I challenge you to find a video game with a better elevator pitch than Hello Kitty: Island Adventure. Get this: It’s Animal Crossing but with Sanrio characters. You don’t need to see a single screenshot or watch a trailer to know if you’re in or out on that idea.
Apple Arcade’s latest exclusive is the gaming platform’s best hope for a subscription mover yet. It’s an undeniably adorable adventure built to deliver on Apple’s promise of high-quality mobile gaming with no pesky ads or microtransactions — and for the most part, it delivers. Though it lacks key hooks that make the Animal Crossing formula work, Hello Kitty: Island Adventure makes up for some of its shortcomings with an infectiously positive attitude and a downright pleasant visual style that I can’t help but soak in. It’s a summer getaway in your pocket.
It’s immediately clear what developer Sunblink is aiming to do upon firing up the adventure. After a cute introduction where Hello Kitty almost gets an entire airplane of cute animals killed (yes, really), players parachute onto an island alongside Sanrio staples like My Melody and Keroppi. Within moments of exploring that first hub area — complete with a furniture shop, clothing store, and a town hall where you can check your “island vibe” score — it’s pretty clear that Animal Crossing was a direct inspiration here. Even its crafting animation looks identical to the one in New Horizons.
That loving homage often works to its advantage. Animal Crossing’s framework is a perfect fit for the world of Sanrio, stitching together the gentle nature of both properties. That’s baked right into its core loop, which is built around developing friendships with the island’s inhabitants by giving them gifts. Think Persona’s social system, but with less dating and more apple pie. It’s a smart way to leverage Sanrio’s excellent roster of characters, letting their varying personalities guide its wealth of quests and piecemeal progression. I’ve even found some new favorites in the dastardly cute Kuromi and the adventurous Chococat.
Though a lot of Animal Crossing staples are present here, there’s some expectation setting that’s required up front: It’s not a 1:1 copy of that series. You don’t have a house of your own to decorate (though you can customize cabins for visitors), there isn’t a 24-hour clock to plan by, and you won’t find yourself planting flowers or terraforming the island to your liking. You’re more a tourist visiting a pre-built Hello Kitty world than a resident of it.
That may sound a little disappointing, and a few parts of it are. There isn’t too much furniture to collect at present, and clothing options feel equally limited. It doesn’t have the same level of self-expression that makes Animal Crossing such a joy to come back to every day. Instead, it’s more of a rigid Sanrio collect-a-thon with a tab full of checklists to complete.
That’s not inherently a drawback, especially considering that a mobile game calls for something a bit more compact in scope. I’ve still enjoyed my daily life as I catch weird bugs, fill up my museum with fish, cook every recipe I can, and take selfies with hidden Gudetamas scattered all over the islands. And I’m doing all that while basking in its warm visual style and breezy soundtrack. Every time I load it up, it feels like I’m taking a quick getaway from my job (which, ironically, is to write about this game).
A lot of those disappointments are easy to forgive if you’re willing to meet Island Adventure on its own terms instead of Animal Crossing’s. While that game is a major guiding factor, the team at Sunblink cites The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as an equally important influence. That’s apparent, as Island Adventure is a pocket-sized open-world exploration game at its heart (complete with a wall-climbing stamina system and glider-esque balloons). When viewed through that lens, its flow makes a lot more sense.
Upon landing on the island, my quest log starts filling up with missions that send me around a sizable open world. In addition to small quests that unlock features like a nature museum and a scuba mask that lets me explore underwater, there’s a series of mainline tasks that unravel the island’s grander mysteries. Those send me into shrine-like puzzle rooms to hunt for artifacts. None of those are particularly hard, simply having me move some boxes onto switches, but it’s a nice way to break up the life sim formula with some traditional adventure gameplay.
The genre fusion does come with a bit of friction at times. Quests are largely unlocked by reaching certain friendship levels with each islander. However, you can only give each one four gifts a day (unless using a rare item to refresh that). After my first few hours, a lot of my playtime became about trying to gather resources, turn those into the right gifts, and hope I’d get enough in one day to unlock a new quest or two. That process can be a little slow-going, making some daily check-ins feel a bit unfulfilling.
Still, I got used to that gameplay flow after a bit. What I ultimately want from a life sim is some form of routine and ritual. That’s what I’ve gotten out of Island Adventure so far, checking in every day to prepare some gifts for my friends, find a few more collectibles, and prep cabins for visiting NPCs like Dear Daniel. In between those moments, I’m embarking on a proper adventure that gives me a more concrete endgame to work towards. I get to do all that while baking apple pies with Hello Kitty.
Hello Kitty: Island Adventure isn’t a full Animal Crossing replacement, but with a 30-hour story and new content to come over time, there’s still plenty of Sanrio cuteness to obsess over. Even with some tedious gameplay loops that string out its story content, I’m still guaranteed a smile every time I load it up. And with no pesky microtransactions to spoil the fun, it’s a welcome vacation from an at-times aggressive mobile game landscape (so long as you have an Apple Arcade subscription). Soak in those good island vibes.
Hello Kitty: Island Adventure is now available on iOS devices via Apple Arcade.
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