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Has ‘Len’s Island’ managed an ‘Animal Crossing’ and ‘Minecraft’ mashup?

Equal parts tranquil and tense, Len’s Island gives players the best of both worlds in this dungeon crawling, base-building world of mystery.

At the beginning of Len’s Island, you arrive on some unknown isle on a rickety raft. Your only tools are your knife, a hatchet, and a simple pick. Nobody greets you, or points you in any direction. You simply…start walking. You start exploring, but nobody’s home. Even stranger, scattered across the island are mysterious runes and sometimes, dark creatures.

In Brisbane-based Flow Studio’s isometric survival game, Len’s Island, much of the world’s story is left for you to discover. Mixing Minecraft and Animal Crossing, this gem of an indie game mashes together the peaceful feeling of farming and base-building with the combat and tension of dungeon crawlers.

The beginning

Character creation in Len’s Island is fairly simple. Choosing where you’re from lets you pick from a range of four skin colours. You’re given a choice between a feminine or masculine face, and your hair style and colour have some variation too. Nothing to rave about, but it makes the character feel like your Len. Not just a Len. On top of that, you can pick from a few simple clothes and their colours, with one little caveat: Len “definitely” doesn’t wear shoes. A quirky and cute addition.

Once you’re done, the game spits you straight out and onto the island. No cutscene or cinematics introduce you to the setting or story. All you’ve got to go off of is the raft you arrived on and the surrounding area. Little notes found in secret spots might give you some extra insight here or there, but otherwise, it’s a mystery. And it’s a bloody intriguing one too.

The story only really starts to reveal itself in a few particular spots. The first you’ll likely run into is the rather strange miniature island to the east. Filled with ruins and carved runes, a similar area lies to the northwest. Both are littered with monsters that pose a real threat to your safety and all of them drop items called dark essences.

The most straightforward answer comes only from speaking to the Bridgewater Mayor himself, but even he can’t tell you what the beasts are. Personally? I adored this approach, leaving players to fend for themselves and play detective regarding the island’s mysterious origins. I still have questions. Plenty of them.

Image: Len’s Island / Flow Studio

Gameplay

While you’re left to your own devices to wander around and smack a few trees, the tooltips that occasionally pop up give you just enough to get a grasp on how to play the game. Easily played with WASD and a mouse (recommended by the developers) or a controller, the gameplay feels pretty simple and easy to get used to.

Gathering is a huge part of making your explorations easier. Better yet, you’ll start getting lost in just how relaxing it can become. Smacking mindlessly away at trees and relishing the sound of their falling is nice after a long day. Funny too, when they also crumble into conveniently sized logs for you to snatch up.

The inventory is super easy to navigate too, with each resource or building piece easy to identify thanks to clear icons. For resources, they all have specific colours tied to them too, making it effortless to spot what you need and what you have.

I will say that I did find farming a little harder to figure out than everything else. For hours I puzzled over why my poor blueberries weren’t growing into beautiful, blue bushes. Likewise, I got a little frustrated when my Bore Well did absolutely nothing to nourish the little buggers. It left me wandering through the forest in search of more blueberries in an effort to stave off starvation.

But I worked it out! Eventually. In fact, I felt pretty dumb when I finally realised that I needed a watering can and where to find it. After jumping this hurdle though? I can safely say that the blueberries and I are now best buds.

Once you’ve got a farm going, upkeep feels pretty rewarding. You can make a decent amount of coin in town if you sell your goods, and it’s even nicer knowing that some flowers are used in crafting. They’re not just there to look pretty – even if they are.

Better yet, the yield you get from your crop is pretty decent, costing only one resource to spawn at least three or more once fully grown. And if you’re like me, you can even automate the watering process with a blessed Water Tower.

Speaking of crafting, you’re left to your own devices here too. Which was honestly… fun? The menu is easy enough to navigate and it’s hardly difficult to gather what you need. Figuring out how to progressively improve your farming system this way is rewarding too – it’s all just a matter of learning where the best spots are for certain resources.

Another nice plus was the ability to craft building pieces straight from the inventory menu. You only need your workbench to learn how to make new things, or to craft tools and weapons. Otherwise, so long as you have the resources, you’re free to build and decorate to your heart’s content.

Len’s Island has gone with a modular building design, which should make people pretty happy regardless of whether they’re new to base building or absolute pros. Three tiers of building pieces tend to give your house a pretty unique look, whether it’s a Roman villa or an adorable log cabin. Windows, walls, and roofing all have a few extra variations you can choose from too, to give your house, or castle, that extra customisation. Not only that, but the camera can be shoved around to make your life easier in the process.

Decorating is just as easy. The inventory menu will let you browse through what you’ve learned already and, hey presto! It’s a chair. Or a coffee table with a matching rug. You can’t quite pick something up and put it back down once it’s placed, but you can “recycle” any of your building/decoration pieces for a fully refunded cost.

Combat, on the other hand, is a completely different story. Tooltips give you a bit of insight on how to use the dodge roll properly, or time your knife swings and ensure you sneak some critical hits in. But it doesn’t show you everything. The exploration in this game feels even more alive as you swing a sword around for the first time, or give a scythe a whirl. Yeah, a scythe (It’s great for harvesting crops too, of course).

The dodging works pretty perfectly so far. although I’ve definitely rolled off of a cliff inside the spooky caves beneath the island and been lost to the abyss a few times. A lot of weapons have some knockback too, making your time in the depths a little easier to manage. Or, you can go for the tried and true sword-and-board build. Although do note, the shield doesn’t mitigate all of your damage, just some of it.

In Len’s Island you’re given a host of weapons to choose from (if you can craft or buy them) and the animations for each are fairly unique. Better still, they each have at least one special ability for you to use in addition to simple auto-attacks.

If combat’s definitely more your style, you’re in luck. You don’t have to slap together an intricate house and abundant farm. You can absolutely skate by if all you do is pick up glass bottles on the beach, smash open chests for money and gems, then slay monsters. You’ll earn plenty of money in town that way too. Len’s Island lets you play the game your way.

Immersion

In a word? Gorgeous. The art style Len’s Island has chosen is a perfect balance between cartoonish and realistic. Its world is easily recognisable and clear for players to learn and adapt to, while also giving it character.

The graphics are impressive. Moving grass, swaying trees, and polished water effects all come together to create an ambience befitting this island paradise. They work especially well at night too, keeping it just dark enough to be a small hindrance without a torch, but not impossible to travel in. The caves, meanwhile, definitely require a torch to traverse.

I think my favourite part of Len’s Island is its in-built screenshot mode though. Not only do they give you some handy Depth-of-Field settings to play around with, but a few filters too. Better yet, you can shift your camera around in the same way as when you’re building to get that perfect angle.

If you’re feeling cheeky, you can definitely use it to get a better understanding of your surroundings too.

One of the most satisfying things is the sound of a tree falling; the slow breaking of its bough and the rush of air when it falls. Sometimes, though, there’s the bees. A fun addition and one I didn’t expect. A lot of the game’s audio is very immersive, with tranquil soundtracks playing in the background of your woodchopping.

Yay or nay?

Absolutely yay! The details that have gone into this game are more than just commendable – they’re completely fun and enjoyable. A tree falling on you dishes out some damage. Mysterious monsters with area of effect attacks can sometimes accidentally hurt their own friends. Some areas up high have to be built to get to or others, repaired.

No matter how you want to play Len’s Island, you’re going to enjoy it. Whether you’re some Indiana Jones type explorer, delving into the depths of the caves below, or a happy little farmer tending his cabin crops.

Len’s Island has a little of something for everyone, and has absolutely become my go-to whenever I need a moment to relax.

 

Len’s Island is available on PC and Mac via Steam.