Review – Little Cities
It’s hard to even begin talking about Little Cities, a brand new VR city builder published by nDreams, without talking about yet another major release for the Quest 2, which was another city builder released just a handful of weeks ago: Cities VR. This is the first time I can remember when a VR system receives two competing games within the same genre in such a short amount of time. Which one is best for you? How does the smaller, more “indie-ish” Little Cities fare against the VR port of a more famous franchise? Let’s begin.
Little Cities is less focused on the simulation aspect of a city builder and more on the laid-back and core aspects of the genre: building roads, placing zones, seeing buildings get constructed, seeing your town grow, and see tax money filling up your pockets. Instead of the pseudo-realistic art style seen in Cities VR, which required its developers to severely scale down its level of detail in order to properly run on a Quest 2, Little Cities goes for a low-poly, almost toy-like visual identity, as if you were building a town out of LEGOs or Playmobils. This results in a less immersive game, which lacks the sensation of diving down onto your town and exploring it as if you were there. Although, it’s a game that is better suited for a VR headset, with a better resolution and more appealing color palette.
The thing with a city builder is that you’re supposed to play it for hours on end, which is something you don’t usually do when playing in VR. Little Cities had to be as comfortable as possible in order to convince you to strap a freaking screen onto your face for the next few hours, or until the Quest 2’s batteries allowed you to. Thankfully, the combination of an appealing art style, a decent soundtrack (much better than its competitor, that’s for certain) and no nauseating features whatsoever resulted in one of the most comfortable VR experiences I’ve had so far. Little Cities is great in this regard. Now let’s see how does it fare when it comes to being actually fun to play.
Cities VR is all about the more realistic take on city building: maps, graphs, charts, free-form infrastructure building, power lines, pipes, the whole shebang. Little Cities isn’t that immersive or complex, and that can be seen right from the get-go, with the size of each map. Each island you’re given control of is minuscule, and you’re not even allowed to build your town on the entirety of the map once you begin a new save file. You actually need to unlock new chunks of land once the game deems you worthy of expanding your town.
It is a weird progression system, I’m not gonna lie. You see, your town has a level. Keep building things, keep making your citizens happy, keep bringing in money (which is dictated via your citizens’ level of happiness), and you’ll level up. With each new level, you’ll unlock a new building, such as a police department, a cell phone tower, and so on, or have the opportunity to add another previously forbidden chunk of land to your territory. In theory, an excellent idea, since the game basically gives you small objectives that allow you to properly plan your expansion in a ridiculously rewarding way, unlike, say, older Sim City games. Sadly, there are flaws in this approach.
For starters, you are given a pathetic amount of land that quickly runs out of room, making it hard for you to build a brand new hospital or borderline mandatory building once you unlock it. The game doesn’t tell you that, but once you unlock a new building, you basically have to throw it into your city if you want to proceed to the next level, since citizens will start complaining about the lack of a certain service provided by said building, such as safety, fire coverage, health care, and so on. On the other hand, if you decide to build them on top of older commercial, industrial or residential buildings, you will lose income.
There are times when the game does a really poor job at telling you why your citizens aren’t feeling happy. This is when more complex city builders like Cities and Sim City run laps over Little Cities. You never know why you’re failing with your town management, and that usually happens when you’re stuck in a level, with not a lot to do besides waiting for the game to reward you with more land in order to expand your territory.
Oddly enough, despite being significant design oversights, I wasn’t particularly irritated with them. Little Cities is an easy game. Even though some maps feature “traps” such as an active volcano or dust storms, it’s not hard to build a sizeable city in a matter of minutes. It’s really fun, really addictive, and stupidly replayable, once you get used to some weird control inputs. I also loved how the game allows you to jump from city to city with the push of a button, allowing you to breathe some fresh air whenever you start getting bored with the city you were currently managing.
Now we come to the inevitable comparative conclusion: Little Cities or Cities VR? That depends on which is your favorite city building playstyle. Do you want to fool your brain into thinking you’re literally creating a brand new lifelike city of your own? Do you want to dive head first into said town, and use it as a borderline means of escapism? Then Cities VR is for you. It’s more complex, but a lot more rewarding and immersive. Little Cities will be your pick if you want a faster, almost arcade-like take on the genre, with less meters and data to worry about. It’s less realistic, but much more accessible to newcomers.
You will still have a ton of fun with Little Cities, regardless of which city building style suits you best. I do have a few gripes with its progression system and poorly crafted happiness meter, but I was able to quickly ignore its shortcomings and play the damn thing for as long as the Quest 2’s batteries allowed me to. It’s a joyful little piece of software that will win you over in a mere couple of minutes, and yet more proof that city building and virtual reality are a match made in heaven.
Its low-poly art style makes the city you’re building feel like a miniature LEGO town. It’s very simplistic but it’s pleasing for the eyes. It also runs well enough, no matter how busy your town is.
The gameplay loop is fast-paced and simplified when compared to other city builders, but certain input options and UI issues bog the experience down a little bit.
Little Cities‘ soundtrack is a lot more cheerful and memorable than the soundtrack from its competitors.
Fun Factor: 9.0
It’s pretty easy to immerse yourself in the addictive gameplay loop of Little Cities if you’re a fan of the genre. With the exception of a few design issues, it’s yet more proof that city building and VR are a match made in heaven.
Final Verdict: 8.5
Little Cities is available now on Meta Quest 2.
Reviewed on Meta Quest 2.
A copy of Little Cities was provided by the publisher.