REVIEW: ‘Townscaper’ Is a Minimalist’s Dream (PC)

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Townscaper - But Why Tho(1)

While most games aim to give the player objectives to complete or achievements to accomplish, Townscaper eschews the typical norms and decides to throw all of that out the window. Townscaper is described as a toy-like town builder developed by Oskar Stålberg and published by Raw Fury.

The description for Townscaper already sets the bar for what players should expect as soon as they load up the game. Townscaper is described as a game with “no missions, no grinding, no currency, and no failing.”  What really struck me in the description given was the extremely bold statement that “it’s totally up to you” when it comes to your experience and path in the game. I tend to be extremely skeptical of games when they promise things to players and promising that much freedom is one of the things that instantly gives me pause. I was pleasantly surprised, then, to discover the incredible amount of freedom that Townscaper really does offer. Of course, the simple explanation of “pick colors and start clicking” is just about all you need to know. Still, the way the game takes that simple premise and expands exponentially is absolutely incredible.

City-building games are all about strategizing and planning, which might be why I’m so bad at them. The benefit of Townscaper is that none of that matters. There are no industry buildings to worry about, no visible population to manage, and, most importantly, no objectives to accomplish. The word that kept coming to mind throughout my time with Townscaper was “minimalist.” One thing that tends to keep people away from city builders is the sheer complexity and the overwhelming amount of things to manage. Townscaper is clearly working to remove those barriers and give the players the bare-bones building experience. That approach can be an extremely risky one, but Townscaper managed to keep me engaged despite the simplicity of the design and the lack of any real goals.

My first build started small and simple; I was just exploring the mechanics and seeing how it all worked. There aren’t really any “mechanics” to speak of since all you really do is move around and click. You can also change the color of the buildings that get placed down, which you can see I experimented with a bit. I was limited with space because I was too stubborn to expand this little trial island, but you can still see the variety of colors as well as the changes to the buildings and the ground as you continue to build. The buildings start as simple one-block buildings and become more complex as you add to them. You can also combine colors into the same continuous building. The mechanics and options may be few, but the freedom and opportunities to be creative that come with that are absolutely astounding.

Townscaper - But Why Tho

My first time sitting down with Townscaper felt like it was only 20 minutes, but before long, I looked up and realized over 3 hours had gone by. I built and tore down countless buildings and tested the limits of how wild the game would let my builds get. It felt like every few minutes; I was discovering a new building style that would pop up. Those would then lead to new ideas for how to continue building, and my scattered build continued. I was building essentially randomly, but the game valiantly attempted to keep my city looking as planned as possible.

No matter how hard I tried to just absolutely break the way my cities looked, everything still managed to look impressive. That mainly has to do with the incredible art design and quality found in Townscaper. There is nothing elaborate about the way anything looks, but it all just feels right. You can also change the way the sun is positioned, which changes the lighting and shadow placements in your build. That might not sound like much, but I can’t tell you how much time I spent just moving around the sun slider to see my cities in a different light. And yes, that pun was intended.

The only thing I found myself missing in Townscaper was in-game music. I completely understand why there wasn’t a soundtrack, but I think some sort of in-game music could really enhance the game even more. I had Spotify running in the background, which is part of how I could melt right into the game, and hours passed without me even noticing. That did work well for the Steam version of the game, but it isn’t as practical if you’re playing on the Switch. I don’t think the lack of music takes anything away from the game at all; it’s just one of the things I always pay attention to in my reviews and needed to at least mention it here since game soundtracks are so important to me.

Townscaper is the perfect game if you’re looking for a way to relax and unwind while flexing your creative muscles. The mechanics may be limited, but the game itself is absolutely limitless. Townscaper is like a nice warm batch of cookies from grandma, and I can already tell I will be returning quite often to the comforts I found while playing.

Townscaper is available on PC and the Nintendo Switch.


Townscaper
  • 10/10
    Rating - 10/10
10/10

TL;DR

Townscaper is the perfect game if you’re looking for a way to relax and unwind while flexing your creative muscles. The mechanics may be limited, but the game itself is absolutely limitless. Townscaper is like a nice warm batch of cookies from grandma, and I can already tell I will be returning quite often to the comforts I found while playing.