Littlewood Review: Home Is Where the Heart Is (Switch)

The nefarious Dark Wizard is defeated, the day is saved, and you, the legendary Hero of Solemn, wake up the next day. Now what? Well, how about rebuilding a world ravaged by your ancient foe, one house at a time?

Littlewood review: Home Is Where the Heart Is (Switch)

Have you ever wondered what happens after the end of a game? You’ve beaten the big bad, the heroes have saved the day, the credits roll…then what? Well, Littlewood sets you down in a world that’s already been saved. Playing as the legendary Hero of Solemn, you wake up in the town of Littlewood after your dramatic final fight with the Dark Wizard with nothing but a couple of friends and a desire to rebuild – even your memories are gone. What follows is a charming romp through the world of Solemn as you collect resources, construct shops, homes and attractions, entice new townspeople to your humble hamlet and start getting the world back on track.

Littlewood, developed by Sean Young and published by SmashGames, releases for Nintendo Switch in the USA on February 25th, and is already out on Steam.

Story – After the End

Littlewood is set in the world of Solemn, recently returned to a state of peace following the defeat of the Dark Wizard by the Legendary Hero – also known as, well, you. You awake with no memory of your quest in a house in the town of Littlewood. What’s left of Littlewood, at least – the war against the Dark Wizard has all but destroyed the town, and now that the world is at rest again it’s up to you to rebuild it. You’re not just limited to your little town, either: pretty soon you’ll be able to travel to wild forests, dangerous caves, a once-thriving port city and other fascinating locales.

You don't say?

You don’t say?

Along the way you’ll meet a colourful cast of characters, from the powerful mage who has a little trouble controlling her powers, to the shy half-orc just looking to fit in, to the snooty bird-person who prides himself on his impeccable taste. The NPCs are a fun bunch, leaning on a fair amount of meta-commentary and jokey tropes about precisely the type of fantasy story that has apparently just wrapped up: Willow can’t seem to spit out that you and she clearly developed a romance over the course of your journey, while Dalton cheerfully regales you with stories of your bravery and strength in your pursuit of the Dark Wizard. Every so often you get little vignettes between the characters where they reminisce about your adventures or showcase their own relationships and personalities, each of which adds a nice little dose of individuality and depth.

The writing is pretty good across the board, showcasing a charming tongue-in-cheek sense of humour and an almost relentless positivity and optimism. Where another game might poke fun at the stereotypes of fantasy in an attempt to subvert them, Littlewood gives them a nod and a wink with a disarming sort of sincerity. Each character has nothing but good things to say about you and the work you’re doing, but it’s all entertaining enough that it stops short of becoming saccharine or grating.

Dalton acclimatises to your amnesia...pretty swiftly.

Dalton acclimatises to your amnesia…pretty swiftly.

The one very mild nitpick about the writing is, strangely, tied to the fact that you’re not asked to choose a gender at the beginning of the game. That choice is a great one and certainly serves to make the game that little bit more accessible, but some of the conversations where characters are talking about you end up feeling a little clunky as they desperately avoid using any pronouns whatsoever, instead of simply using a neutral pronoun like ‘they’. As a result, you occasionally get dialogue along the lines of ‘Boy, Max sure is strong! Max really did a great job defeating the Dark Wizard. I’m sure anyone would think twice before challenging Max to a fight again!’ It’s a small thing, but it occasionally served to bring me out of the zone, so to speak.

Gameplay – Farming and Fishing and Bug-Catching, Oh My!

By the developer’s own admission, Littlewood draws heavily on titles like Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing in its main mechanics, and the inspiration is clear. Each day, you set about various tasks, including but not limited to fishing, bug catching, farming, building, crafting, chatting with the villagers, and terraforming. The game has a wealth of things to do, and as you might expect many of the tasks and skills intertwine neatly. Chop down a tree and you get wood, which you can craft into planks, which can be used to make a piece of furniture that a villager wants and improve your friendship with them. Plant some seeds and in a few days you can harvest a potato which you can combine in the Tavern with, say, a fish you caught to make a tasty meal for some lucky passerby.

Pretty soon you'll have more veg than you'll know what to do with.

Pretty soon you’ll have more veg than you’ll know what to do with.

Indeed, the litany of features, skills and tasks can be almost overwhelming at times. There are ten skills at play, each of which can be levelled up to 99 if you so desire, and around 15 NPCs you can invite to your town, all of whom have friendship levels that can be similarly increased by chatting to them, complimenting them and carrying out tasks and wishes for them. The latter can actually provide some degree of town-planning puzzle gameplay, as NPCs wish for their houses to be close to one building but not too close another, leaving you shuffling buildings around the map to find the perfect fit for everything. Pretty soon you might find yourself backed into a corner of sorts, possibly even needing to tear everything down and replan your town entirely, but don’t worry – there’s no penalty, since any buildings you knock down refund the materials needed to construct them, and the furniture inside remains intact too. Most of the plethora of public buildings you can construct can be upgraded, too, unlocking new functions or just bestowing rare items on you.

The seasons change seamlessly, like in the games that inspired it.

The seasons change seamlessly, like in the games that inspired it.

Suffice it to say, if you like experience bars, this game will definitely be your cup of tea. And that’s before getting into the Animal Crossing-style catalogue of buildable and craftable things, from simple pieces of furniture to public buildings like the shop, a museum and a hot air balloon to travel to other locations – which, incidentally, you can upgrade as well, much like your own town. Much like Animal Crossing’s recipes, you’ll need a blueprint before you can make something, but you can pick those up from a range of places, buying them relatively cheaply from shops or receiving them as gifts from NPCs. There is, without a doubt, a lot of stuff to keep you busy in Littlewood – so much, in fact, that at times you may need to just take a moment to pause and try and keep track of what’s next on the list.

A tiny selection of the progress bars in store.

A tiny selection of the progress bars in store.

Luckily, you can go about things at your own pace, and there’s no time pressure on any of the tasks, and anything you don’t get done one day can safely be put off til the next with no ill effects. Instead of an in-game clock, how much you can do each day is dictated by your stamina. Hit the end of your rope and you’ll pass out on the spot and wake up the next morning worse for wear (which is to say, with less total stamina to work with), a familiar mechanic to any Stardew Valley fans. There’s no wiggle room with this, though: you get one message that you’re feeling tired and if you try to do one more thing, you’re out cold. This usually isn’t much of an issue, but if you’re harvesting wood or stone, something that tends to take multiple button presses, you might accidentally skip past the warning message and knock yourself out unintentionally. The game does warn you that you’re nearing the end of your stamina by transitioning to night-time, though, so as long as you keep an eye on your vitals you can usually avoid this unseemly fate.

Goblin merchants are chatty fellas.

Goblin merchants are chatty fellas.

The other stamina-related issue to be aware of is, in short, that almost everything requires a bit of it. This makes sense in most cases: of course you can’t swing an axe or go fishing without it requiring some energy. But some unexpected tasks, such as cooking, receiving gifts from a goblin merchant from out-of-town or even complimenting one of your friends, cause you to keel over as though stricken with a sudden bout of narcolepsy, which is puzzling. Thankfully, some of the most enjoyable aspects – namely, the construction and terraforming systems – don’t require any stamina, so you can move stuff around the map and craft furniture and buildings to your heart’s content as you search for the perfect town layout.

Overall, Littlewood takes a lot of good mechanics from other games and works them into a very streamlined and relaxing package. It’s a game that relies more on breadth than depth – that is, there’s lots to do but each task is relatively small and inconsequential beyond levelling up a progress bar – but that’s arguably part of its appeal, letting players dip in and out freely and just lose themselves for a while.

Graphics and Audio – Lo-Fi 8-Bit Aesthetics to Study To

Littlewood leans heavily into the lo-fi 8-bit indie aesthetic, and honestly the result is a delight. The style is very NES-inspired, but with a radiant colour palette that brings the whole world to life and gives the different locations a surprising amount of variety. Character designs, too, are pleasantly distinct: while the sprites themselves are similar in design (though colours and other subtle differences still render them easy to tell apart), the chibi-esque character portraits are lovingly created, with several different expressions and a ton of charm discernible in every pixel.

CRONCH

CRONCH

The music, too, is soothing and chilled, steering clear of the chiptune vibe you might expect from the game’s look and going instead with something akin to Stardew Valley’s affable and cordial synthesised voices. Like in Stardew and Animal Crossing, the music changes with the seasons and also has different themes for the different locations you can visit, and it always sits nicely and unobtrusively in the background, adding to the general air of chilled-out relaxation.

Littlewood was reviewed on Nintendo Switch with a key provided by Sean Young.

Summary
All in all, Littlewood is certainly worth picking up if you’re in the market for a peaceful, relaxing and charming game that doesn’t demand too much of you, especially now that it’s available on the ever-portable Switch. You can certainly get out the spreadsheets and graph paper to try and optimise every aspect of your playthrough, but it’s arguably more enjoyable to just take each day as it comes, do a bit here and there, and see how things go. A bit like life, really.
Good
  • Beautiful pixel art
  • No time pressure
  • Writing is funny and sincere
Bad
  • Lots of stuff to do, but not very deep
  • Some unusual things require stamina
8.5
Great

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