Review: Little Cities
After a couple of previews, it’s finally time to give our verdict on what was almost going to be the first proper city building game on Meta Quest 2, Little Cities. However, low and behold it never rains but it pours, bizarrely seeing two arrive within weeks of each other, the other being Cities: VR. Yet in another strange twist, both videogames sit at opposite ends of the genre, with Little Cities providing a far less stressful, almost therapeutic experience for those that want to build without all the finicky financials.
The first virtual reality (VR) title from British indie team Purple Yonder with publishing help from VR veterans, nDreams, Little Cities is just that, build your own miniature metropolis. Rather than a plain expanse of land with a few environmental features all of Little Cities’ locations are sun-drenched archipelagos, so you’ll inevitably have at least one major island to build upon, with smaller islands to expand to.
Whilst you don’t get much choice, to begin with, the aim with each location is to reach level 25, unlocking new areas in the process. Before that, it’s time to get building, with Little Cities featuring one of the easiest and most accessible buildings menus you’ll have seen in a game like this. All the details required for planning, how much money you have, is there enough water/electricity, are the residents happy are found by looking at your watch which is bright, bold, easy to read and minimal.
Almost like a Swedish furniture store, keeping things minimal is certainly at the heart of Little Cities so while those stats are informative there’s no in-depth tweaking. Die-hard construction simulator fans may even be a little aghast at the fact you can’t play around with finances, raising or lowing taxes, diverting funds to build something more practical or taking out loans to create an absurd monstrosity. None of that here in Little Cities. Think of it more like a quaint English village on a Sunday, there’s one pace and that’s with your feet up on the sofa.
Construction wise everything is housed in bubbles, press one to open the utility options to find your water, cell, and wind turbine towers. Or open up the services bubble which houses the police station, fire department and so on. The menu can be swapped between your left and right and in the options menu if you need to.
Like any city builder, roads are your first step with placement in Little Cities a doddle. These are all placed in straight lines – no bendy roads here – so cities always do end up in a similar grid structure. This is also necessary due to the fact that certain buildings like the fire station have a set service area, necessitating a central location for maximum coverage. After that, there are three main districts to build, Residential, Commercial and Industrial. Residents need places to live, places to work and places to spend money, balancing all three creates a booming economy so you can spend even more frivolously. You can’t build homes next to factories as residents will become unhappy and that’ll hit your wallet.
In practice, if you follow Little Cities building suggestions – i.e.when there aren’t enough houses – then you’ll almost never run into an issue. The game balances things so well (almost too well) to maintain its calm, tranquil settings that even as a volcano in the middle erupts, spewing lava and molten fireballs at your city you’ll not be bothered, shrugging it off and replacing whatever’s destroyed.
Little Cities mixes up the gameplay via a selection of environments and region-specific buildings. As mentioned, one area has a giant volcano to build around, not only causing occasional havoc but also blocking network signals and other amenities. Or then there’s the desert location filled with sandstorms that can only be controlled through the planting of trees. As for the buildings, some areas will let you build a theme park or a stadium or a campsite, each having its own bonuses to adjacent buildings.
The problem is once these are built and you’ve hit level 25 to unlock everything you can’t do anything else. You have no option to build a whole row of airports just for the fun of it or see how happy you can make residents building 20 theme parks at once. The only option is to start a new map and see what new buildings there might be; Little Cities really could have done with a sandbox mode of some sort.
Even with that in mind, Little Cities is hard to get annoyed with, each map delightfully engrossing from start to finish. Sure, it does start to grate a little when in the middle of building a new housing complex you level up, instantly stopping you from doing anything until you look at your watch and accept the notification – which happens 25 times per level, of course. But on the flip side, bringing the camera down to street level to see the bustling city is always satisfying.
And because Little Cities has been built for Meta Quest, there are no building pop-ups or graphical glitches that were noticeable. It’s definitely not as visually complex as Cities: VR and it doesn’t need to be. There are nice little visual and audible touches here and there, you’ll hear seagulls squawking or a small plane flying across your eye line.
To describe Little Cities in one word it would have to be ‘pleasant’. Much like an afternoon game of Wordle, it’s the sort of VR experience you want to sit down with a cup of tea and enjoy. There’s no friction to the gameplay, accessible and intuitive in minutes, which makes it great for those new to VR. What it lacks is additional depth and flexibility, not complexity. I don’t want to balance budgets or get into horrendous city planning fundamentals, what I would like is to build my own floating city that’s entirely populated with wind farms and Yurt Villages. Until then, Little Cities provides a straightforward slice of utopian city creation.