Let’s face it. Lots of games for young kids, especially those based on other properties, be they television shows, toys or movies, just aren’t very good games. Poptropica: Forgotten Islands falls into this trap. The game isn’t terrible, but it’s not very good either. A platformer for the 3DS that’s based on the hugely popular Poptropica virtual world and gaming site aimed primarily at elementary school-age kids, the game does a fantastic job recreating the art style and basic gameplay of the online site, but it lacks the depth of gameplay of the web version.
Story and Gameplay
Players take the role of an adventurer who’s on a search through the Forgotten Islands for artifacts that give clues to the area’s past. Kids create a custom avatar to represent them in the game and then fly that character around in a golden blimp, dropping anchor on individual islands to explore further. Once the player reaches an island, the game turns into a very simple platformer where you collect coins that can be used to purchase new outfits for your character, talk to the island’s inhabitants and help them out, and ultimately try to find the six artifacts that tell you the history of the islands.
One thing Poptropica: Forgotten Islands has going for it is that it’s very easy to play. There’s no way to die in the game, even if you fall great distances, and the platforming itself isn’t very difficult to accomplish in the first place. The tasks given by the inhabitants of the islands are simple fetch quests where the player has to find a certain number of items and then return to the inhabitant that needs them. The player’s character will tell you when you’ve collected everything you need and will tell you where you need to return to complete the quest as well. Occasionally, you’ll also need to tap or swipe on the touchscreen to combine or build items you need for a quest.
Another great feature of the game is the huge variety of customization options for the player’s avatar. These start out fairly limited, but you can purchase more with coins you collect throughout the levels, and since the coins are so easy to obtain, you can unlock lots more options—everything from superhero capes to animal costumes—very quickly.
Unlike the Poptropica site, where some levels are set in real historical situations and feature quests that involve a good amount of problem-solving to complete, Poptropica: Forgotten Islands is set in a fictional world and its quests require little to no thought. The history of the area is a small story of conquest where the indigenous people were driven out by explorers, who were then terrorized by pirates. I suppose there’s a teaching opportunity about the atrocities early European explorers committed during their conquests of the world, but a young child isn’t likely to make that connection without some guidance from an adult. It doesn’t help things that a few of the characters refer to the original inhabitants of the islands as “monsters” and the game does nothing to debunk that impression. The only truly educational thing I found in the game was a quest where you needed to combine a red and blue potion in order to make a purple one, but even then, the game holds your hand throughout the entire process so you don’t have to figure anything out for yourself.
Besides the lack of educational value, the game itself is very repetitive—quite literally. Many of the levels on different islands are exactly the same. They use the same art and are arranged in exactly the same manner. Other levels copy the layout but change up the art. Even a couple of the quests are repeated verbatim on different islands. It was quite disheartening to land on a brand new island only to see and do the exact same things I had already done on another island. In addition to this repetition, the game is pretty short on content to begin with. It took me just a little over two hours to visit all of the islands, complete all of the quests, and find all of the artifacts. Granted, it would probably take a youngster longer to accomplish all of that, but even if you double my time spent with the game, it’s still not very much.
Poptropica: Forgotten Islands looks and sort of plays like the games on the Poptropica site, but it’s inferior to that experience in a variety of ways. It offers little in the way of educational value and even has troublesome elements of character representation. The vast amount of customization and ease of play don’t quite make up for the lack of real gameplay content. Even kids who love to spend time on the Poptropica site will probably be disappointed by this game.