Sega’s monster-editor-slash-Olympics-game may appeal to kids and even older gamers who like to get creative.
Amazing Island is a tale of two games. One is a set of button-smashing mini-games with questionable entertainment value. The other is one of the greatest creative tools ever released for consoles. The problem is, you have to play a lot of the former to really experience the latter.
The game’s inane story dumps your human character onto an island of tribal midgets who are being oppressed by a force known as the “Black Evil”. In order to save these people, you must create a monster in the temple and use your creation to compete in Olympics-style mini-games to vanquish the Black Evil. As you beat more courses of mini-games, villagers return and open up new shops, where you can buy stat-boosting potions and monster-building accessories with money earned in the mini-games.
If you were to buy and play Amazing Island purely as an action title, which would be stupid, you could beat all the mini-game courses within a couple of hours, and you probably wouldn’t have many good things to say about the game. There are only about thirty mini-games, many just altered versions of each other. They tend to be longer and a bit more complex than Mario Party’s mini-games, and certainly much beefier than Wario Ware’s micro-games, but only a few are truly fun. Playing the majority of these mini-games feels like a chore, and considering that earning money and accessories for monster creation is the only real motivation for tackling the games at all, maybe “chore” is the perfect word. Unless you are caught up in the game’s plot, which is inconceivable, you’re going to want to blow through the mini-games as quickly and with as little hassle as possible. Unfortunately, some of the games are quite frustrating, often due to poor instruction on how to play and/or ridiculous timing requirements. Theoretically, you can create your monster in such a way that it will have an advantage in certain events, but since the game requires you to play through courses of several mini-games each, the best strategy is to build a well-rounded monster, and the strategy you’re most likely to use is to say “screw the stats, I want to make it look cool”.
The game’s sole redeeming feature, and it’s a big one, is the fantastic monster creation mode. You begin by choosing a skeletal frame, which serves as a helpful drawing guide and determines the monster’s animation set. However, you can practically ignore the frame and draw the monster’s body in any shape you want, which is done one body section at a time (head, arms, legs, etc.). Drawing is handled on a 2D plane, and then your outline is inflated at several possible thicknesses. It’s a very clever way to simplify the process, and it works quite well. Once the 3D model is complete, you can choose the monster’s texturing pattern, place the eyes, and begin to add accessories. Although there’s plenty of fun to be had in tweaking the body (and yes, you can make your monster anatomically correct, or even anatomically magnificent), accessorizing is even wackier, thanks to the completely absurd collection of accessories offered in the game. There are claws, noses, mouths, wings, tires, mufflers, swords, shields, blinking lights, party favors, sneakers, and baseball bats…only to name a few.
The monster creation mode is pretty limited at first, but after completing courses of mini-games, new drawing tools and options are unlocked. Most accessories (there are well over 100 in all) are either earned by scoring well in certain mini-games or bought in the village’s shops with money from mini-games. This all points to the real caveat of Amazing Island’s monster editor: you can’t get much out of it without having to play through the mini-games. If you want to get a lot of accessories and really create some wacky stuff, the diagnosis is even worse, because items are priced so high that you will have to play through the same mini-game courses many, many times just to earn enough cash. It’s a real shame that the game doesn’t award money or items for creating interesting new monster designs, because once you get into the creative process, it’s a real momentum killer to go play the mediocre mini-games for the umpteenth time.
With such a stark contrast in design quality between the game’s two main pieces, it’s hard to pinpoint Amazing Island’s overall appeal. Artists (or wannabees) will likely enjoy bringing their monster creations to life, and even casual gamers will appreciate the endless hilarity to be mined from putting shoes on a dragon’s hands or moving a demon dog’s eyes onto his butt. However, these same players will be disappointed, confused, and fed up after a few compulsory rounds of mini-games. Perhaps the best audience for Amazing Island is kids, who will enjoy experimenting with the monster editor and may have more patience for the sub-par action elements. In any case, rent first.