‘Townscaper’ iOS Review: Like Putty in Your Hands

By: Raw Fury / Oskar Stålberg

I don’t normally have a lot of patience for city builders. Even the game I’m spending the most time with these days, Genshin Impact, gives each player their own mini world to decorate as they wish, with tons of assets used throughout the game. Everything looks great and I see others creating gorgeous landscapes and villages. But I only place down some useful items I can craft with, as well as some playful critters. As much as I would love to have an eye-catching layout, I simply don’t have the desire to sit for hours and place each object, then adjust it to perfection. Especially since it’s a bit clunky to use on mobile. That’s where the new toy, Townscaper, from Oskar St╬ô├╢┬úΓö£├ªlberg and Raw Fury, comes in.

In Townscaper, all you do is tap on a spot on the grid to plop down a little building block. The algorithm then does some quick calculations to decide how it should look, based on the other blocks it’s connected to. Everything starts on the water, so all your villages float. For instance, if you tap on the water, a floating platform appears in that spot. If you tap on that floating platform, a little house appears. You can then build upwards on the house to make a tower or continue building outwards. Any houses built on the side of another house without anything below them will grow stilts to support them. You can build bridges to join buildings from afar or make a crowded colorful village reminiscent of Italy.

Besides tapping to build, you can also hold for a second or two to delete a piece. Aside from that, there’s two-finger zoom in and out, one finger camera rotate and two-finger camera drag. Along the edge there’s a color-picker, which you need to select before plopping a piece down. As far as I can tell, there’s no way to change the color of an existing building. There are some settings you can play with, though, like the sun’s position. You can also remove the sun altogether and make it nighttime, at which point all the windows will light up. It’s a really nice effect. You can also undo all your moves one by one, but I think pressing on a piece to delete it makes more sense if you don’t want to undo a lot of moves at once.

One feature I really appreciate is that Townscaper works in landscape or portrait mode, so you can play with one hand on your iPhone wherever you are. Sadly, there’s no iCloud sync, but you can export and import your designs to other devices, so it’s still possible to sync progress in a slightly roundabout way. It also automatically saves all your designs so you can go back and tweak them or just share them with others.

I spent a few hours so far fiddling around with Townscaper and it’s equal parts surprising and relaxing. I love when I discover some new type of structure I hadn’t before. There’s also an invisible grid that determines the shape of each block you place, but you can turn it on if you want to have more control over your town’s design. I’m sure those with more skill and patience can make some eye-popping structures, but I’m having fun just messing around and seeing what happens. Perhaps I’ll get more serious about the layout once I’m more familiar with how it all works. But for now I’m content just poking and prodding at it and molding the towns like they’re a piece of putty.

Townscaper is very forthcoming about what it is. There is no game here, no scores or progression. If that’s important to you, then look elsewhere. But if you’re open to a town builder that’s akin to a fidget toy you can mess around with at your own leisure whenever the mood strikes, I think you’ll be happy with your purchase. Though it first released on PC, I think touchscreens are the perfect platform for something like this, and having it in your pocket at all times is just the icing on the cake. So download Townscaper here and start molding the world to your will.

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