Coral Island is a new farm sim game by indie developer Stairway Games. It’s available for early access now on Steam, and if you enjoy the farm sim/life sim genre, you should check it out. While the gameplay isn’t exactly groundbreaking, the island setting and the story are fresh enough to keep it interesting, even if, like me, you’ve played dozens of farm sims before.
Wecome to Coral Island
You arrive on Coral Island, a tropical paradise you visited once as a child with your parents. Mayor Connor introduces you to Dinda and Joko, the island’s carpenters, who have just finished fixing your house. Well, they’ve finished patching the roof, anyway, but if you want to improve it, you can bring the materials to their shop, and they’ll do the work for free.
Mayor Connor shows you your farm and hands you some basic farming tools, and your time on Coral Island officially begins.
Yes, Another Farm Sim, But a Different One
Your first few days on Coral Island will feel remarkably familiar if you’ve ever played any of the major names in this genre, like Stardew Valley or Harvest Moon. The tutorial quests are predictable – clean up your land, plant a few seeds, meet all your neighbors, give five gifts, etc. But soon enough, you start to see what makes Coral Island different.
You’re not just on Coral Island to tend to a plot of land, as it turns out. Mayor Connor and the island’s residents need your help to clean it up, bring it back to life, and defend it against Pufferfish, the oil megacorporation trying to turn it into a company town. The situation on Coral Island has been declining for a while, but you may be just what the town needs to renew itself to its former glory.
Sam, the grocery store owner, is tired of only being able to sell imported goods and wants you to supply his store with local produce. Ling, the marine biologist, teaches you how to dive to help clean up the local reef and collect valuable kelp. Scott and Millie need help rebuilding the museum’s artifact collection after it was sold off to keep the town afloat. And the goddess needs you to locate the spirit trees hidden in different parts of town to awaken the Giants and unlock the secrets of Coral Island.
So yes, Coral Island is another farm sim, and it’s similar enough to others in the genre that naysayers are going to call it “just another farm sim.” But the diverse cast, tropical setting, eco-friendly narrative, and anti-capitalist perspective are front and center in a way that keeps the game entertaining, even when the movements feel a little too familiar.
A Diverse Cast of Characters
The character creation menu is gender-neutral, allowing you to choose any body type, facial features, and hairstyles you like without categorizing by gender. When you name your character, you also get to choose their honorific – Mr., Ms., Mx. – or create a custom one. Where many games in this genre still make players choose between “male” and “female,” Coral Island joins the trend of games moving toward inclusivity and diversity.
The cast of NPCs is delightfully diverse, too. There are more than 40 characters for you to interact with, 16 of whom are dateable, and each is remarkably unique in appearance and personality. Your encounters with many of them drive the story of Coral Island.
Karen, the aptly-named villain, is in charge of Pufferfish, the oil corporation trying to take over the town. Paul and Anne, the nature enthusiasts, are part of a famous family of wildlife explorers. And those are just a few of the residents you meet in your first week on Coral Island.
There’s plenty to learn about everyone, including dozens of loves, likes, dislikes, and hates, seasonal outfits, fun facts, and even unique expressions to unlock. The development team has put a lot of time and energy into giving every Coral Island resident a one-of-a-kind personality.
Some are super cheerful and excited to meet you, while others would rather you just give them their space. I enjoyed the variety of tones, compared to the overly sweet personalities many life sim developers give their NPCs. I particularly related to Lily, a digital nomad who works when she wants and likes “solitude and miniature bonsais.” Same, Lily, same.
Some Very Familiar Tasks With Some Unusual Twists
Your day-to-day life on Coral Island is much like in any other farm sim town. Wake up, tend to your crops, run errands in town, then work on collecting the resources you need to build up your farm. As you sell crops and other items you collect around the island, you level up your abilities and gain new craftable items. There’s a lot of fishing, tree chopping, rock smashing, weed whacking, and butterfly catching on Coral Island.
But the game does a lot of things differently, too. For example, unlike many other games in this genre, as your character gains skill mastery, you earn points to spend on an RPG-type skill tree to earn perks. Improve your farming skill, and you can earn the chance to get double crops when harvesting. Improve your mining skill and increase your odds of smashing multiple rocks at once in the mines.
There are original gameplay elements that I haven’t seen in other farm sim games, too, like the diving activity. Ling, the marine biologist, sends you a letter and asks you to meet her at the diving pier. There, she teaches you to dive down to the reef, where you can clean up trash, collect artifacts, and heal the damaged coral sites. I was immediately hooked on this element and spent most of my days underwater trying to clean up, heal, and collect as much as possible.
The spirit tree storyline is unique in concept, which I appreciated, but it is, in practice, very similar to the Community Center in Stardew Valley. Completing the collections, however, does offer significant perks early on, such as the ability to teleport between your farm, the temple where you donate collection items, and the diving pier. This is a huge time saver in the massive open world of Coral Island.
So Coral Island’s gameplay and storyline don’t break the mold, but they’re still fun, even if they sometimes feel uncannily familiar.
Early Access Issues
It’s worth noting that Coral Island just opened for Early Access and is not yet in its full-release state. I did run into some awkward, not-ready-for-primetime moments, which were expected. There are typos in the dialogue windows, and I got a few peeks at the code behind the curtains.
Some of the controls are a little awkward, too, and can’t currently be changed. I like to keep my hands on the keyboard and away from my mouse as much as possible, and there’s just no avoiding it in Coral Island’s present state. Mouse clicking is mandatory for most actions – sometimes right-click and sometimes left-click – and sometimes the game instructs you to do one when you need to do the other.
Watering (and other tool use) is done with a left-click, and harvesting is done with a right-click. If you accidentally left-click to harvest with a pick in your hand, you just smashed the crop you tended to for eight game days. I’ve also lost several fish by accidentally right-clicking while trying to reel them in with a left-click. (If all that sounds confusing, good. It is.)
I assume those things will get worked out throughout the Early Access period, though, so I’m not too bothered by them. Just be aware that if you download Coral Island during this period, you’re not getting a 100% finished product. According to the developers, you currently get one year of gameplay with four complete seasons, although winter is still under construction.
With all that said, I love Coral Island. I’m having a blast playing it, and even though many of the gameplay elements feel familiar, it’s still entertaining. I even joked with a fellow colleague that the first few quests felt like they were pulled straight from Stardew Valley, but I changed my tune pretty quickly.
I’m looking forward to seeing how the game improves, expands, and develops through the early access period, which currently has no end date. The developers say that the full version will get a release date when it’s ready, which they expect to take about a year, but may take longer. If you’re a fan of the farm sim genre, be sure to check out Coral Island on Steam.
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