Developer: Sean Young
Genre: Simulation, RPG
Platform: Nintendo Switch (Also available on Steam)
Age Rating: E for Everyone
Release Date: 25/02/2021 (NA)
A code was provided for review purposes.
No matter what type of gamer you are, whether you live and breathe video games or pick up a mobile game every now and again, life simulations seem to appeal to just about everyone. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is certainly proof of this, people who don’t usually play games are desperate to find a Switch which have shot up in demand during the pandemic. They’re relaxing, and don’t require a lot of skill or concentration. They’re the type of games you can play in chunks whenever you choose, during a lunch break or in bed late at night.
Games such as Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons, Stardew Valley and of course Animal Crossing are highly popular within the gaming community. As a fan, Littlewood‘s whole aesthetic immediately reminded me of these big titles, and I was eager to get stuck in. Sure, it looked and sounded like them, but could it really be as good as these huge hits?
Well, I am overjoyed to say that Littlewood fits into that roster among the greats! But why, you ask? Let’s delve in.
The Hero of Solemn
You begin the game waking up and walking out of your house to be greeted by your friends, hailing you as the Hero of Solemn. They are so glad you’re alive and okay! The only problem is, you have no recollection of who you are, or the memories you had with them. You certainly don’t remember a battle with a Dark Wizard.
Determined to help you, your friends let you name your newfound home. Across each day, you will slowly rebuild your home from a weed-ridden patch of land to a bustling village. Townsfolk will come to visit and eventually ask you to build them a home. Everyone seems to know you, the famous Hero! But what happened?
The story is certainly intriguing and kept me wanting to play to find out more. However, it is drip fed slowly around your days of farming, crafting and exploring. It takes a back seat, with the main focus on gameplay. But, this combination works extremely well and establishes the chilled feeling you should experience while playing. Every few days, you’ll see a mini cut scene which reveals more about the past and characters, as well as meet new people. Essentially, it is your grinding and time on the game that unravels the story.
The Daily Grind
The style of gameplay is not dissimilar from Harvest Moon or Stardew Valley. Growing crops, keeping farm animals, gathering materials and building will take up a lot of your time. You establish daily tasks, and develop goals in mind. The control scheme on Switch is also simple and easy to remember, the majority of the time using the left joystick and A to perform an action.
However there were certain features that stood out for me, one being how time passes. Most life sims like the aforementioned have their own in game-time, or they run in real-time. But Littlewood goes off the amount of energy you use. Your energy bar is at the top of the screen under the date, and as soon as you approach the end it turns to night. Be careful not to fill the bar to the very end though, as you fall asleep on the spot and wake up the next day less energetic!
This was interesting as it ultimately meant that you controlled the day. Doing actions such as fishing or chopping trees would use your energy, hence doing lots of activities would drain it and end the day faster. On the one hand, it meant you had the option to complete a day as quickly or slowly as you wanted, not having to worry about time slipping by. On the other, it could be over as quickly as you started after doing few tasks, without being able to replenish your energy. I’m still on the fence about this choice, as it has its pros and cons.
Hard Work Rewarded
Luckily, the more you play, the higher your levels will go. Gaining XP will come naturally as you do your tasks, but you can grind out a certain skill such as farming by focusing on that. Becoming a higher level opens up new possibilities, such as using less energy or unlocking areas. Needing level 30 bug-catching for example to unveil an activity by a spooky-looking tree outside the Great Library is giving me something to work towards.
There are so many incentives to keep playing, the biggest for me being unlocking new and exciting places by upgrading my air balloon platform and crafting items to make my town look beautiful! On the surface, it may seem repetitive. However, you are given the freedom to do what you like. Want that new townsfolk to move in? Gather the materials to build their house. Looking to buy a cute dog or cat for 9000 Dewdrops? Keep upgrading Port City Deluca and earning that dollar to get a furry friend (I promise I’m not obsessed with virtual animals…).
Every person can play it differently, which is what makes it so enjoyable. Without sounding creepy, it’s fun to have that choice and power almost. It’s not linear, though you are subtly lead through the story and recovering your memories.
Instantly the art style of Littlewood reminded me of the original Pokemon and Zelda games, where there’s an almost top-down view of the layers of terrain, and sprite characters. I absolutely love sprite work, as it’s so simple yet you have to be so talented to create a character in such little space! It’s cute and fits in with the relaxing and wholesome atmosphere.
You can tell a whole lot of work has been put into designing each asset, from the farm animals, to the crops and to the collectables. The colours are bright and refreshing, and each area has a different colour palette, which erases any notion of repetition. I particularly liked the Dust Caverns’ purple and blue shades, much different from the green grass of home. It made each place established with its own atmosphere. This was the same case with the music, which changed from day to night, and from place to place. The instrumental tracks were unique; I never found them too repetitive or annoying, instead becoming one with the gameplay to enhance the chilled experience.
This can also be said for the characters; next to the dialogue were more advanced pixel versions of their sprites. This meant a way to show their facial expressions, expanding on their personalities. Each character really stands out from the other. Bubsy, a bird-like character, is vain and pretentious, whereas Dalton is child-like and loyal! It made me even more eager to meet everyone and see what kind of person they were. Developing your relationship with them could lead you to romance, and wedding bells…
So Much to Do, So Much to See
I have played Littlewood for over 10 hours, and it shows no signs of reaching an end point soon. I still have two areas left to unlock, one more townsfolk to meet, and a variety of decor items to buy or build. That’s not to mention the different types of crops, upgrading each building, designing my town how I want it to look, choosing my partner…I would be here all day if I listed the number of things you can do, and I’ve already gushed enough!
What can be said though is that there are hours and hours of gameplay on offer, for not a bad price at all. It will keep you coming back for a long time, and I found it extremely addicting. I kept saying to myself okay, just one more day, then the next moment I’d be three hours deep! Looking up everyone’s amazing towns is also my encouragement to make mine neat and pretty.
One more thing I have to include is that there is also a Tarott Monster mini-game; find the cards scattered throughout the world and take part in card-duelling. Each card has a monster with its own element and properties, said to be trapped there when you defeated the Dark Wizard. Take down your opponent’s health points to win and buy prizes!
Not Just a Clone
Though at first Littlewood appears to be similar to other life simulations, it is a fantastic game in its own right which stands out from the rest. I never got bored with the gameplay as there’s so much to do, though those who don’t like to grind may want to stay clear. I adored the characters who were all well developed, and the visuals are inspiring! Performance was perfect and the loading screens were almost instant. The only small glitch I had was I couldn’t exit the Town Hall after getting off the chair, as I was half a square out from where I should have been. This never happened again though!
The subtle story mixes so well with the grindy gameplay, and you’ll find yourself sitting there for hours until the Tetris Effect takes place…or is that just me playing too much? Either way, it’s a game that will hold my attention for a long time and I haven’t felt addicted to a title like this in quite a while. As mentioned, I’m still not quite sure how I feel about the time passage in connection to energy. However, it wasn’t enough to make me not enjoy the game in any way.
If you’re a fan of Harvest Moon, Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing, I have no doubt that you will love Littlewood. But these comparisons don’t do justice to a game that easily fits in amongst them with its own individuality. You can tell so much work has gone into it and it pays off. I am so excited to play more and see it rightfully take the life sim fans by storm when it releases everywhere!