Every once in a while I come across a rare gem of a game that takes a well-known, over-used genre or setting, and turn it upside down. Secrets of Bird Island (SSA-SBI) is, in a way, a creature hunting game. The only thing you can really compare it to is Pokemon Snap. SSA-SBI manages to be both fun and educational. Best of all, you’ll be having enough fun that you (and your child) won’t notice the educational part.

Aside from a few “fantastic” elements, SSA-SBI simulates the life of a bird snapper pretty well. Usually, you start before the crack of dawn, and follow the birds in a given area for the entire day. You watch while they sleep, preen, fly, and eat. Depending on each mission, you’re required to snap photos of a specific bird doing some specific things, and when you’re done, you can fulfill requests for bonus points. While you’re doing this, your field journal will write itself. Each time you take a still or flying photo, you can choose to assign one of each to your field journal to look at later. When you snap a bird doing a bird call, you will unlock a “bird song” to listen to. Your field journal is also filled with information about these birds.

The game judges the photos base on the quality of the shot. Zooming into the shot helps, ao does using a flash at night and centering your shots. It does a pretty good job, although sometimes you might think that a leaf is hardly concealing a bird, while the game believes that the bird is completely obscured. It also gives the photo more points if the bird is performing an action – say, preening – or if the photograph contains multiple birds.

Since the game is so deceptively simple, it adds interest by providing 5 slots for power-ups. There is a bag of seeds that you can use to bring any bird into a “eating” position, a magic mirror to make them preen, a few different zoom lenses, and an x-ray filter to see through leaves, to name a few. The mission object will give you hints as to what you should bring along. For example, if it asks for 3 flying images of the American Crow during the night, you’d want to bring a mug of coffee to sharpen your reflexes, a plane to make the birds fly, a flash, and the night vision.

The graphics in SSA-SBI isn’t bad, but because it’s a simulation game, the bar is set much higher. Even at the “high” quality level, some might find their birds a little too pixelated and lacking detail. If you have an older computer, it might slow down too much during the game and you’d have to go with “low” quality, which is horrid. The music is decent – most of the game you won’t hear it since it would distract from the chirping of birds. The sounds are fantastic – the bird calls are authentic, and it really feels like a wilderness out there.

There are 114 birds that you can collect for your field journal, and each has two pages of its own with the photos you’ve taken. Even after you finish the main storyline, you will find yourself going back to take pictures that you’re missing, or to find better photos of the birds that you’ve already taken photos of.

Secrets of Bird Island ends with a cliffhanger, hinting at MORE Snap Shot Adventures to come. It’s a fantastic game that you can spend in front of the computer with your child, reading the extended information, looking at the photos, listening to the bird calls, and maybe use those skills later identifying birds on long road trips. Definitely a great buy – an hour doesn’t do it justice at all.