A city-builder that builds itself!
I’m sure all of us have a building in mind that we’ve come to appreciate for its beauty, function, or simple existence. For me, I think of Los Angeles’ Eastern Columbia Building, an Art Deco icon that never fails to draw my eye and fill my phone’s photo album every time I’m in the area. Perhaps we favor a certain architectural style unique to a beloved area (Art Deco and Spanish Colonial are close to this SoCal girl’s heart). Something about the look and feel of the buildings can really define a neighborhood, and many of us can agree that things like placement and history are a big part of this as well. If buildings could talk, they’d probably say the same thing as well — oh wait, they can! At least, they can in Buildings Have Feelings Too!
Buildings Have Feelings Too! is surprisingly *not* a city-builder as the genre is typically understood, rather a puzzle/card game where the city builds itself. Developed by Northern Ireland-based dev team Blackstaff Games and published by Merge Games, Buildings Have Feelings Too! is available on PC and console for the reasonable price of $19.99. The game’s Steam page asks players to “grow your city to a bustling metropolitan centre with an array of shops, offices, entertainment facilities and amenities, to help your buildings thrive; or risk them being demolished forever,” and if players are up to the challenge, they’ll uncover a gaming experience unlike any other.
Players take on the role of a lovely little building who, within the first few moments of gameplay, has come face to face with their own mortality. As an older building says their goodbyes before demolition, the surrounding buildings comment on their plans to avoid a similar fate. A tasteful panning upwards spares us of actually witnessing the somber demolition, but the sounds of crumbling bricks confirmed the building’s sad end — fades to black, end scene.
Perhaps motivated to prevent meeting their maker, the building takes it upon themselves to speak with the remaining buildings and find solutions to their problems, such as too much pollution or not enough housing for the people who reside within. By listening to the buildings and regarding their feelings, the neighborhood goes from old and bare to vivacious and renewed, ushering in a new era for the entire town.
Controls are interesting, because it’s one of those things that makes sense on paper but wasn’t all that intuitive in practice — in fact, this is one of the rare menu-based games that works better with a controller than with a mouse and keyboard. There were a number of times where I’d accidentally bring up menus I didn’t mean to or couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for, but after awhile things begin to fall into place. Aesthetics are so quaint and charming; the visuals are subdued and mellow yet adorably lively. The buildings are not only expressive — window frames move like eyelids and they wave their hands excitedly and jump for joy when they’re upgraded — but familiar as well, as their looks were heavily modeled after real-life stores and homes in Northern Ireland. And the music? Cute and repetitive, but in a way that never got annoying; in fact, I kept the music running the background while answering some emails and ended up being more productive because of how quickly I lost track of time.
As far as actual gameplay in Buildings Have Feelings Too!, it’s quite unlike anything I’ve played before in its presentation, but in mechanics it’s almost like organizing a seating chart for an event. You’ll have certain goals you have to reach, such as getting the pub to level three or successfully refitting an old mill into a new whiskey distillery, and a limited amount of of space, buildings, and bricks to achieve these goals. For example, you might only have room for six total buildings, but only enough bricks to build two of them for now. By accomplishing mid-goals to earn some quick bricks, like getting the pub to level two first, you’ll earn enough bricks to see you through to the end goal.
As players complete goals, they’ll come to know the buildings and their thoughts, histories, and, of course, feelings. Some are hesitant to change and believe the neighborhood will be revitalized if they simply hold out on hope, while others are ready for not only a new purpose but new location, uprooting themselves for a better future somewhere else. The writing is charming and full of personality, each building feeling like someone we might know, like a kind motherly figure or a friend on the verge of a life-changing moment. When it comes to showcasing the notion that buildings have feelings, Buildings Have Feelings Too! definitely nailed the sentiment.
In all appearances, Buildings Have Feelings Too! is darling, daring, and downright original; there’s a lot to not only love, but want to love. Unfortunately, I felt something of a barrier to entry not only in terms of controls but how the game talked to the player. Too many times I’d learn information far past the point I needed to know, which is immediately obvious on the heels of the tutorial. I went from feeling competent to feeling confused in the span of 10 minutes, finding the solution to the issue explained later on via a YouTube video. Coupled with the strange controls that almost defy explanation (one Steam reviewer pointed out they all seem to reference each other), Buildings Have Feelings Too! requires more patience than its positively twee façade tacitly advertises.
I don’t want to disparage Buildings Have Feelings Too! too much because the developers are hard at work fixing some of the issues players and reviewers alike have run into — in fact, by the time of this review, they’ve already released two hotfixes in the span of three weeks. If the digital brick and mortars have charmed you and you love the idea of playing a city-builder that builds itself, I would absolutely keep your eye on this adorably innovative gem. Buildings Have Feelings Too! is not without its faults, but the concept is too good to ignore for long.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: Switch, PlayStation 4, XBox One, PC (reviewed); Publisher: Merge Games; Developer: Blackstaff Games; Players: 1; Released: April 22, 2021; MSRP: $19.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of Buildings Have Feelings, Too! provided by the publisher.