This island is best left undiscovered on Switch.
It may have been a matter of time, but it’s clear that the return of Pokémon Snap has blown the doors of photography games wide open.Games featuring fully workable photo modes have become more and more prevalent and games centered on photography as a core gameplay mechanic are cropping up more and more. Beasts of Maravilla island falls in the latter of these two categories, taking after Pokémon Snap, but untethering its protagonist from an on-rails cart and allowing for more freeform exploration. It could be a nice alternative option for Pokémon Snap enthusiasts, but on Switch this experience doesn’t constitute an enjoyable experience.
In Beasts of Maravilla Island you play as Marina Montez, who receives a mysterious journal from her late grandfather giving her instructions to discover the magical island of Maravilla. A place untouched by humans and full of all sorts of incredible creatures. Marina wants to complete her grandfather’s journal by photographing all the wonderful creatures found on the island. On her journey she discovers more about her grandfather's first expedition and how to aid the beasts on the island.
The gameplay in Beasts of Maravilla Island is pretty straightforward. You can freely explore the island in segmented parts in which you complete several photographic objectives. This ranges from finding every single species of animal to capturing specific animals performing certain activities. You are never graded on your photography skills, so you can explore and shoot to your heart’s content. The camera is pretty handy, since it tells you exactly which creatures you have and have not photographed yet. Sometimes you are required to shoot a flash photo at certain animals or plants to interact with them. An early example is activating the growth of a plant, using photosynthesis by capturing a particular type of glowing bulb. There are also several unique types of beasts that can perform tricks or have unique traits to interact with. From photographing gliding monkeys to having an Otterdille perform a backflip by tossing a fruit into the body of water it resides in. These help you progress through the island by performing very basic puzzles.
You can explore parts of the island without capturing any of the photo objectives, which does give the game a rather laid back feel. Especially paired with its fun and creative creature design. Some of the bugs are fused together with crystals, while others seem to be creative mashups of multiple animals. It’s clear the developers put in some great work researching and designing these creatures. Unfortunately, aside from the earlier mentioned interactive animals, most of these beasts feel like background fodder to fill up the island. There’s about twenty different butterflies, but since you never interact with them, aside from the photos you shoot most of the animals fail to leave any impact. Taking (New) Pokémon Snap as the standard for this type of experience, you can always feel that you are impacting the world around you. The Pokémon in Snap react to your presence, not only when you throw stuff at them but also when you simply take shots near them. In Beasts of Maravilla Island, most of the creatures are just there and aren’t bothered if you stand right in their faces or shoot photos from a distance. It makes the world feel static.
But the game’s biggest flaw is its performance. Nearly every second the game’s framerate tanks when there’s multiple creatures on screen. This shock going from 30fps to an absurd 10fps by just pointing and shooting your camera just makes the game a drag to play through on the Nintendo Switch. Mind you, this was all in docked mode and didn’t get any better in handheld mode. Even during cutscenes (which are rendered in-game), the performance gets abysmal near the end, giving even less weight to its story and creature design. Glitches like animals gliding along the ground or being stuck in midair are frequent as well. All these issues could be excused if the photography itself was pretty solid, but honestly even that mechanic is barebones. You can raise, lower and zoom the camera and that is it. There are no creative options whatsoever like filters, rotation, saturation or even brightness control. This lack of attention to photography and creativity gives Beasts of Maravilla Island no replay value whatsoever. Even after finishing the game completely, there is really no reason to go back and hunt down the remaining creatures for your camera roll.
I can't describe Beasts of Maravilla Island as anything less than a disappointment on the Nintendo Switch. While performance on the console absolutely breaks the experience, what little is there to begin with feels lackluster and basic. The creatures and its world are without a doubt the highlight of the game, but even so interaction and creativity in your photography is limited from every angle. I've been a huge proponent of photography video games, but with its surge over the recent years I've realized that I've also become more critical of games wanting to evoke that feeling of photography, but don't seem to fully understand how it can be both a tool for gameplay and creativity. If you're looking for a creative photographic experience I'd recommend titles like Umurangi Generation and (New) Pokémon Snap. Heck even other games that have non-essential photo-modes like Blue Fire, Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate allow you more creativity than Beasts of Maravilla Island. This unfortunately makes Beast of Maravilla Island an Island I don't ever plan on revisiting.