Hello Kitty Island Adventure is everything I want in a repetitive, relaxing open-world life sim of its kind. The Animal Crossing heir, made by Hello Kitty’s massive merch company Sanrio and small game studio Sunblink, is a honeycomb-sweet combination of taking care of friends and a surprisingly large, secretive island; it’s the perfect cozy game for summertime.
It’s not reinventing any of Harvest Moon’s well-oiled tractor wheels—it follows many of the conventions established by nearly two decades of games like it. But I’m impressed with how fast-paced Island Adventure feels. Many life sims, like Ooblets or Coffee Talk are slow-burned sugar, making sure players have invested in watering their garden or steeping the same lemon tea for a few days before letting them into the special sauce, a new recipe or piece of furniture, or something. In just my five hours with Island Adventure, though, the game already feels like reaching into a full Christmas stocking with no bottom.
Its plot makes ample space for activity. It’s somewhere between a typical life sim origin story (it’s up to you to restore a deserted, but charming, amusement park) and the inscrutable timeline of the live-action 2002 Scooby-Doo movie. Hello Kitty and her friends—which include her animated series companions pink-hooded rabbit My Melody, big-eye frog Keroppi, and portly puppy Pompompurin, as well as more niche Sanrio characters like moaning egg yolk Gudetama and tap-dancing duck Pekkle—have been instructed to move to an abandoned island.
In, I assume, an effort to appeal to all ages (the Apple Arcade exclusive is rated 4+ in the App Store) the game seems occasionally unsure of how unsettling that is supposed to be, adding unmarked graves to the map but also making it so your character never has to sleep and can never die.
Its dialogue is also sometimes incongruously self-conscious, coming across as a family-focused Millennial. Like, when Hello Kitty’s plan to provide me with a plane snack ends up in underbaked dessert splatting onto seats and faces, grumpy penguin Badtz-Maru shouts a reference to the 2006 movie Snakes on a Plane (“I’ve had enough with the cakes on this plane”) before jumping out the emergency exit with a bouquet of balloons. Later, when a strange, speaking hologram appears after opening a locked gate, Chococat wonders out loud if it uses “neural networks to process information.”
The title Hello Kitty Island Adventure, too, seems to call back to 2006, borrowing from a South Park episode where Butters says he’s not on his PC playing World of Warcraft, he’s playing Hello Kitty Island Adventure, a game that didn’t exist before its release on July 28. These fourth-wall breaks are occasionally off-putting to me, a grown-up Sanrio fan who prefers its characters to be blank canvases for kawaii projection. Like, canonically, if you can call it that, my favorite character Pompompurin has few defined qualities aside from the fact that “he loves milk” and is frequently depicted with a star-shaped butthole.
I think that’s surrealist art. Island Adventure, regrettably but understandably, for the benefit of its friendship and gift systems, chooses instead to hook Sanrio characters and their dialogue to concrete reality with defined personality traits and utility.
While the game limits you to giving three gifts a 24-hour period (in-game days move quicker than that, denoted by either a sparkly little moon or sun at the top left of your screen, next to a painterly mini-map) per character, I like how easily friendship slots into the rest of the game. In similar life sims, it can seem to me that I need to disrupt instinctive gameplay by finding an item a character might like. In Island Adventure, though, gifts can be easily acquired through intuitive open-world exploration and play.
Because of this, I level up my friendship with multiple characters almost immediately, receiving themed furniture, color palettes to customize my character, and sidequests in return.
Also, a lot of tofu. In between friendship levels, I rely on the consistent friendship bonuses I get for gifts, which, for Hello Kitty, is blocks of jiggly tofu. My Melody always gives me bags of flour, and I eventually come across loose pineapples ready for slicing while walking around the beach. I go to Hello Kitty’s bakery to experiment with its oven, and I end up with a layered pineapple cake Tuxedosam, Sanrio’s bowtie-wearing penguin, apparently loves to eat and get as a gift.
Happy accidents like this make friendship in Island Adventure feel inextricable from its core gameplay, which is heartening. Other aspects are similarly breezy. Island Adventure allows me to explore nearly every part of the mysterious island from the moment I step onto it. Necessary items, like sparks that power ziplines, and tools, like strawberry-colored crates that allow me to open up visitor cabins for attracting new characters to my island, are all immediately within reach.
There’s a lot to look at, too, from pumpkin-lined swampland to complicated gemstone cave networks, to volcanic rock mountains that are bubbling with magma, to kelp mazes rooted deep in the glittering ocean.
I rotate my quick item tools to perform all of the standard life sim hobbies as I navigate these mountains and rivers. When I’m feeling leisurely, I walk around permanently peaceful beaches to grab coconuts or pink sand dollar disks, the game’s main currency. I may spot a rainbow fin I haven’t seen before, and I yank out my fishing rod for a simple minigame (press right and left to make sure a white line stays within the limits of a green bar). There are tropical bugs to catch with a net that never fails. But if I’m tired of the sun, I can always take to the elaborate cave networks with mine carts to ride over stalks of iridescent stone.
Again, there isn’t much that sets these standard life sim qualities apart from other games that did them first, especially for players who aren’t alone thrilled by Hello Kitty gracing them with her elegant presence. They play out how you expect them to—an undiscovered guppy to add to your collection, another recipe under your belt.
But they’re all so painless to perform, and unlike other games with more trial-and-error, it’s rare that I ever fail in whatever I set out to do. Nothing is difficult or resists when I push, and that’s what I like—forging ahead, discovery, meditatively following My Melody wherever she leads me.
I have enough complication to weed out in my own life, so I don’t get bored when Island Adventure feels like a hands-free, mowed path to victory. It balances ease with activity, and I keep checking tasks off what looks like an iPhone 4, which houses the menu and quest progress.
There are plenty of collectibles and bonus activities. Slate temples hide puzzles, and I sojourn in them to solve in exchange for quest items, food, and decor, and there are buttons in the ground that release minigames when stomped on, depositing a flurry of cherry blossoms to collect before the clock runs out. The entire island also offers, as far as I can tell, infinite resources to collect, blueprints to realize at Chococat’s work table, and Sanrio characters to assist in finding out why we’re on the island while helping it flourish.
The latter goal is evaluated by another hammer thrown at the fourth wall; I ask My Melody for a “vibe check,” and she assigns me an Island Vibe Score based on how well I’m revitalizing my new home by completing tasks like helping Keroppi reopen a Nature Preserve to store all the critters I catch.
Gameplay mechanics like this make Hello Kitty Island Adventure feel, occasionally, ridiculous, but no more than any other Animal Crossing offspring where you get to put talking animals in a sundress. My few hours with Island Adventure have been promising, and entertainingly instant-gratification. It so far seems simple and relaxing, a summer without any heatwaves, but with a cartoon dog that has a butthole.