their own monsters over to their GBAs. With all of the action being represented on the GBA screen by rudimentary collectible-card-game-style cards, it's not much to look at, and as with most GC-to-GBA connectivity features, the novelty wears off rather quickly.
Amazing Island is a cute game, and the visuals definitely account for the lion's share of its cuteness. The anime-styled lead character makes the game's Japanese origin apparent, though the locals have a sort of psychedelic totem-pole look, which, at the very least, lends a bit of unique flavor. The polygonal foundation for Amazing Island isn't too impressive, with fairly basic character models and environments that are quite modest in scope. The textures have a clean, sharp look to them, though they too are quite simple and are occasionally afflicted with some mean color banding. These fundamentals contrast sharply with some of the game's unexpectedly good special effects. The water reflects and ripples with surprising realism, and glowing particle effects help spruce up much of the proceedings. The game even sounds cute, with some sprightly synthesized tunes, anime-voice-acting-grade exclamations, and a store of instantaneously annoying animal sounds from the monsters. The sound design is in line with the visuals, though it isn't as strong as the colorful, cute graphics.
Sega is gunning for the Pokemon/Yu-Gi-Oh! set with Amazing Island, but the game lacks the gameplay depth that makes Pokemon a guilty pleasure for older gamers and the strong branding that makes Yu-Gi-Oh! so ubiquitous with the lunchbox-and-backpack crowd. With a decent number of minigames but no four-player options, there's a very real missed opportunity here for some good multiplayer fun. Amazing Island is decent entertainment for a younger crowd, though they'd probably prefer a game featuring one of the franchises it tries so hard to emulate.