When I think of zen puzzle games I always considered Mini Metro to be my favorite of the bunch. Perfectly simple to learn yet amazingly complex to master, I had a blast playing the game in my spare time and creating the ultimate subway system. It's this sort of zen that made Islanders catch my eye. A combination of city building and puzzle solving, your goal is to build a sprawling city on an island while racking up as many points as possible through careful placement of buildings. So should you spend some time on that little strip of land, or is it back to the big city?
The game follows a rather simple loop. Each level starts on a new randomly generated island that has features such as trees, beaches, lakes, and more. You begin by picking one of two randomized choices of buildings and placing them on the map. Every time you place buildings, you'll get points for it. Bonuses come from placing them next to relevant buildings or geographical features. For example, placing a lumberjack near trees and sawmills give bonus points, or putting farms near other farms and windmills. Your goal is to earn enough points to be able to draw a new pack of randomized buildings, and eventually to set off on an expedition to a new island to start the process over again.
However, not all objects gain bonuses from close proximity. Sometimes you'll actually lose points. After all, those temples want to be near rich mansions and not regular poor people houses. Isolated huts don't want noisy objects near them, but approve of fishing docks, while it's kind of pointless to put a park next to a lumberjack. Your goal quickly becomes trying to figure out the perfect spot in your dwindling real estate. Often, smart play requires compromises. You just have to hope you can find that perfect spot you need so you can nab the points and either draw another set of buildings or move to another island. Don't have enough? Then it's game over. Islanders submits your score and you can jump back on the horse.
While that's all there really is to Islanders, I quickly became addicted. It's such a simple game to play, yet every time I started to get a hang of it I'd be thrown for a new loop. What am I supposed to do with towers? How about circuses? Marketplaces? Gold mines? All of these kept providing new options, making me completely reevaluate how I was building my cities and what I could do for better scores. No run felt the same, even if I was still doing the same basic city plopping down.
One of the few downsides to Islanders' puzzling bliss is that it becomes easy to predict what you'll pull next. Your first few pulls will almost always include either a woodcutter, a farm, a brewery, or a mason. If you pay attention you know you'll always begin pulling houses, huts, and shaman by the third or fourth round. While it didn't ruin the flow that much, delegating land is still a difficult task, it is a bit of a shame that you can expect specific drops rather than be surprised by them.
Still, losing yourself in Islanders is so easy that I don't mind. A beautiful art style makes every city look absolutely picturesque. Sometimes I even found it worth sacrificing a few points just to get buildings in locations that looked pretty rather than really helped me. Do I need a windmill totally isolated on a tiny outcrop? No, but it seemed to just complete the vision I had in my head for this lovely town. I know it doesn't fit the game at all, but I'd love the ability to just make a town with no point limits. There's not much soundtrack here. Instead, it seems like Islanders serves as the perfect supplement to your favorite lo-fi hip hop radio station. I recommend the one with the cute raccoon.
Honestly, Islanders isn't a particularly complex game that I need to spend paragraphs describing in detail. It's a cute and simple affair that gives you a smart puzzle to wind down your day. You could go crazy chasing a high score if that's really what you want, and the game does have the complexity that people can find time for it, but I mostly saw Islanders as the perfect way to get ready for sleeping. More importantly, it gave me cozy dreams of beautiful seaside towns, and any game that gives me cozy dreams is worth it.
TechRaptor reviewed Islanders on PC via Steam using a copy provided by the developer.
- Smart Combo of City Building and Puzzles
- Fun New Elements Constantly Introduced
- Sometimes Too Predictable