They say only the boring are ever bored. Back in the day you’d have been lucky to have a wooden stick to play with – unless it was sunny, in which case you could have the shadow as well. Kids these days with their mobile phones… where’s the imagination? It’s here! In Townscaper, a game which publisher Raw Fury itself says has “no real gameplay”, and which will give you exactly as much fun as you’re prepared to put in.
On launching Townscaper, you will be greeted with a blank and boundless expanse of water. A list of color swatches hangs at the left of the screen and you have a cursor that moves with the left stick – but you are not prompted to do anything. After an hour or two of our testing, curiosity overcame us and we pressed 'A'. Well! Now things were getting interesting. With a plop, a small cube appeared in the water. It was a stone construction – a little seaside wall with a railing around the top. It was like something from a storybook and we pictured rosy-cheeked tearaways larking about and having their chips stolen by seagulls.
And that’s what this game does: Townscaper will take the merest of throwaway inputs and interpret it as a clever instruction to draft a delightful little village scene. It’s like a waiter congratulating you on your choice from the menu as if the gastronomic talent lies with you and not the chef.
We actually tried our best to make something ugly and meaningless but Townscaper was having none of it. Wiggling the stick around and mashing 'A' blindly, then tapping a finger dismissively all about the screen just made for lots of happy plop-plop-plops. When we opened our eyes, we had a piazza with a canal running through it, a pier with a little bench and a binocular, a row of pink seaside cottages with pot-plants on their doorsteps and a wacky tower on stilts that looked like a kindly wizard lived in it.
Next we tried 'B'. It unplops your cubes out of existence – which of course aroused an urge for demolition. But this magical toy is resistant to destruction. Just as slicing a disgusting worm in half leaves two disgusting worms, slicing a darling little waterside hamlet in half left us only with two darling little waterside hamlets. Removing parts of the town becomes a good way to create. Line up an attractive screenshot, use the lovely lighting controls to create a poetic sunset, say cheese and— hmm… that tower’s spoiling the backdrop. Sorry, wizard. It’s like pruning a hedge, but with undo.
With save and load for different towns and some graphics options to manage performance if you go more 'metropolis' than 'cul-de-sac', Townscaper is a very friendly little package. It can be fiddly to move your view around sometimes but it’s hard to get worked up about anything when you’re playing this.
Oskar Stålberg has made a charming and compelling toy for imaginative play. Anyone willing to project themselves into its worlds and tell stories to themselves as they build will have a great time (although young kids might need assistance with the controls). Raw Fury claim to care about “experiences and emotions” not “genres or mechanics”. If that’s where your priorities lie, too, then give Townscaper a shot.