Puffins, whose distinctive beaks grace the spines of children's literature and the front of lesser-known cereal boxes, are bringing their campaign to be the world's most recognizable bird to the digital screen. Although the undeniable cuteness of these lovable water fowl is on full display in Puffins: Island Adventure, it isn't all that much fun to play. The adventuring aspects are completely forgettable--the island you call home is little more than an elaborate menu--and though the various challenges that you have to compete in have a simple appeal, they are ultimately too shallow and repetitive to provide much fun. Even its charming feathery protagonists can't keep this mindnumbingly simple game from laying an egg.
You start out on your quest to be the most popular puffin by customizing your own bird. Your options are limited to picking the hair style, beak coloring, and eye type, but you can still have some silly fun making a sneaky-eyed puffin with a pompadour. From there, you are promised the chance to pick a fine mate and maybe, if you play your cards right, you can even get a young hatchling to carry on your prestigious heritage. But these bold claims are merely for show. After completing a set number of events, you automatically get paired up with some nondescript bird, and a little while later, your already crowded home will have to make room for an oversized egg. You can visit your family in your straw-covered shanty, but your interactions are limited to buying furniture for your sparse living quarters. Any sense of community is destroyed because the communication you have with your feathered friends is so limited.
Thankfully, you won't have to stay in your cramped home for any length of time. The island is yours to explore at your leisure. Sadly, given that there is a severe lack of hidden goodies, there is little incentive to check out your surroundings. Instead, you travel around the island, talking to various members of your flock to trigger minigame challenges. The included events all veer on the simple side of things, but some of them are able to provide some benign entertainment. The racing events borrow a page from Mario Kart, letting you hop over obstacles and fire weapons at your competitors. It lacks the speed and energy of its forebear, and the chivalrous AI will literally stop in the middle of the road to wait for you to catch up, but it can still be fun to bump birds off of the roads and nab the checkered flag. Dive Fishing also works quite well. In this mode, you navigate underwater mazes to collect tasty capelin while avoiding larger predators. Neither mode is gripping, but they are fun in brief bursts.
The other events, which are controlled using the touch screen, are not nearly as entertaining. Although most of these events are conceptually sound, there are some issues with the control that lead to mild frustration. In Puffin Plummet, you perform fancy dives off of cliffs. You need to move your stylus around to hit every target on the way down, but the screen has trouble recognizing quick movement, and losing control during the faster levels later on will lead to a devastating belly flop. In Tide Pool Fishing, you have to make circles around the edible fish while avoiding difficult-to-digest crustaceans, but the fine detail needed to circle the smaller food does not always register. Egg Roll controls just fine, but it quickly becomes tedious. Here, you draw a line to slingshot a fragile egg down a rock-lined path, but your limited view and lack of tactile feedback make it easy to smack into hard objects or roll off of cliffs.
Although the gameplay is forgettable, the unlockable extras are worth enduring a few rounds of Egg Roll. Each event has collectable golden capelin that serve as currency on this island, and you can use your wealth to purchase movies of real-life puffins. These nature films last only a few seconds, but the birds are so cute and the picture so clear that it serves as a worthwhile reward for your playtime. You also earn photographs for completing a set number of events. These not only show off the cute birds in their natural habitat, but they come with interesting facts about their lifestyle as well. The educational aspect is often more enjoyable than the actual game sections because these birds are so darn charming.
Puffins: Island Adventure starts with a strong base--showcasing these adorable birds in their natural splendor--but the action is too shallow and the social aspects virtually nonexistent, which makes the experience bland and forgettable. The multiplayer mode lets you compete against friends in the two best events--racing and dive fishing--but adding a real-life opponent can only string out the shallow fun for only so long. The only noteworthy aspects of this game are the endearing protagonist and the movies that you can unlock of real puffins. These birds certainly have style, but without a solid game beneath the surface, you are better off reading National Geographic.