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Community Article: Indie Insights - Alba: A Wildlife Adventure

Written by John Edwards

As we enter what feels like the fourteenth month of winter, it's increasingly hard to remember sunshine and blue skies. The idea of light breezes and warmth seems anathema to the continual barrage of storms battering the country and chilling us to our bones.

Playing Alba: A Wildlife Adventure now feels like a sunbeam in a dark room. A warm patch of comfort a cat would curl and stretch in. It's a reminder of summer and life without needing to don seven layers of clothing in order to pop to the shops.

You play Alba, a girl visiting her grandparents on an island for the summer. While she's there the mayor announces that they intend to build a sparkly new luxury hotel on top of the old dilapidated nature reserve. Alba and her friend Ines decide to try and save the preserve and set about gathering 50 signatures for a petition from the residents of the island.

In a recent episode of The Apprentice, the teams made video games to satiate the desires of the all-seeing Lord Sugar. One was the appallingly named Artic (sic) Saviour, where the player rescues arctic creatures that inexplicably included penguins. One of the contestants claimed that their game was unique as it was raising real-world issues about conservation, which is quite patently nonsense as video games have been including real-world issues for decades. Alba in particular has a focus on conservation.

As you wander around the island you'll encounter animals in distress, a beached dolphin, a sick squirrel, all manner of critters in need of intervention by humans because of the actions of other humans. Whether Alba saves them herself or calls in the help of the local vet, your aim is to leave the island in a better state than when you got there.

You'll find rubbish littered around the island and you can quickly flick it in the nearest bin just by tapping a button as you run on past. Same with sheets on washing lines, tap tap tap, they're neatly in a basket. Alba is like the anti-Tasmanian Devil, a whirlwind of construction, spinning through the land putting things straight.

Super Mario 64 starts with Mario standing in the gardens surrounding Princess Peach's castle. Dotted around the grass are little birds who'll take flight and scatter when Mario approaches. It's one of the first truly great elements of video game verisimilitude for me. The addition of birds to a virtual environment always makes it feel more real to me. They're so omnipresent in the real world that I think we take their existence for granted until they're absent.

The soft low call of a wood pigeon will always put in mind of arriving home in the early evening after a family day out. The keening trill of Swifts echoing the feel of dusk after a scorching summer's day. Alba's island is full of these birds with their accurate and so easily recognisable song. It immediately grounds you within a real place, a living, breathing ecosystem that will continue independently of you. You are merely passing through their homes, please pick up after yourself.

As you go about your attempts to save the nature reserve you have a mobile phone to take pictures of the wildlife you see and catalogue them in your notebook. There are signs around the island providing information for tourists about what they might see but they're in various states of disrepair. Snapping the bird or creatures that feature in the torn and worn labels means you can fix the signs, or use them as a hint to what you should be looking out for in that area.

There are feeders to fill, bird boxes to repair, bridges to build and biomes to explore. Throughout this Alba runs and skips with joy and enthusiasm. She'll thrust her arms out while running like she's pretending to be an aeroplane, it helps encapsulate the carefree enthusiasm of a child on a mission.

Alba: A Wildlife Adventure is a joyous game. It is all about doing good in the world and appreciating nature. The island feels like an amalgamation of half-remembered holidays, of adventures with friends, of the privilege of seeing a rare creature in its natural habit and feeling the sun on your face, warming you from the inside out.