It’s a calm day in the city. The recent megablock expansion was completed without incident, and the new superhighway decreased commute times by 28%. The city never remains calm for long though. Out of nowhere, a tornado rips through the tastefully decorated city center, upending train lines and knocking over carefully planned communities. Once again, the bustling metropolis of SimCity has come to a screeching halt, and hours of deliberate planning are down the drain. I am devastated.
Despite 1989’s SimCity spending many years trying to convince me otherwise, disasters are not fun mechanics in city-building simulators. I really enjoy thoughtfully planning my cities for optimal flow and experimenting with new systems and designs, which always have to come second to disaster preparedness. More recent games like Frostpunk take this even further, as the overall objective isn’t growth - it’s survival. While these challenges can be interesting, especially when paired with a good narrative, to me they take away the experimentation aspects I love so much about these games.
Polyville Canyon offers up an alternative to the status quo by focusing on one thing above all else: relaxing.
Polyville Canyon is a laid-back city builder where bad things don't happen and there are no cars - literally my dream city. You, as the sole possessor of a keyboard, play as the builder who will develop the town from the ground up. While there are some goals to guide you as you play, that’s really it in terms of expectations. You can build to your heart’s content, fulfilling requests or not - it’s all up to you. In your walkable utopia, there aren’t cumbersome systems like taxes, electrical grids, or traffic. People arrive by train twice a day and walk around, making it easy for you to truly just build what you want how you want, unencumbered by infrastructure. Everyone is fully content to live in whatever city you present them with, so there’s no pressure to build or place anything you’re not interested in.
Build it and they will come
My organizational efforts were greatly helped by the on-brand building system that lets you move anything with no penalty. Think the library would look better by the school? Cool, scooch it over! Want to add hedges separating people’s houses? Great, done! This made it easy to restructure as my city grew or whenever I had the urge to redecorate. Roads and sidewalks are free, so no need to dedicate resources to the “boring” bits either. There’s a grid system if you’re a bit of a perfectionist like me, and you can adjust the level of specificity when you go to place an object. All of these systems come together to allow you to make a town that will really feel like your own.
However, this isn’t a sandbox experience. People pay to visit, so you’ll need to make your town more attractive for visitors to increase how many people grab the train, and how much it costs them to do so. There’s no balancing required here though - buildings provide static increases to both of these factors, so the worry of charging too much or too little is taken off your plate. Because I was spending so much time decorating and expanding, I found that there was never a time where I “had” to build to make more money - the money was just increasing through what I was already doing.
This steady growth also meant that basically every time I started to feel like I’d already built one of everything, I was only a couple of actions away from unlocking a whole new host of things to incorporate into my mini-metropolis. When you first start, you’ll have a modest selection of homes, businesses, and decorations to fill your town with. As you play more, you’ll get experience points that translate into leveling up to unlock more and more from each of these categories.
Experience, beyond unlocking new buildings and decorations, also unlocks new regions to toy around with. At level 5 you’ll open up a riverside locale, and level 10 gets you an island - not bad for a few hours of work! Your goals and unlocked items carry across regions, so you’re never starting back at square one. The unique buildings you unlock, like boat rentals, also carry back to the other regions as well. These extra regions were great for being able to have multiple themes going without having to destroy my existing town or sacrifice space already dedicated to constructing a maze.
As with anywhere else, some of the people who move in will have requests about what should be done. These requests are totally optional, but they provide a nice boost of experience and cash and let you get to know the people who live in your town a little better. You can drop down into first-person mode at any time to experience what you’ve built first hand, and to say hello to the people who’ve made your town their home.
There is also a seemingly endless stream of goals to complete. These objectives are more static than the requests, like having a set number of commercial buildings or decorations or meeting 10 neighbors. Completing these rewards you with “Perk Points”, which can be traded in for permanent experience bonuses and construction discounts. These were great for generating some ideas if I wasn’t sure what to build next - “build 10 monuments” resulted in a long sculpture garden, and asking me to meet neighbors had me wandering in first-person mode, enjoying the scenery.
The relaxed and non-pressured atmosphere echoes through all the game's mechanics, from the consequence-free building system to the breezy tutorial. The music was lovely, but honestly, I’ve taken to putting on a good podcast and tending to my little village for a really nice night in. The pattern of getting new visitors, planning new expansions, and checking out requests was incredibly fun and made for a solid loop that I wouldn’t describe as “addictive” as much as just truly enjoyable.
Polyville Canyon releases today, May 20th! It’s only US $2 which is honestly an incredible deal for a super sweet game that I can see myself playing for a long time to come. It’s available on Steam, so get building today!