Version tested: Android
Beastie Bay will remind you a lot of other Kairosoft games, like Game Dev Story. During its simplistic monster battles, it will almost certainly remind you of Pokémon. But it most reminded me of a maths teacher I had in primary school who would use strange examples to make the subject more interesting: instead of apples and coins, it was dinosaurs and doughnuts. All that silliness would distract us all from the fact that we were doing boring old sums, and Beastie Bay uses similar misdirection techniques, with moments of calculated weirdness - and the occasional dose of cute - to deflect attention away from its systems. Which, when it comes down to it, are often little more than busywork.
Still, it's a formula that has served Kairosoft pretty well so far, and it works again here. The developer knows that one sure-fire way to keep your attention is to offer you constant encouragement that you're doing the right thing. Accomplishments come thick and fast and are rewarded with adorable animations and triumphant little fanfares. It's positive reinforcement as an art form, and yet it does it in a way that rarely feels cheap. I've played dozens of console games that shower you with Achievements and Trophies and it usually feels patronising. Somehow, Kairosoft games manage to nimbly leap over that particular pitfall.
It's odd, because at times you can almost hear the cogs whirring. "The player's getting bored - quick, let's throw them a sly pop-culture reference or a silly pun to keep them playing." And the next thing you see is a genetically modified ape named Chimpan Z, or an enemy saying "gotta catch 'em all", and you smile and you keep tapping away. You'll often feel manipulated into playing on, yet you'll be powerless to resist. Such is the Kairosoft way: once you're caught in its net of feedback loops, unhooking yourself is far from easy.
That said, Beastie Bay a little slower to get going than other Kairosoft games. As usual, you're tasked with building a settlement and attracting visitors, but to expand your boundaries you'll need to explore dungeons and battle monsters with a team of your own - hence the title. You'll survive the first few expeditions without too much trouble, but you need plenty of food and healing herbs to make it through the tougher challenges, and there's a period of recuperation required between visits where you'll invest your hard-earned lumber, cash and medals in buildings to attract tourists, and items to make your spelunking go a little more smoothly.
The first roadblock comes fairly early, and they pop up every now and again to bring your otherwise steady progress to a halt. It rarely feels like you're being artificially held back, however; instead, you're invited to grind earlier dungeons for extra experience. In the meantime, you can trade with other islands you've cleared out to obtain more income from tourism, or to get rarer and more valuable items from the local shop. There's always something happening, then, and it's rare that Kairosoft doesn't let you know there's new stuff to build or buy or equip or upgrade.
Sure, the combat may be a very rudimentary take on Pokémon's turn-based scrapping - complete with elemental alignments (though Nintendo's lawyers will likely have noted it's "very effective" rather than "super-effective"). But each enemy shuffles off screen with an amusingly awful pun to accompany their departure, and you'll never see a Pokémon with a move called Bed-Wetter. Kairosoft's recruitment policy is a little less aggressive than Game Freak's, too - instead of encasing your quarry in a spherical prison, you lob food their way to woo them into your servitude.
"Beasts! They sink our ships, devour our livestock, and even jaywalk!" shrieks one character as you set off to explore his island and free up another potential income source. At heart, Beastie Bay may be little more than a series of algorithms, precision-designed to grab players and keep them hooked, but there are enough dinosaurs and doughnuts here to convince you otherwise.
7 / 10