Cosy games and an existential crisis. They might not sound like they go together but in Paradise Marsh they are like bread and cheese. In this cosy game, you’ll be wandering around a micro island with various wildlife on it for you to catch with your old school fisherman’s net. You see, these animals are actually stars that have fallen from the sky and they all have unique personalities and outlooks on life. Can they help you find your own way?
Let’s cover the story first as its going to be an interesting detour. Paradise Marsh has two stories running alongside each other. Firstly, the animal stars you place back in the sky by catching them all have short monologues about life. These tease at ideas for you to chew on without bogging you down. Secondly, messages in bottles wash up in ponds for you to collect that speak of your own characters thoughts and feelings. Nothing is too heavy but its a poetic look at purpose, belonging, inner spirit and nihilism. The story leaves an impact when the game is over without ever really being the focus of the game which is an unusual compliment to make. I think it will appeal to thinkers as you are left to join the dots on things more than other games.
The main beauty of Paradise Marsh is in its moment to moment gameplay. Your island is made up of several biomes and you can walk between them in 20 seconds. Climate, colour, layout and aesthetic change quickly and this idea that you are spinning off your own axis is made poetically clear by just how fast the day/night cycle occurs. I found myself just watching the cycle as I bounced on lily pads or kicked a ball around. This speed plays into the gameplay cycle because your goal is to capture between 3 and 5 of each of the 12 animals found in Paradise Marsh. Some come out in the day, some at night and they are biome specific. Once caught, you’ll take them to monoliths at night and send them up into the sky as stars and eventually draw their constellations. This means in the early game your world is teeming with chirps, calls and gurgles from animals but as you clear the marsh out, the world feels oddly empty. In turn, you can look up at the sky becoming increasingly more complex and beautiful but in turn mute and celestially distant. It made me yearn for a free play mode after completion.
Catching the animals is simple but fun as the controls are responsive and predictable. It’s also quite forgiving too. You can sneak and then pounce with your net and different animals require slightly different approaches. Only the beetle was a bit tricky because of how it scampers away so early when it detects you but the overall difficulty of the game is easy. Alongside this birds sing poems at you and there are a few hidden secrets to uncover with musical instruments, building snowmen, playing football and sorting out junk. It is a very distilled experience that reminds me of the direct approach of Beasts of Maravilla Island took. There’s no filler here but what’s here is fantastic. Whilst the world changes around you quickly, the music reacts too. Fez composer Disasterpeace works their sound design magic again akin to Mini Metro where a jump, run, bounce or splash causes musical plinks and clinks. It’s very cute and makes the world more engaging and fluffy.
I adored my time with Paradise Marsh and would love a free play mode or photo mode in future to just round off the experience to perfection. It’s a short but memorable experience that you can complete in under 3 hours but you’ll want to return back for some of those cosy vibes again and again.
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