By Joel DeWitte
In early August, Nintendo announced a trove of indie titles for the Switch, including the small island town building game Islanders. This land development puzzle game was an eye-catching, unique indie worth showcasing on the Indie Showcase. That said, it’d be easy to overlook another island town builder released in the same month. Townscaper released in late August, with a much more open ended, “build how you want” style gameplay that could just have easily fit-in, worthy of that same spotlight.
Townscaper’s world is built on an idea that a game with no goals can be just as fun. The one person developer Oskar Stalberg has described it as less of a game and more a procedural town building toy. That toy uses an empty body of water as the canvas to your town building paint, building a watercolor twinged set of houses of the player’s design. There’s even a small community of players on Twitter, creating daily challenges like building ones laced with canals or filled with neighbors.
Building towns is fairly simple. With a press of a button, a square shaped piece of land is plopped down. Moving the cursor adjacent to that patch will extend the land out further. If you place the cursor on top of a piece of land, a modest sized house gets placed in that space. Placing more houses adjacent or on top of that one extends the size of the house horizontally or vertically. Those houses have a bevy of colors, with swatches on the side to choose from. Depending on the distance from each other building, little frills like staircases leading to the ocean or railings.
That’s the beauty of Townscaper – building itself is the reward, with no goals or achievements outlined. Playing de facto city developer and slowly molding this space into what you can imagine. I’ve seen dense large city structures, Gondor-like towers, and sprawling landscapes. I’m impressed with how diverse people’s cities have been with such a limited builder toolkit you’re given.
As great as it is, there are some things I’d love to see in updates for Townscaper if the developer was up to it. I don’t want to introduce complexity to it, but the game could stand to have some more visual bells and whistles. I would love to see more ground types. At the moment it’s just a cobblestone-type road, what if we had grass, turf, flowers, sand, or trees that could be used? Some kind of water accessories would be nice too. Give me the option to add docks, a lighthouse, or boats that can explore around the coastline. I don’t want added complexity to the core experience, just a tad bit more options.
Townscaper’s beauty is in its simplicity. The lack of challenges or missions are to its benefit, making more of a sandbox to build a town of your imagination. I have hopes that someday it’ll be expanded with some more options that’d allow a more diverse set of cityscapes, but even if that doesn’t happen, what is here makes for a relaxing, peaceful toolset that you can go back and build upon at your leisure. The $6 asking price is a steal for this experience.