Hello Kitty Island Adventure's open-world twist on Animal Crossing: New Horizons was "really risky," but now its devs are preparing to fix its only negative feedback

Hello Kitty
(Image credit: Sunblink)

After Nintendo inexplicably pulled the plug on Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Hello Kitty Island Adventure was the hero players didn't know they needed. A life sim filled with Sanrio characters and packed with a slew of open-world ideas to differentiate it from Nintendo's efforts, it seemed like the ideal alternative to Tom Nook's mortgage supremacy. There was only one problem - Hello Kitty Island Adventure was an Apple Arcade exclusive.

Thankfully, that limited release doesn't seem to have held it back. "Since launch we've been beyond thrilled with the reception," chief product officer Chelsea Howe tells me. "We got the mass appeal we were hoping for. We were so grateful, so happy." Being an Apple exclusive had its benefits, too - Howe explains that launching on Arcade meant that "we could do live services without ads and microtransactions and all the stuff that makes a cosy game way less cosy." Apple's subscription-based model limited the need for commercial success, but critical acclaim wasn't far away, and Island Adventure found itself nominated for - and winning - a suite of awards "alongside Honkai Star Rail and massive games made by massive teams. And we're this little 35-40 person studio. It's like 'is this even real?'"

All that acclaim was far from a sure thing. Applying the Hello Kitty world to the Animal Crossing formula seems like a given, but Island Adventure wanted to push further, combining its traditional life sim format with open-world ideas. "We did something really risky by being like 'we're gonna combine two genres'," Howe admits. "That can go very poorly, and you can isolate folks on both sides and just not appeal to anyone."

New Horizons 

Hello Kitty Island Adventure My Melody, Gudetama, and Aggretusko sitting on a beach

(Image credit: Sunblink)

The risk paid off. "To know that we were able to take something that was super risky, have it land not just successfully but extremely successfully," is clearly a point of personal pride for Howe, who also admits that she still plays - and "actively" enjoys - every day. It's not all about a strong launch, however, but about taking this genre forward, and perhaps helping pull the entire cosy game industry with it. "One of the best things we've seen is that people who come in with the Animal Crossing expectation get their needs met from the game and then realize 'oh my god, there's this whole other open-world adventure component'. So they go in and they realize they can jump, and climb, and do puzzle rooms. I think it just makes the genre suddenly so much more expansive to them."

The Animal Crossing comparison was somewhat inevitable, and Howe says it's often still the first thing out of prospective players' mouths. That, however, is "an honor in and of itself. That's a phenomenal game made by one of the best studios in the world, so it's fantastic for our little team to have that kind of accolade."

Howe's confidence in the game is well-deserved, but with Island Adventure preparing to head to new horizons with its multiplatform release, is she worried about any potential porting pitfalls? Not a bit. "Apple Arcade set us up for a lot of success looking at a multiplatform release, because you can play Arcade on a phone, on Mac OS, on iPad." That's all within the Apple ecosystem, but opens up the possibility for dozens of different controller inputs, so Howe says "we're had support for a lot of different interfaces, device specifications, basically since launch." With months to go before its wider launch, then, the focus is on figuring out platform-specific polish, things like the PS5's haptics and adaptive triggers; "overall it's not been a super difficult transition."

Launching across PS5, PC, and Switch promises to fix what Howe says was Island Adventure's only piece of negative feedback: "'Why can't I play it on Switch?'" Potential fans "have been really craving this multiplatform release," she says. "We're really excited to be able to bring it to that broader audience, bring it to folks who have a little bit more familiarity with this style of gameplay. And we really hope it takes off." With the weight of a massive IP behind it, and a massive Animal Crossing-shaped hole just waiting to be filled, its escape from Apple Arcade could turn Island Adventure's previous success into little more than a drop in the ocean.

I was already excited about this Hello Kitty Animal Crossing game, then I saw Gudetama using bacon as a beach towel.

Ali Jones
News Editor

I'm GamesRadar's news editor, working with the team to deliver breaking news from across the industry. I started my journalistic career while getting my degree in English Literature at the University of Warwick, where I also worked as Games Editor on the student newspaper, The Boar. Since then, I've run the news sections at PCGamesN and Kotaku UK, and also regularly contributed to PC Gamer. As you might be able to tell, PC is my platform of choice, so you can regularly find me playing League of Legends or Steam's latest indie hit.