Townsmen (Nintendo Switch) Review
Release Date: November 9, 2018
Publisher/Developer: Handy Games
Platform: Switch (previously on Steam and mobile)
Townsmen is a little game that reminds me of a medieval Sim City. As ruler of a small kingdom, you are tasked with keeping the peace and growing the empire. You build houses to welcome new Townies who you then assign to various tasks to press forward and get more resources, which in turn allow you to get more Townies. Much like the real world, resources may vary on the season, such as hunting bringing extra food in the winter when crops are low. During your rule, you will face natural and human hazards, all while balancing resources and the general happiness of your township.
While this type of game was all the rage back in the Sim City days, you'll regularly find these kind of games on mobile now. Townsmen is no exception, as there is a freemium and paid edition of the game available for smartphones. Townsmen is also available on Steam, but this marks the first time the title is available for a home console. But why buy the title for $19.99 when Steam has it for $11.99 and there's a paid edition on mobile for $2.99?
The main updates to the system involve an improved user interface and some new audio, namely voices for some of your assistants. While I did not purchase any other versions of the title, I did download the freemium edition to find that a third of the screen is blocked by an unclosable ad, and it's not optimized for phones with "cutout" screens, as my speaker physically cuts off some of the buttons. The freemium edition also has the dreaded timer speedup option. Building things takes time, and you can click a button to multiply that by five. Eventually that depletes, and you have to use Crowns to recharge it, of course available for a premium. The Switch edition of course kills all the freemium stuff, allowing you to craft an advertisement-free village at five times speed all you want. I do appreciate the upgraded interface. Compared to the mobile edition you can actually see what you are wanting to build. In Mobile, the menus were littered with pictures of houses you had to eventually learn in order to succeed, whilst the new interface breaks it down a lot more organically. The audio upgrades are also beneficial. Characters in the tutorial and such have vocalizations. They aren't English words or verbatim reading of the dialog, but they do add a bit of character to the original's voiceless faces.
There are a few scenarios to survive, but the meat of the game is in the neverending sandbox modes, where you just build. There isn't an endgame to follow, the achievements (transferred over from mobile and simply in a sub-menu) circle around getting X number of hours in the game, gaining X number of Townies, et cetera. It's a neat variation and a little more organic than a Sim City, as you have to develop homes for your citizens who you then assign to various tasks. Maintaining a high population, monitoring their needs and happiness levels, and then ensuring the tasks are done are paramount to success. As you go on you also have to develop new research opportunities and maintain houses that degrade over time. The ruler of this kingdom has a lot of plates to spin and keep aloft.
With the Switch, the control setup is at it's optimum. I've dealt with several games lately that seem to ignore the fact that the Switch has a touchscreen, making big clunky buttons inaccessible even though it seems natural to hit them. Townsmen thankfully bucks that trend. When in handheld mode, it's wonderfully easy to bounce back and forth between touch and physical controls. While it's neat to play the game big screen with it's HD graphics, they are mobile simple, and I find myself much more enjoying Townsmen in handheld mode. To be honest it's refreshing to play a city builder that isn't out for your time or money and just lets you create. It may not have a lot of bells and whistles, but Townsmen is a very smartly made game. The time the developers have had to polish on it since it's original release as well as the twist to an up-front paid model gives a refreshing blast from the past that still feels right at home on a modern console like the Switch. While it may be pricier than buying on Steam or mobile, this is the best version of the game, with rich HD graphics and the portable/big screen combination of the Switch. It's up to you to decide if the premium price is worth it for a classic world building experience.
-Classic town building without the freemium junk
-Excellent integration of simultaneous touch and button controls
-Oldschool endless building or scenario mode
-Many factors to balance, from supply production down to townsfolk happiness, monitoring crops and harvests in relation to seasons
-Still holds a bit of the "mobile feel"
-No real endgame, it's a builder/time waster style game
-Gamers looking for a relaxing time may be overwhelmed by all of the factors to balance
Special thanks to Handy Games for providing a copy of Townsmen for review!