Look, I'm not saying that freemium mobile games can't be successfully ported to a console, I'm just saying that some of those features designed to keep cheating you out of a dollar here or there don't translate well into a format in which you've already paid for the game and as such you shouldn't have to keep paying for them. I'm just forever scarred by my review of the cataclysmic Onion Knights, which is to date either the worst or second worst game I've played, which was developed on a similar principle.
But, let's be fair, Townsmen isn't Onion Knights. It isn't nearly as bad and there was some effort put in. To be honest, I never would have noticed the freemium roots were it not for the "build instantly for premium currency" option, that one is kind of a dead giveaway. Now, to be fair, HandyGames did some to make this distinct from a freemium game. There isn't any PvP to make it pay to win and the scenarios give some semblance of purpose whereas normally the purpose is to make you wait just long enough to make you pay to not wait. That said, I can't say I recommend Townsmen. The developers tried, but the end product is just a dull slog. There's too much hurry up and wait with no real purpose. The only thing you're racing against is your own incompetence.
Townsmen is available for the Switch for $19.99.
Townsmen – Nintendo Switch TrailerStory
The story of the game depends on the scenario. The tutorial follows you, a disgraced noble, as you are assigned to a backwater town and have to make it a metropolis despite the best attempts of a corrupt noble who keeps extorting you for resources. Other scenarios have you doing whatever you can to protect your town and make it flourish.
There is no overarching narrative, just little reasons to do things. The main problem I have is that regardless of any scenario and the stakes given to the story, there isn't much of the gameplay to emphasize the stakes.
Ever played a city-building freemium game? Congratulations, you've played Townsmen. Build things in real time, unlock more buildings, and use those unlocks to keep on building and producing resources to keep the denizens of your town happy and active. You do all of this by assigning inactive workers to build sites and buildings, so if you're running low on population some prioritizing is necessary. It's a lot of hurry up and wait, but the chief problem is that it is a long, slow game without much to hold the player's attention. It's an idle game you actually have to pay attention to, which isn't what an idle game is for.
Why am I here?
The primary problem I have with this game is that the gameplay seems to be confused and torn between a strategy game and a god game. In most real-time strategy games you have to build a defense before getting rushed. Your primary motivation is fear that if you don't move and micromanage fast enough, the game will be over before it even begins. Townsmen lacks this and just has disasters and bandit raids that are more akin to a Simcity game, but your end goal in SimCity is to be the powerful overlord of a tiny utopia that you will inevitably destroy in a manner that you will most enjoy. So, with no tangible stakes and no big endgame but moving on to the next scenario, the roadblocks the game throws in your way are more nuisances than legitimate challenges. I often found myself wondering "when can I put this game down again?" And that isn't exactly what you want to be thinking when playing a game.
Okay, but what's good?
Now, let's be fair, the developers of the game did a few things to try to make this a bit more fun for the console audience. For example, you as a player can gain experience in the game to permanently unlock some pretty nice bonuses, like resource storage upgrades, better resource income, and even some new units that can aid you in your building. This is a good system, it does provide some, though insufficient, reason to keep going through the scenarios. The research actually does make a difference throughout the game. The main problem is that it researches in real time, and with time in abundance there really isn't much to these little milestones aside from, you guessed it, more waiting!
The economics system is nice. Resources that will be less plentiful sell for more in the market, whereas things that you've flooded the market with will sell for less. This system does a good job in helping keep the balance so you don't just make clothes nonstop and then use the profits to let every citizen live like royalty. You actually have to keep a diverse town, which I can appreciate as a measure of keeping balance.
The seasons are also a nice touch. You actually have to stockpile and change resource production to make up for the fact that things go out of season. There was some legitimate thought put in a lot of these systems, they're small but they help to make the game seem a bit more alive.
Graphics and audio
Sadly, there isn't much as far as upgrades from the mobile version in the graphical department. I just felt like I was playing the game on my phone but no, it was on my Switch. The art style isn't bad, just unimpressive. I liked the designs of individual characters, especially that pompous noble in the tutorial. Outside the major NPC characters, there are no special designs. They're such generic designs they even magically change clothes and body shape depending on the job they're assigned to. There's nothing bad, but if you asked me to pick out this game's visual style, I wouldn't be able to tell you.
The music is good if repetitious medieval fair. I'd put it in the same boat as the graphics. I've played dozens of fantasy games on my phone and there's nothing artistically separating it from other freemium games, much less from the plethora of games built to be on the Switch.
Again, it isn't as though it's bad, just painfully generic.
Though I wouldn't say this is the worst game I've ever played, this is far from being something I would return to. I will say that it did prove to me that a free mobile game being ported to a console isn't necessarily a doomed case. The research and scenarios help to create a little motivation and the economic and seasonal systems help to keep the world feel alive. There was some effort put into this game, I would like to see a game from this crew that was actually designed to be paid for and played on a game system.
As it stands though, I cannot recommend this game. You could play this, or you could play the free game on your phone. Or, you could play a whole city builder like Simcity on your computer. It isn't as though as the game is actively bad, it isn't completely incompetent, but it's just so dull. Look, I'm sure there's someone who enjoys this on the Switch and I wouldn't dissolve a friendship with such a person. I don't bear this game or the developers any hatred as I have with some of the stinkers I've played, I just found the whole thing boring. Maybe if you got REALLY into an ant farm as a kid this would be a good step up, but otherwise, I would definitely look elsewhere.
|+ World feels alive with economy and seasons||– Not much active gameplay|
|+ Overarching research system||– No real driving motivation|
|– Generic art and music|