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"Coral Island" Review: The Farm Sim to Finally Dethrone Stardew Valley?

Shane's been gaming for nearly 40 years and loves a broad array of games in addition to being one-quarter of the Assorted Meeples group.

Coral Island offers players a surprisingly large and truly beautiful world. This screenshot, and all others, used with permission from Assorted Meeples.

Coral Island offers players a surprisingly large and truly beautiful world. This screenshot, and all others, used with permission from Assorted Meeples.

Coral Island: An Indie Farm-Life Sim With Huge Potential

Coral Island is an indie-developed farm-sim and cozy-life genre of game that caught the attention of Stardew Valley, Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons, and My Time at Portia fans when its Kickstarter was first announced. The trailer showed beautiful graphics, great looking crops, and good looking character art and...mermaids?

Coral Island promised a combination of putting a new spin on traditional tropes used by many video games in this genre. It adds some things completely new like scuba diving, mermaids, a heavy focus on cleaning pollution from a man-made disaster, as well as a more interactive story with Indonesian folklore and culture.

All of this is packaged in a game that manages to be somehow familiar in the best sort of way for fans of farm-life sims. However, it offers a full living world that few other games can match. It delivers a fresh spin that reignites the passion and enjoyment that many fans of this genre have felt is lacking.

Developed by Stairway Games, an indie game studio based out of Indonesia, it's truly amazing what they've managed to put together. Despite having big shoes to fill because of the hype, they've done a great job building a game that rises to the occasion, even in early access.

I liked the sunflower that grew from a mixed seed so much I grew a field of them because I thought it would look beautiful. I believe I was correct :)

I liked the sunflower that grew from a mixed seed so much I grew a field of them because I thought it would look beautiful. I believe I was correct :)

The World of Coral Island

The in-game map looks deceptively small, and then when you run around, you realize how much area there is to explore. Make sure to put on auto-sprint and use that dash command (space bar on PC), because it can be a while to get around on that map.

No part of this world feels empty, either. It isn't big for the sake of being big. There are people to meet, animals to follow, items to forage, and secrets to discover. Coral Island does a great job of being a living, breathing setting that keeps delivering more and more surprises as you progress through the game, with many areas getting unlocked or changed by accomplishing main plot points.

Even the oceans open up relatively early in the game, creating yet another truly incredible area that players get to forage, explore, and open up bit by bit. And as of now, that underwater world doesn't even show up on the overhead map!

You can even zoom in to find the locations of NPCs you have met or see question marks of NPCs you have not yet met - an amazing quality of life improvement.

You can even zoom in to find the locations of NPCs you have met or see question marks of NPCs you have not yet met - an amazing quality of life improvement.

An Incredibly Beautiful World

Coral Island does a great job of creating an incredibly beautiful world. The graphics are on point, and there have been multiple times where I lost part of a day just stopping and admiring the scene. The scenic view spaces on the lake and by the waterfalls are both especially stunning.

The large forest to the northwest of your farm are stunning and the animations of animals moving around, NPCs going about their day, and the changes to every detail that come with wind, rain, or shadows during the changing light also make this a game where the world really does come to life.

When it rains, you see the splatter of individual rain drops and the reflective glow of light off the puddles. When running through the weeds, they sway back and forth convincingly - and even do the same on windy days. The shadows of trees move throughout the day depending on the time.

This is a living world, and the little details in Coral Island blow away any comparison to any other farm-sim games. Only Doraemon Story of Season comes close when it comes to a unique and eye-catching art style that's immediately recognizable.

Just hanging out and watching the waterfalls with my monkey buddies. When I'm not buying O.G. farmer hats from their shop.

Just hanging out and watching the waterfalls with my monkey buddies. When I'm not buying O.G. farmer hats from their shop.

Just How Many NPCs Are There?

There are nearly 80 NPCs in Coral Island, which is over twice as many as Stardew Valley. This is a town that feels like a town, feels vibrant, and really feels alive because there are so many distinct people living their lives. They do their own thing and grow their own relationships with one another.

There's not even a guarantee that there won't be more characters - none of the mermaids have been introduced at this point in the game's release, and there have been other new NPCs added through the multi-year development process.

This leads to a world that feels alive because there are so many more people to meet than in My Time at Portia or Stardew Valley, and the schedules, movements, and interactions of NPCs with one another make them feel more alive an independent.

Most importantly: every NPC is distinct. They all have their own personalities, relationships with others, natural tendencies, and it really shows. Every character has layers and isn't just a surface stereotype.

The big muscular guy isn't just the meathead weight lifter, he has a big soft spot for animals. The seemingly stuck up rich girl who seems out of place leads yoga for the town people on weekends and is struggling with clearly crushing over one of the other town's folks. The lovely old granny is a fiery burst of "Give them heck!" when it comes to the oil company that polluted their island.

Even the dogs, cats, and other animals have interactions with you, other NPCs, and each other throughout the day.

This breathes some serious life into the game and makes it a joy every time you randomly run into an NPC.

Who's a good boy? Who's a good boy?

Who's a good boy? Who's a good boy?

Coral Island Mechanics: How Do They Stack Up?

The mechanics are extremely smooth. Planting, hoeing, mining, and watering all happen very quickly and the controls are responsive. The outline to show hit location for the tools is a major boost.

The first impressions were surprisingly good, and for the most part they hold up. After 50+ hours of play I will say that a little work could be done with the pick axe and the mine to make the upgrades work faster or more smoothly so you're not already swinging (and therefore wasting energy) when a "domino effect" from upgraded mining skill is kicking in.

While bigger upgrades of the water can are great, in it's current iteration the bronze one is very hard to use effectively. It's not terrible, but it's not great either.

These are minor inconveniences when looking at the bigger picture, but it does show that despite the mechanics holding up very well there still is some room for polish.

Most mechanics are smooth, although a little work could be done on the aim for upgraded water cans.

Most mechanics are smooth, although a little work could be done on the aim for upgraded water cans.

Strong Environmental Message

There is a strong environmental and conservation message here, which I really enjoy because it's handled so well. It's a natural part of the game, the community, the story without being over the top in your face or preachy. It fits into this world and community naturally and there's a clear understanding that protecting nature is important, and so is tourism to provide work for those on the island.

The balance between development, conservation, and simply being good stewards who appreciate the gifts we have is extremely well balanced in the game of Coral Island and it's great to see that even within the town how passionate about one of these aspects an NPC is differs depending on the NPC.

Some are very heavily natural world. Some understand the importance of development. Some are caught in between the island they call home and better opportunities elsewhere.

These are topics we all understand from real life and they are very well handled in this game.

Needless to say this section of ocean floor has seen better days.

Needless to say this section of ocean floor has seen better days.

The Underwater Diving Is an Exceptional Add

Taking a note from No Place Like Home, the cleaning of an area of trash is extremely satisfying. Watching a completely trashed beach clean up or seeing sections of the ocean floor get cleaned of trash, oil, and refuse just feels good. The underwater graphics are spectacular with each section having various corals, animals, or structures of interest.

This just makes you want to clean each section. You know once that there are hidden gems underneath just waiting to be uncovered.

This is also a mechanic that hasn't been done by any other farm-sim and yet makes a ton of sense given the location. That combination of adding a new twist or element to the classic mechanics of a cozy farm-life sim without it feeling jarring or out of place is a strength of this game throughout.

Although the underwater sections might be the epitome of the developers pulling this off well.

Recently cleared area of the ocean floor - seaweed and kelp grow back for harvesting over time.

Recently cleared area of the ocean floor - seaweed and kelp grow back for harvesting over time.

Strong Influence from Indonesian Culture - And Previous Farm Sims

The island setting isn't unique just because it's an island (after all there's Ginger Island from the 1.5 Stardew Valley update or Spirit of the Island as another good cozy farm-sim game), but because the developers, who are based out of Indonesia, clearly have pride and love of their and other cultures - and it shows.

This creates a game world that is easy to fall in love with, festivals which are both fun and beautiful, and the entire world feels more real because everything works in a way that makes sense.

This shows up in people's houses, in meetings in the town square, in the designs of the hot springs and caravan camp in the woods, the temples and the different ecosystems.

There are also clear references to the original Harvest Moon games as well as Stardew Valley, and these are done well in ways that long-time fans of this genre will appreciate.

That blending is what makes Coral Island feel comforting and familiar while being unusually exciting and engaging all at the same time. A very difficult feat to pull off, and yet I find myself even after 50 hours pining for the development of future plot points so I can dive deep into this world even more!

And just when you think you can't get even more amazed by the world, you find something like this.

And just when you think you can't get even more amazed by the world, you find something like this.

Is Coral Island Worth Buying? - Final Verdict

Coral Island is a game that anyone who loves farm-sim games or cozy life-sim games will love. While the game is still in its earliest public release and not even close to being fully realized, the release is still a full in-game year's worth of content for the main story with all the mechanics set up to keep farming, gathering, ranching, and mining ad infinitum.

Even in its current early state it is on my short list of the 10 best farm-sim games out there and is even possibly in the top 5 already, a shortlist that includes huge names like Stardew Valley, My Time at Portia, and Graveyard Keeper. This also means that even in its bare bones incomplete state, Coral Island already competes with titles like Doraemon: Story of Seasons, Story of Seasons Friends of Mineral Town, Dinkum, Rune Factory, and other huge names in the genre.

Based on the game's ability to tell stories, create outstanding stories, and really understand what makes farm-sims fun, it's hard to believe the game will get worse considering how amazing it is now, and how much more is to be added.

Pros:

  • Beautiful in-game world with few comparisons in the genre
  • Great mechanics
  • Outstanding soundtrack and artwork
  • Engaging gameplay
  • Truly outstanding writing
  • Appears as a true step forward stretching the boundaries and the idea of what can be done in the farm-sim genre
  • Incredible number of hours of gameplay already, even in the early release

Cons:

  • Game is still in very early development so there are major festivals, plot points, etc that a player simply won't have access to for months or possibly even a couple years for end-game content
  • There are areas in the mechanics where the game can still use some polish, though I expect that will be part of full development
  • There are some glitches or bugs that can be found, but these are also things that I expect will be taken care of during full development

I'd say Coral Island is worth buying now - and the fact that more will continue to be added to the game just makes this all the more impressive and exciting to watch as the indie team continues to develop their roadmap of what is rapidly forming up into one of the best farm-sim cozy games of all time.

Great Coral Island Resources

© 2022 Shane Dayton