Review – Powerwash Simulator (Switch)
Video games are the ultimate form of escapism and wish fulfillment that ride the spider silk of healthy and damaging. You can explore vast worlds that encapsulate lore, technology, ecology and literal magic. You can command an army, an empire, an entire planet for your own devices. You can become a spy, a mogul, an assassin, a warrior, a fashion designer…the list is endless. These games can take a few minutes of your time here or there to reset you from reality, or steal whole days at a time, taking over your life until obligations drag you, kicking and screaming, back to where you are not the center of the universe. What is the fantasy that you hold deep in your heart, the one that you’d trade anything for in order to achieve?
For me, it’s being able to powerwash things.
Powerwash Simulator is exactly what it sounds like, and there’s no deeper meaning than that. You play an entrepreneurial spirit who wants to grow their power washing business to great heights, and that’s pretty much it. You’re a team of one, so, no matter what the job, you’re working on it alone. You’ve got the basics: a gnarly spray gun, a series of different nozzles, and access to every single drop of water on the planet and beyond. Freed from the common simulation game tropes of hunger, thirst, the passage of time or fall damage, you are out in the streets, power washing whatever comes your way: vans, dirt bikes, whole-ass houses, the Mars Rover and, oh right, Lara Croft’s mansion.
When a game wears its heart on its sleeve, you understand what you’re in for just by reading the title. Powerwash Simulator lets you embark on a series of jobs to help out people around the universe who need some deep cleaning. Entirely in the first person perspective, you have to figure out what’s going to work best for your particular job. The wide spray is mostly useless at the beginning, since it’ll only take off surface dirt but not older stains and scuffs.
The ultra-fine nozzle is ideal for stubborn spots, but you’ll be there all day trying to wash off a playground-sized dinosaur. Mixing between middle nozzles is the best approach, and then it’s a matter of getting into your zone of movement and sweeping. As soon as you clean enough of a particular thing (a window frame, a body sensor, a secret hatch) it’ll flare and declare itself clean, you’ll get some cash and you can check that off your cleaning list.
Of course, if you want to, the game builds upwards in terms of successive expansion. Powerwash Simulator has a storefront in game where you can spend the money you’ve earned from your various jobs. You can purchase extenders, newer nozzles, cleaning soaps to expand your cleaning capabilities and, of course, new power washing modules for stronger spray and better reach. Since none of these things come cheap and there’s no magic way to just make money appear, you need to do your best at that various jobs in order to unlock more stars (allowing you to purchase things) and earning cash (allowing you to purchase things). You get enough cred, you’re going to clean the whole moon, I tell you what. Not really. But maybe.
Let’s be perfectly clear, Powerwash Simulator is far from a perfect game. The biggest complaint I have is the inability to just toggle on the spray and lean into the game’s action. I have hand cramps that I haven’t ever had because I did all my FPS days on a mouse and keyboard, so I’ve never needed to keep the shoulder button pressed as much as I did playing this. I lived through the age of rectangular controllers biting into your palms and hurting your hand with fast joystick rotation on a N64 controller, but that was as a young man. Now nearly in my 40s, I was not pleased in having a lobster claw after trying to hose off a stegosaurus, and neither should you.
Also, the minute targeting that one needs to concern themselves with can be annoying to the point of exhaustion, especially when you’re first starting out. There’s nothing worse than having an object be 99% clean and having a hair’s breadth long streak of dirt being the reason you can’t finish the level. The sonar-like function to see all the dirty patches helps, except for when it doesn’t. So when you’ve missed the dirt on the underside of the stairs in front of the house (you know, WHERE EVERY GUEST LOOKS WHEN THEY COME TO VISIT), you need to squat down, angle up, and contort into what must be a ridiculous pose in order to spray that last patch of guck that not a single sane person would ever think to look or care about.
By and large, simulation games are not my thing. The idea of playing a game to do work is almost insulting, and I’m stunned that the industry manages to find more and more ways to make simulation games work for people. The advent of VR so that you physically need to match your body to the job you’re pretending to do not only has people almost literally doing work in their freetime, but also paying the VR premium in order to do it. If I told you a monkey fooled another monkey into pretending to pick bananas and also gave the first monkey one banana an hour to pretend, you’d start scanning the ecosystem to find out what was poisoned.
Yet there is a catharsis to Powerwash Simulator that goes beyond the bounds, and I think it’s how the game immediately swerves into absurdist territory. If I only did the van and other van-like objects from the very beginning, the whole premise would have been safe, contained, and stale. You’d keep washing cars, maybe expand to multiple cars, get a team, etc. But going out and immediately jumping from “single van” to “someone’s entire frigging backyard” is such a leap that I’m almost impressed with the rocket in responsibility and difficulty. You teeter between “way too much” (a whole playground) to “far too little (a dirt bike) and then “are you kidding me” (the city of Qualinost, before the destruction). It’s an amazing ask, and I love that you’re just one person who’s tasked with all this cleaning.
And then it just becomes…meditative. There’s no music for Powerwash Simulator, so you can listen to the gentle spray and ambient noise of the world around you, or put in headphones and just jam out to whatever you’d like. You spray with a variety of heads, extensions and soaps to get the cleaning done, and you carve it out a little at a time, watching progress build and finally climax in a flash that lets you know “this house is clean.” You occasionally have popups from the neighboring people and communities that let you know generic, unimportant updates about the world of Powerwash Simulator, like someone’s cat got loose, or you unlocked a new thing to wash. When you’re here, washing things away, you worry about nothing, think about nothing. You just clean, as if you were cleaning since the dawn of time.
Being on the Nintendo Switch, you obviously can give up something in terms of the larger screen, higher resolution or other things, but being a Switch title means you can play this anywhere. This is an ideal pick-up-and-play where you can just do a few rows of cleaning, maybe get that yellow circle cleaned or take out the stains on the window, and you’ve accomplished something. You can play it while the latest season of Below Deck plays and you wonder if Frasier is a better chief stew than Kate was (he totally is). You can powerwash in ways intensive or totally disconnected, and both are acceptable. You still get the same feeling of satisfaction from finishing the job whether you’ve done it for several hours at a time or just the last ten minutes of your train ride.
And sure, there’s all these other elements that you can care about if you want. Powerwash Simulator has co-op mode to make things more fun and also go much faster. There’s time trials and water-limiting challenges if you want to prove something to yourself. There’s freeplay to just keep washing something you’ve already cleaned. There’s the bonus stages of silliness, like the Croft Manor, where everything is unlocked and you’re cleaning this monstrously large mansion, and why the hell not? But for me, the career mode, which already has me on the hook for double digit hours, is all I really want or need. I can aim well with the joysticks, I can sweep in good patterns, and, once I figure out a proper hack to just keep the shoulder button down without needing to soak my hand afterwards, I’ll be unstoppable.
I can’t powerwash my home. My apartment is tiny, has grass floors, and is on the 6th floor: nothing about it says “high powered water will make this better.” But with Powerwash Simulator, I can pretend. I can clean up things that have been neglected and ignored, and I can make them pretty again. I can relax and know that I’m doing a good job of bringing zest back, and I don’t even care for whom I’m doing it. It’s the ultimate simulation, one where I’m happy with what I’ve done and have zero cares as to why I did it. Because I could.
Well designed courses and objects allow for full comprehension of the terrain and terraces to clean. Excellent variety in landscapes and locales to keep the game fresh and engaging.
Intuitive to a fault, Powerwash Simulator offers a good range of peripherals and customizations to help keep the simple gameplay exciting. Minus one point for the inability to auto-spray.
A vastly quiet soundtrack, the inclusion of ambience and sound effects versus music does capture the real feeling of being in this world of manual labor, complete with the opportunity to pop in headphones and just do your own soundtrack.
I can’t believe how much I just wanted to keep washing. I didn’t have a desire to break up my gameplay days with anything else, I was more than content with the water at my command and the dirt in front of me. I was…fufilled.
Final Verdict: 9.0
Powerwash Simulator is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PC and Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Powerwash Simulator was provided by the publisher.