Townscaper is a game without a goal, more of a tool when you really break it down. Probably not the best way to open up discussing it for review, but it is important to recognize this right off the bat, without any ambiguity to its purpose. Heck, even developer Oskar Stalberg points out this fact to everyone on the store page.
The real question now is a simple one, how do you review something that is more of a tool over a game? Where do you even begin when it is something so atypical to what you typically play?
Plop and Expand
Townscaper is basically a simulation where you build a seaside town. You have really only two controls; one which adds roads and buildings, and one which doesn’t. Simply pick a spot on the asymmetrical grid and just plop in a roadway, or a small little house, or make it a lighthouse with alternating colors. That is pretty much it.
The inherent algorithm that Stalberg uses here is impressive. Everything is automatically shaped and framed based on the position you post it, so buildings will always be a bit asymmetrical, with little trees, stairs, and birds plopping into existence as you create roadways and terraces around the building foundations. The simple plop sound effect is accented by good sound design mimicking gentle waves and seagull cries, though the lack of music is definitely notable throughout.
The controls are accurate, with the only arguable flaw is that you can’t plop in multiple assets at once. You got to simply click and click, and keep clicking until you get the shapes you desire. Not much else is really there, outside of smaller little tweaks like changing the time of day or using a few photo filters for yourself.
When your goal is to simply plop and expand, you are going to be a bit light on any features in the long run. For many, this may be a problem since actual gameplay is practically non-existent.
Yet, I can’t help but love the experience Townscaper provided.
The Power of Play
Why is Townscaper so engrossing? Well, the first thing that comes to mind is how fun it is to play. We often underestimate that factor in video games, especially when games are tied heavily into mechanics, cut-scenes, or other forms of dramatic elements. Games inherently provide players a gateway to simply play them, but few allow the player to play freely in their own way.
This is where Townscaper succeeds. It is like a virtual lego set, a toy that is also a tool that allows us to be as creative as possible with our little town designs. Want purple-colored buildings with white-paneled second floors? Have about a massive high-rise structure that is 50 feet in the air on stilts? Screenshots of Townscaper have shown all forms of creativity there, from intricate, wholly connected townscapes to simple, cozy houses by the sea.
This is play in action when it has no goal. Players often focus heavily on ‘winning’ a game, whatever that may mean for the given week. Maybe it’s finishing a narrative, leveling up a character, or simply surviving in some sort of substantial challenge, where twitchy reflexes and hand-eye coordination matter more to get good? Townscaper trades that in for a casual, slow-paced experience, and it's honestly a breath of fresh air when compared to other indie games on the market.
Sharing is Caring
In a strange way, that slower pace allows for more experimentation, especially with town designs. One legitimate flaw I can say is the lack of photo options or filters, but some of the additions, such as adjusting the sunrise or sunset of the light source, to even manipulating the size of your pictures, are a nice touch to give them some form of visual flair.
It is that type of creativity that begs to be shared, and in a sense, Townscaper is a multiplayer experience without a 2nd controller. Players can upload any photos taken from the game directly to their desktops, and share them online with friends and family. Maybe you got a few folks you know who want to one-up your quaint building structure with an elaborate, multi-colored tower? Maybe you’re trying to get just the right angle with just the right amount of lighting to make a sleepy town as the sun begins to set.
Whatever you make, these snapshots are a memory of your work, a mark of what you built with the toolbox. There is no doubt some players out there who will find that organic sharing incredibly appealing over a more standard co-op experience. That is kind of the beauty of a game like Townscaper; it is about the experience you have with it, over the scores you chase.
I like Townscaper a lot, but it is clearly not a game for everyone. Those heavily into hardcore experiences with tangible goals may find Townscaper incredibly thin since it is basically a lego set with graphics. It truly is less of a game than what many might be willing to play.
Still, those looking for something that makes a good time waster, or those willing to flex their creative muscles a bit, will enjoy all Townscaper has to offer. The fact that it allows for players to simply just play around in their own personal sandbox is part of the charm. Ultimately, Townscaper is supposed to be a game without a goal, and it’s a refreshing, fun experience because of that.
TechRaptor reviewed Townscaper on PC using a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on Nintendo Switch.
- In-game Algorithm Allows for Seamless, Unique Townscapes
- Really Pushes for You to be Creative With the Toolset
- Visually Simple but Captivating
- Fun Sound Effects
- Ultimately, Not Really Much of a Game in the Traditional Sense
- Lack of Camera Filters and Music