Since its release on PC back in 2019, Islanders has often been described as a minimalist city-building game.
Now released on PS4, Xbox One and Switch as Islanders: Console Edition, I’ve had time to jump into the game – and I was pleasantly surprised with what I found. That description of a city-building game? It’s not exactly incorrect, but it’s not a particularly accurate representation, either.
You hear the words ‘city builder’ and you imagine something like Sim City or Tropico; worrying about powerlines running to the right place, needing to ensure there’s a good infrastructure of roads, not to mention making sure you have all the buildings you need for your citizens to live a happy and fulfilled life. Islanders isn’t like that. There’s not a road to be seen here, and if the island requires electricity to run, that’s not your concern. You’re simply here to place buildings. That’s it, that’s all you need to do; keep on placing buildings, and do it for as long as you can.
It really is as simple as it sounds, but if you want to succeed in Islanders then you need to give consideration to where you place the buildings. You see, for each placement, you’ll earn points. And if you get enough points, you’ll unlock a new set of buildings to be placed. When you’ve placed enough buildings, the next island will unlock for you. You’ll keep your current score but return to a blank canvas. Your only goal – in the game’s High Score mode at least – is to rack up as high a score as possible. If you fail to meet your next score target, you’ll run out of buildings to place, and it’s game over.
So no, Islanders is nothing like the typical city-building experience. Instead, it’s an enjoyable, zen experience that’s an utter pleasure to play. Yes, you’ll spend your time concerned with chasing a high score, but there’s never any pressure. You don’t have to worry about placing buildings quickly; instead, you can take your time, making sure to scope out the best spot to place your building. Your score is determined by a building’s placement – to score optimum points, it needs to be in just the right position. Houses, for example, earn you more points if they’re near parks, a city centre, and other houses. On the other end of the scale, resorts earn you more points if they’re completely away from the hustle and bustle. And yes, you can earn negative points for a placement if you’re not careful.
With nothing to worry about other than how long you can survive, Islanders is easy to sink into and lose huge blocks of time to. There’s something incredibly relaxing about its simple gameplay loop, and seeing your score rack up is fulfilling. Even if you get a game over, failing to reach the points required to unlock the next set of buildings, the chances are you’ll dust yourself off, muttering “just one more go!” before jumping back in, determined to do even better. Global leaderboards let you see how your best score compares to other players too, giving even more impetus to keep trying.
As I’ve mentioned, there’s never any real pressure – but if you’d rather not even concern yourself with scores, Islanders: Console Edition offers a Sandbox mode, where all placement considerations go out of the window. This is one for design enthusiasts who simply want to make their island look at pretty as possible. And with a range of procedurally-generated islands, all with different types of terrain, that’s very easy to do. The game’s minimalist art style is simply a pleasure, and juxtaposing fields and warehouses against mining outposts and bustling marketplaces is a joy in itself.
Islanders truly is a relaxing, immersive experience that’s so easy to get lost into. The challenge of working out the best location to place a building is endlessly enjoyable, and for puzzle fans there’s even a hint of Tetris as you rotate differently-shaped buildings in order to make them fit perfectly within a space. For players looking for something a little lighter to play, I can’t recommend it highly enough – Islanders is the perfect way to switch off and unwind from the stresses of real life.
Islanders: Console Edition – GameSpew’s Score