Hello Kitty Island Adventure 1
Image: Sunblink

One World, Connecting Smiles.” That’s the tagline Sanrio, the company responsible for creating Hello Kitty, established back in 2021. Its brand is all about 'Minna Nakayoku', which means 'all of us friends' or 'Getting Along Together'. Unity, friendship, and love encompass the world of Sanrio, and it’s worked. For me, Hello Kitty has always been that unifying figure – an icon, kind of like a cuter Barbie, who is capable of anything but always puts her friends first. I had Hello Kitty Dream World figures, where the eponymous cat had a mushroom house, a pineapple juice bar (complete with a pineapple-costumed figure), and even a dolphin yacht. There was also a bee costume figure with detachable bee wings. What’s not to love?

Hello Kitty is one of the biggest brands in the world (for context, Hello Kitty grossed more merch money than Frozen, Batman, and Sesame Street in 2018). So it might be a surprise that she’s never really had a successful video game, despite starring in many, dating all the way back to the Famicom. That is, until 2023’s Hello Kitty Island Adventure.

Currently an Apple Arcade exclusive, this cosy life-simulation game won Apple Arcade Game of the Year in 2023, and it's coming to Switch in 2025. We got the first Switch hands-on at Summer Game Fest 2024, and even though we were advised this was an extremely early build of the game (there were frequent long load times, regular frame drops, and some funky textures), it had us more than just smiling by the end of our time with it – we were beaming ear-to-ear.

Hello Kitty Island Adventure 3
Image: Sunblink

Before we dive in, we were aware of the success of Hello Kitty on Apple Arcade long before this appointment. But our cursory understanding was that the game was very much an Animal Crossing-like. That makes it perfect for the Switch, but it also means it has big shoes to fill. But developer Sunblink's brand manager, Chelsea Howe – who sat with us during the demo – was quick to correct us. Despite first appearances, this is so, so much more than a simple Animal Crossing-style life sim.

While Animal Crossing's DNA is present in Island Adventure, what with the cute characters, and ability to decorate your house and the island and make friends with the residents, two other big (and surprising) inspirations loom large: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Genshin Impact.

No, Hello Kitty doesn’t wield a sword, but there are so many little aspects that Island Adventure pulls from these open-world adventures. Quests and objectives, a big world map that you gradually uncover over time, a stamina meter, collectibles, little Gudetamas (the apathetic egg yolk character from Sanrio’s pantheon of cuteness) to snap pictures with – which Howe gleefully compared to collecting Koroks – are all a part of making friends on the island.

Like many other life-sim games, Hello Kitty Island Adventure runs on a day/night cycle, with annual events taking place in-game, and all the characters work on their own schedule. But Howe stressed to us that Sunblink finds FOMO "very anti-cozy". Nothing is missable, and as a result, the plethora of items and events are never overwhelming. Characters are easy to track via the world map, and there's no need to play the game at specific times of day because a single day in Island Adventure takes 24 minutes to get through. Only annual events and store inventories are tied to the real-world calendar, and items available only during that period will always be available again the next year, even when the event changes slightly.

Hello Kitty Island Adventure 5
Image: Sunblink

Eager to jump into Island Adventure, we started off by creating our own cute little Sanrio-style character – we opted for a little chicken, because why not? Then, we were introduced to the world and story: you and a bunch of other Sanrio characters are thrust onto an aeroplane along with the cute bunny character My Melody, who has been invited to open her own shop at Big Adventures Park. However, a malfunctioning cake machine causes your plane to malfunction and forces everyone to escape. Crumbs…

Anyway, you and your friends land on the island resort, but it's completely deserted. Hello Kitty points out that My Melody has gone missing, so we run off to find her, bring her back, and discover that many, many more of our friends have been separated from the group. Here, everyone decides to split up, make the most of the island, and help find the others. First, we had to complete a quick quest for My Melody, who runs the furniture and crafting store, before we were introduced to "gifting". This unlocked a bunch of quests for us, and it was here we started to see just how much Hello Kitty Island Adventure pivots from your typical daily life sim.

Gifting is crucial to making the most of your time in and allows you to build relationships, unlock quests, and get new items during your time on the island. Everyone has their own wants – Hello Kitty likes pies and baked goods, while Cinnamoroll likes chocolate and coffee – and giving these to them will increase their friendship. Howe told us that My Melody has 20 friendship levels currently, which might seem like a lot, but there’s also a much smaller cast than other similar games – around 18, currently. But these will all lead to deeper storylines with those respective characters.

Hello Kitty Island Adventure 4
Image: Sunblink

With gifting available to us, we went to talk to Pochacco, the Snoopy-like dog who loves sports, but is also a bit of a klutz. That’s reflected in his dialogue and animations – his chatter is animated, peppered with exclamation marks and frequent mentions of exercise. He also runs everywhere. Even if you don’t know much about Pochacco, it’s so easy to fall in love with him. He teaches you about Gudetama and the camera and expresses his admiration for the lazy little yolk who seemingly gets around everywhere. We found the little guy hiding in a ramen bowl, riding a floaty, and just chilling on the beach.

Badtz-Maru is equally easy to love. This spiky-haired penguin has a bit of a grumpy attitude, but he also loves pulling pranks and wants to make a water balloon to scare My Melody. He also happens to run the ‘Comic & Bait’ shop. You know, those mutual activities of fishing and comic books? The latter you can collect to give to Badtz-Maru, and you can fish on the island. Every character is associated with a service or an activity, and each one, even in the early game, is bursting with personality.

Hello Kitty Island Adventure 6
Image: Sunblink

Eventually, we bumped into Chococat, who needed us to collect Power Crystals to open up a game. But we first needed to get a magnet to build a sensor. We got one by completing a quest, but not before a whole load of procrastinating. We climbed up the side of a mountain and took part in a little island challenge involving collecting coins within a time limit (think the Red Coin challenges from Super Mario 64), and tried to go swimming and diving – which Howe proudly exclaimed Sunblink did “way before Genshin Impact, just for the record”. We couldn’t do that last one because we needed to unlock something much later in the game, but it’s clear the options only increase as you progress.

Getting the magnet and building the sensor meant that we could start looking for the crystals, which eventually led us to something we never expected – ruins. There are structures dotted around the island that contain miniature puzzles and will unlock different things. The puzzles are very simple, though Howe promised they do get a little complex the further in you get. She also compared them to the ‘Shrines’ of Breath of the Wild, and the mix of logic puzzles and rewards certainly brought that to mind.

Hello Kitty Island Adventure 2
Image: Sunblink

Opening the gate was the very last thing we did during our demo, and it opened up a whole new biome. There are multiple areas to unlock, and a whole new island coming to the Apple Arcade version soon. We never got to try out multiplayer, either, which allows you to invite multiple friends to your island and do activities together. Everything that’s available on Apple Arcade version at the time of the Switch launch will be in-game day one on consoles.

Sunblink also confirmed to us there will be no microtransactions, even when the game launches on consoles, and all currency can be earned in-game. None of the additional updates, characters, or features are paid DLC, either – they’re simply free updates added to the game.

So, it’s safe to say that, after an hour of playtime, Hello Kitty Island Adventure was the biggest surprise of Summer Game Fest to us; we already knew people loved it, but going hands-on with it ourselves has us desperately resisting an Apple Arcade subscription just to try it out again right now. It truly fulfills that 'One World, Connecting Smiles' motto Sanrio promises with its world and characters. And with characters like Pompompurin, Hangyodon, and even Retsuko (from the hit Netflix show Aggretsuko) waiting for us beyond those gates, we think we’ll be smiling even more when we get our hands on the game on Switch.

Hello Kitty Island Adventure is scheduled for launch on Switch in 2025. Have you played the game on Apple Arcade? Will you be picking this up next year on Switch? Let us know down below.

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