Last year, Ed wrote about how he wished Ian Hitman could skip in IO Interactive's big shiny assassin sim. Well, Agent 47 clearly needs to make the next stop on his international mission list a nice, relaxing retreat on the Mediterranean island of Pinar del Mar. Not to murder anyone, of course. But to hang out with Alba for some all important frolicking lessons. She's a pro at this skipping marlarkey. If she's not throwing her arms out like an aeroplane when she's running up and down the yellowing hills of this sleepy little island village, she's doing a jolly little skip that is probably the most delightful thing I've ever seen in a video game. In fairness, the whole game is just pure joy distilled into a chill wildlife photography adventure, but man alive, the skipping is something else. More of this please, developers.
Isn't that just the best and most wholesome thing you've seen today? Made by Ustwo Games, the folks behind Monument Valley and Assemble With Care, Alba: A Wildlife Adventure is both the best summer holiday you've never had, and the only summer holiday you'll ever need to have again. At its core, it's a wildlife photography game that sees young Alba set out to snap and catalogue all the birds and animals on the island her grandparents call home. She's visiting them for the summer, you see, and her grandpa has just got this cool new app on his phone that can identify every kind of breed and species with a single photo.
However, a nefarious plot is afoot, as her arrival coincides with an announcement from the island's mayor that they're going to tear down the island's nature reserve and build a swanky new hotel there instead. The locals (and the local wildlife, one would assume) aren't best pleased with this development, so Alba and her best pal Ines take it upon themselves to make a petition, clean up the island and put a stop to this terrible scheme.
It's not quite as clear cut as 'hotel is bad', 'nature reserve is good', though. While the developer behind the hotel is clearly dodge, the game does give you space to wonder whether, actually, it might not be such a bad idea if the mayor was a) not awful, and b) sensible enough to not build it on the only nice bit of the island they've got left. As Alba will soon discover for herself, Pinar del Mar has seen better days. Litter lines the streets and forest walkways, graffiti stains forgotten corners of the marina, animals are getting trapped in plastic six-pack wrappers, and abandoned concrete buildings sit unfinished in the hills. The old castle on top of the hill could be another great tourist destination, but no one has the money to give it the renonvations it needs to make it safe. At one point, Alba's grandpa even mentions how many jobs it might create, too, which (apart from being the classic, dreaded line politicians often wheel out to paste over the cracks of terrible promises) could also, you know, probably help bring some young people back to the island to support its increasingly elderly population.
In reality, these are all huge, insurmountable problems that no single ten-year-old could possibly hope to solve on their own, but Alba's sunny outlook on life is just too strong to let anything cloud her youthful optimism and can-do attitude. She will skip and smile and nod her head with an infectious grin on her face like there's no tomorrow, building bridges (literal and figurative) and giving this place the care and attention it needs in order to heal. It's a powerful childhood fantasy, and it's all backed by Lorena Alvarez's equally summery and nostalgic soundtrack, too.
The photography isn't just a cute aside, either. Each picture you take of the recovering wildlife becomes compelling evidence for the locals that this is a place worth saving, and more people will sign your petition as a result. The birds and animals are already a delight to watch as they flit between branches and circle in wide loops overhead, but seeing more of them return to the island once you've fixed it up a bit is really heartening, lump-in-throat kind of stuff. There are just over 50 of them to snap in total, but cor, what I wouldn't give to have more of them. Skipping to and fro across this island is just such pure, unadulterated joy, and I felt like it had put a real spring in my step by the time I got to the end credits.
So yes, more skipping protagonists in games, please, developers, and more wholesome summer escapes while you're at it, too, if you'd be so kind. Seriously, this is an incredible tonic given the time of year, so if you're in need of some virtual vitamin D and haven't played Alba yet, it's well worth picking up on Steam.