In recent years, and even more since the arrival of COVID-19, minimalist chillax experiences are legion. In the summer of 2020, Oskar Stålberg, known for his work on the Viking RTS Bad North, launched in early access Townscaper, a city-builder without an objective, mission or score. A year after accumulating player feedback, the Swedish developer took advantage of Gamescom 2021 to release his new baby on PC and Switch.
A chillax and picturesque city-builder
During a 10-minute break between noon and two, or the time of an evening quietly slumped on the sofa, Townscaper is the perfect game for a chill out session. Let it be said, it is more like a virtual toy, like The Ramp recently tested in our columns, than a full-fledged game. Here, no score or objectives like in Dofromantik, no crises to manage, no budget, just a mission: create a picturesque city on the water giving free rein to your wildest desires.
At its launch, Townscaper immediately throws you into the deep end. You’re greeted by a large, empty body of water, and your only on-screen directions are a soft-hued color list to the left and a slider to select which square to build on in the center. No tutorial therefore, which can be confusing for those who have not seen anything about the game and its concept, but the gameplay is so easy and intuitive that frankly we don’t need it. Getting started comes down to a few keys, one to validate a construction, one to destroy elements, one to choose a color and two to undo or redo changes. And that’s all
Despite its incredible simplicity, Townscaper is a very rich sandbox
No large blueprints or buildings to unlock, everything is done with a few clicks. One press on the A key and here we are with a concrete foundation, a second and it becomes a small house. Each support, whether it is next to or on what we have just built, will create a new elevation, a new building. In a matter of minutes we surprise ourselves trying to discover all the possible combinations and play happily with this color palette to create a pretty little coastal village in northern Italy. We quickly find ourselves with a beautiful arch, small hamlets, a lighthouse or even a small floating city so that we may fall on a plateau that allows it. Each find has its effect and makes you want to see more. The discovery aspect is undoubtedly the most exhilarating of the game, and block by block it conquered.
He ingeniously put on an irregular grid which offers great possibilities for creating nice curves and ultimately dynamic lines. Switch version requires, the playing field is not as vast as on PC, but is sufficient as it is. Lovers of symmetry, however, may be frustrated that they fail to design something square, but it does add a little extra charm. It will take a little time to succeed in actually transcribing an idea in mind, but the results are as varied as they are beautiful. It only remains for each new empty board we play the game, we try new architectures, we start to imagine a small colorful village and we come to make new discoveries, again. Townscaper is minimalist, but the devil is in the little details. A tunnel which has just appeared, a garden which is transformed into a labyrinth, an exploded wall gives way to a beautiful church entrance, a beach suddenly emerges. The possibilities seem endless and despite its incredible simplicity, Townscaper is a sandbox of great wealth although we feel a certain limit after a few hours of play. Some will quickly have done the trick, but the more creative will be seduced.
It’s simple, it’s fluid and it’s beautiful
The atmosphere and its very soft graphic touch clearly add charm to the game, although small additions like boats on the docks, animals that roam the winding alleys or a little bit of human life would have been a little more significant. We especially regret the total absence of music to come rock our gaming sessions, although the few sound effects present are of good quality. We will also note the possibility of adjusting the orientation of the sun to be able to admire our creations at dusk and immortalize them in a summary but sufficient photo mode. Technically, Townscaper is super easy to handle and intuitive. It’s simple, it’s fluid and it’s beautiful, which we cannot say about all Switch ports, and inevitably it makes you want to come back as soon as we have a few minutes on hand. We would almost like packs on other architectural types, but in itself the game is self-sufficient although some will find its content rather sparse for a production out of early access.