I’m a sucker for sim games, indie games, and cutesy games with simple graphics and a lot of charm. In today’s gaming landscape, this mold of game is thankfully releasing with an increased frequency, so once in a while, one or two will release unceremoniously and slip under the radar of the gaming world at large. Grizzly Games’ new entry, ISLANDERS, checks all of those boxes for me and probably missed your news feed, but just because you don’t see it on the front page of Steam doesn’t mean it isn’t worth your time.
Publisher: Grizzly Games
Developer: Grizzly Games
Available On: PC
Reviewed On: PC
Release Date: April 4, 2019
Game Provided By Grizzly Games for the Purpose of This Review
Recently, a friend and I engaged ourselves in a conversation regarding the evolution of new and future video games. In essence, the question at hand was, “Will a new video game genre ever be created, and if so, what?” Of course, it’s difficult to imagine something that hasn’t been created yet, but video game developers are often the most creative amongst us. Like music, film, television, or books, new genres and creations are often compilations of the best components of its predecessors. ISLANDERS is genuinely unlike any game I’ve ever played, though its individual pieces are familiar. The game revolves around placing buildings onto a procedurally generated island, much like we have seen before in games like Tropico and SimCity. That comparison ends there, as when once a building is placed, you can largely forget about it; it becomes a point-generating piece of the island. As you place more buildings, you will rack up points based on what is located near, or sometimes not near, that new building. To get the most points, you’ll frequently be spinning buildings and trying to get them to fit in a very Tetris-like fashion. All of this is built on the foundation of going until you are no longer able to place any buildings. At this point, you get your score… and start all over again.
Sound complicated? It isn’t. At all. The game conveniently shows you how many points you will receive or lose for each building placement, as well as where each of those points is coming from. If you need more information, each structure also contains an easily accessible tooltip letting you know what will give points and what will deduct points. It’s all spelled out in red and green, and all you have to do throughout the course of the game is place buildings.
Sound simple? It isn’t! The game hits a very nice difficulty ramp, starting with open islands, lots of land, and small point thresholds until you unlock more buildings for placement. The game is positively serene for these early stages, and you won’t be turned off by the simplistic nature and calming scenery. Soon, however, you’ll be cramming buildings into tight corners, testing build locations for a small hut, and planning and hoping for future buildings to spawn based on what you’ve already placed. You’ll also begin to notice tactical advantages in trees, flowers, sand, hills, gold veins, and water, and from the early moves of each island you will be thinking about saving a large patch of trees for the perfect conclave of lumberjacks. The larger your civilization gets, the more difficult it is to fit buildings together without losing a lot of points from surrounding structures.
As I’ve mentioned, the game features no action to speak of, and every moment of the game is ultimately soothing. You can take as long as you want for each turn, and the gentle rhythmic music will continue to stroll quietly in the background in an obtrusive but feel-good way (think Animal Crossing at 2 a.m.). The graphics are simple, but the colors are bright and the polygonal, minimalist style is mixed kindly with smooth curves along trees and buildings. You’ll see a handful of varied environments throughout your town-building adventures, all of which look great. Nothing about this game can be deemed an offense, either to the eye, ear, or soul.
The puzzle/sim/roguelike genre mash-up is easy enough to dive into and play for hours, but you may find yourself wishing for a few features that for this type of game would seem standard. The screen remains almost perfectly still without your involvement. No citizens, vehicles, or animals inhabit your newly-founded colony; only the buildings you place. Perhaps a little more charm could have been squeezed from it’s already endearing style with a few cute animated creatures. There is at present no method of zooming in on your uninhabited buildings either. While this may serve no functional purpose, I found myself attempting to do it multiple times in the first hour of play, and repeatedly disappointed that I could not. Finally, a toggleable grid overlay of the island showing when buildings can be placed seems almost common sense for a game like this, yet is unfortunately not available. You will often find yourself attempting to fit a building into a seemingly large enough plot of land, but are unable to do so. Thankfully, this is as aggravated as you’ll get over the course of your gameplay.
In a few hours of play, you will see almost everything this game has to offer you, but I doubt you’ll be done with it. It’s easy to boot the game and temper your stresses for anywhere between minutes and hours. ISLANDERS is a wonderful excursion into a simple world of city building, puzzle fitting, and high scores. At the price tag of $5, this is a must buy for anyone looking to have some calm, relaxing fun.