There’s something to be said for calm, relaxing virtual reality (VR) experiences. Not the full tranquil, meditative sort but the ones that give you a challenge without all the rush and frustration. Videogames like Cubism and Puzzling Places are great examples of these and now VRFocus has been able to demo another that easily fits the bill, just in its own way. Little Cities harks back to those city building classics which were all about the strategic planning of an awesome metropolis, rather than worrying about what crazy event would happen next.
The work of indie team Purple Yonder with help from VR veterans nDreams, the demo was an early, pre-alpha version, offering up a suitable slice of the mechanics and the charming miniature aesthetics. With a shipping port as the starting off point, there was a wedge of cash in the bank to start building a few roads and stretch out across the main island. While the studio has said the final version will feature a multitude of locations, for this particular demo there were four, sun-kissed islands to expand across, with a couple of bridge designs automatically appearing once the shoreline was reached.
Roads are the core infrastructure mechanic here, there are no dropping buildings in random locations to connect up later. Each piece of road has two build markers that appear on either side, these are the only place to build the rest of the city ensuring that roads need to be carefully placed to maximise space. This meant sticking with traditional city building rules of creating blocks rather than twisting road systems that look fun but are entirely impractical once the videogame really starts to open up.
That happens by levelling up to a maximum of level 25. By this stage most of the city was built, finally unlocking the City Hall which made all the resident’s happy. Way before that though was the careful art of zone placement that fell under Residential, Commercial, and Industrial. People need homes, they need places to shop and they need work. Little Cities does continue to stick to real-life needs and desires in this regard, people don’t want to live next to factories so if you build a house next to one its happiness will go down. The same thing with utilities. Everyone wants a good network connection and reliable electricity but living next to pylons and giant masts, that’s a no-no.
Little Cities also likes to throw in other mechanics such as crime, healthcare and other worries, all of which can be fixed with police stations, hospitals, schools and other services. Trying to juggle all of this sounds stressful yet it isn’t. Purple Yonder have created a rather idyllic city builder, where you can sit back and survey all while the sounds of the city mutter along below.
In screenshots and the first trailer the studio showed the ability to get down and into the city, which wasn’t available in the demo VRFocus tried. It kept a lofty viewpoint with the city placed directly on the floor, almost like playing with a toy set. Even so, it looked very quaint seeing all the tiny motor vehicles whizzing around carrying out their daily chores. Once Little Cities really go going it superbly highlighted some awful road placement, vehicles stuck in long tailbacks because there was only one bridge or there weren’t enough junctions for them to take alternate routes.
For such an early demo ahead of a Spring 2022 launch for Oculus Quest, Little Cities was a pleasing delight. Placement of most of the buildings was easy – although being able to manually twist help would be good – especially when dropping a whole new neighbourhood in one hit. Even with only one area to build upon, once that first city had been completed it was time to open another save slot and try a whole new design, it’s why these types of videogames can be ridiculously addictive. Can’t wait to see what Purple Yonder has in store for Little Cities next year.