Little Cities is currently the underdog in the VR city builder scene, but there’s plenty of reasons to root for it. Here’s our full hands-on.
If Cities: VR is an industrious, monolithic metropolis, then Little Cities must be the grassroots community center located out in the suburbs. The former is a busy, bustling ode to the urban jungle, its cogs ever whirring on as you micromanage systems down to the slightest details. Little Cities, meanwhile, is a city builder in which a ukulele happily strums along in the background as you watch hot air balloons peacefully orbit your island. It’s quiet and unassuming, gently encouraging you to establish an efficient, welcoming paradise at your own pace.
Little Cities might be the underdog in this scene, but there’s power in this approach.
The opening hours of Purple Yonder’s VR debut hit this home. Little Cities starts off at a breezy pace as it introduces logical concepts and a fantastic control scheme. You drag roads out onto your given island from your starting port, and get to work on zoning by grabbing a point on the map and then dragging your cursor just as you would a mouse. Residential zones are, obviously, vital for housing a steadily growing population, whereas industrial districts are needed to get the economy up and running. Place one too close to the other, though, and you’ll have citizens complaining about the noise. Commerical districts can act as a buffer, providing some income but also keeping the population happy.
Carefully planning out which zones go where is crucial to early success in the game, as is building out basic resources like wind farms and water towers without upsetting the locals. Expand in the right ways and the island will level up, unlocking new buildings and services, opening up new sections of the map and providing cash bonuses.
And, well, that’s pretty much all there is to it at first. This latest preview build let me try a new island with a volcano sitting right in the middle (the perfect place for a fresh start, right?). Naturally, there are Sim City-style disasters when the thing erupts and spits molten ash onto neighboring towns, highlighting the importance of populating a city with fire stations. But it also provides opportunities; thermal vents located across the island enable new types of buildings and more efficient power supplies. That said, the city was never brought to its knees by the looming threat of the volcano (again, in the early hours of the level).
But, for the purposes of the demo at least, the game’s easy-going charm is a real strength. There’s something deeply cathartic about watching your towns spring to life and seeing an economy flourish without having to delve into the nitty-gritty, and it’s never anything less than a delight to take a moment to scale down into a scene and watch cars and trucks busy themselves about town as birds nestle on rooftops and a sea breeze sweeps the coastline. I also can’t quite stress just how fond I am of the game’s soundtrack which, even just a few hours in, would bring a smile to my face when my favorite tracks returned.
But I’ll definitely be looking to see how Little Cities evolves out of that welcoming introduction in its later levels. An hour or two into the Volcano level and I was approaching higher ranks with relative ease. Occasional restructuring aside — which included rebuilding roads to fit more cell towers and relocating housing zones to keep people away from them — I was left keen for the game to challenge me in more demanding ways. Granted that won’t be what everyone wants out of this idyllic take on urbanization, but I’m hoping things get trickier on at least one of the six islands the game’s set to offer.
For now, though, I’m left very encouraged by Little Cities and what it offers in the face of impending competition. The game breaks ground on Quest 1 and 2 on April 21 for $19.99/£14.99. We’ll see you at the ribbon-cutting.