Aka is a quest-based exploration game from Cosmo Gatto, in which you play as the titular red panda building a new life in the aftermath of a war while haunted by the ghosts of their past.
You’re given little sense of direction to begin with. Walking around will reveal a smattering of quests with seemingly no throughline except to vaguely clean up things from the war.
An orphaned kitten needs food, shelter, and medicine, which you can make for him through simple crafting. Bear traps need to be disarmed and ruins of old buildings removed. Some baby dragons need food, a koala wants to jam in rhythm-game style, you can wear hats, there’s a card minigame, and the game scatters these things about in such a way that they seem unrelated.
Eventually, you’ll figure out your two main objectives: farm food to fulfill certain requests, and find the ghosts hidden around the world and help them move on.
There are a bunch of side quests too, but there are few rewards for them. And the so-called open-world part of the game is underdeveloped. There are four small islands you can roam around and find secrets in, but most of the game is questing. You can also sleep, farm, and make food, but there’s no gameplay benefit to it unless it fulfills a quest.
Each part of the game is essentially fine, if a little clunky. The farming tools are difficult to aim, and while there are some interesting ideas about crop adjacency, it’s not worth digging too deeply into as you don’t have a use for the crops outside of quests anyway.
The movement is eight-directional and feels rigid and imprecise at times, especially due to the way item pickups work. When you want to grab an item from the ground, you have to stop moving and press the pickup button. If you don’t let go of the movement controls, Aka will animate as if picking up the item, but fail to do so. Instead of fluidly picking up items as you explore, you have to stop, pick up a bunch of items with repeated presses, hoping it autotargets correctly, then continue walking.
Some of the writing in Aka is genuinely affecting. You’ll help Aka say goodbye to close friends and meet war refugees they couldn’t help. I cried towards the end of the game. Unfortunately, some other writing is stilted and barely grammatically correct, so it’s a bit of a mixed bag.
The exploration is fun at times but leans a bit too much on exits hidden from the camera. Often you’ll discover something cute that doesn’t add anything to the gameplay. You look at the enormous capybara, think about how cute it is, and continue to search for the one ghost you can’t find while you wait for your wheat to grow so you can make that one guy a sandwich.
Sometimes the button prompts in the inventory are different for different items, and the limits on how many times an item can stack are different per item, making it a bit confusing. Your initial backpack is way too small, so thank goodness there’s an upgrade recipe hidden somewhere you’d have no reason to look.
The art is cute, with some rough edges where the dev clearly ran out of money. The sound effects are uneven, and a lot of common sound effects are too loud by default.
Nothing about the game is so awful as to render it unplayable, and there’s a core of something interesting here. A cute exploration game with farming elements about recovering from the aftermath of a war is a great pitch. But Aka fails to match similar games in quality, despite its unique ideas.
Aka is out now on Nintendo Switch and PC for $12.99.
Watch the Review in 3 Minutes for Aka.