Townscaper review: Coastal peace

by VR Lars
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Townscaper is a toy in digital form. This is not Cities: Skylines or anything like a big, intensive city building sim. You have an (almost) endless sea. With a click of your mouse and a satisfying plop sound effect, the land takes shape beneath you, one tile at a time. That’s as complicated as it gets.

And honestly, it’s pretty cool. If you just want to casually shape a city, without worrying about trash collection times and where all the poo is gonna go, there’s really nothing like Townscaper. There’s a gentle rhythm to shaping the town, something that feels akin to making something with your hands. Mistakes are easily rectified, the “one tile at a time” approach encouraging experimentation and playfulness.

Townscaper skyline

While the way in which we interact with Townscaper is simple, the processes that go on beneath the mouse clicks are anything but. It basically operates in tiers, and tiles are shaped by what’s around them. Everything is on an irregular grid, which results in organic (and often wonky) streets coming to life. Cottages turn into terraces, terraces turn into apartment blocks – building a ring of houses will manifest a garden in the middle, and stairways down to the beaches will appear if given room.

Because you can’t click and drag massive zones at once, you get to see your town evolve slowly over time. It can feel a little empty at times – there aren’t any tiny people wandering the streets, despite the signs of life the houses show. Seagulls settle on rooftops from time to time, and window-lights flicker on and off at different times of day. For the most part, it’s just you and the plop sound, which doesn’t really get old. If you put on some relaxing music and sit back with a hot drink, making a city with Townscaper is immensely relaxing.

The algorithm that powers Townscaper allows for a lot of creativity, despite the fact you can only really choose the colour of the buildings you’re dropping. The town will almost always adjust itself to make room for a new tile, regardless of how precariously it’s being placed. If you want to create a multi-tiered layer cake of a building, held together by metal frames and hope, you can totally do that.

Would it be nice to see Townscaper‘s existing, extraordinarily clever system expand into a game richer with features? Maybe. But as it stands, this is a really nice experience – it’s smooth, vibrant and relaxing. There’s definitely worse ways to spend £4.79. Plopping down buildings, experimenting with just what the building system is capable of – it’s a nice way to kill time.

Townscaper overall thoughts

Townscaper is a fun, relaxing toy. It’s easy to while away varying amounts of time just seeing how the world adjusts to building placement. It’s impossible to play it wrong – mistakes just lead to new surprises, new ways to combine and stack tiles to make your town come to life.

It won’t be for everyone. It’s not deep or replayable enough to grab the attention of hardcore building enthusiasts. Over time, we might see more additions come to Oskar Stålberg‘s beautiful town-shaping toy, but in a way it’s totally fine the way it is – a breath of cool, coastal air on a hot day.

Townscaper is available now on Steam and Nintendo Switch. You can find more of our game reviews here.

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