Game Review: Devolver Digital’s Block’Hood is a building game with heart


City building games are always a balancing act of resource control and management. The goal is to build the biggest most beautiful city possible whilst working towards your citizens’ desires. Block’Hood ticks all of these boxes with an unexpected twist – this is a game with a conscience.

Block’Hood is developed and designed by Indie Game developer Jose Sanchez. The game is a blend of a city builder with a similar aesthetic to Minecraft, that provides you with over 200 different blocks that represent buildings, community spaces, and environments to build a society with. Different combinations of blocks bring different animals and people to live in your city. In addition to her career as a game developer, Jose Sanchez teaches at the USC’s School of Architecture. Her knowledge becomes apparent throughout the game, which has a subtext related to ecology and industry.

The game leaves it open for you to place most of the blocks from the start, but if you’re careless the blocks will decay if the environment isn’t sustainable. For example, if you want to have a clothing retail shop, you’ll need to produce pesticides to grow cotton, which will need to be spun into a bale, then the clothing needs to be made in a sweatshop. Everything comes at a deep cost to your city, as you’re always balancing your resources and finding positives in the negatives. It’s complicated at the start but I found the story mode worked as a really clear tutorial to teach me the basic mechanics and the message of the game.
There are several modes to choose from in the game, Story, Sandbox, Challenge and a Tutorial. I went straight for the story mode which I found to be a solid tutorial to get me building. The story follows the life of ‘Kiddo’ and his best friend ‘Parker’ the boar. Broken up into five chapters, the story breaks down the mechanics and sets you a variety of challenges to undertake.

The story is really affecting, as it explores ecological consciousness and industrialisation in a very arresting form. Being able to tell the narrative in this subjective form is a bold and dark move as an introduction. Despite this, the story is told with a great amount of charm and humour within the interactions between the main characters Kiddo and Parker. Their banter really sets a positive tone for the story even in its darker moments. As your feelings for the characters increase, the negative and positive environmental impacts hit even harder, as you struggle to create, break and restore their forest home.

The Challenge mode sets a variety of tasks which involve accumulating a certain resource with a limited toolset of space and blocks. The limited space sets a good challenge and teaches you about effective ways to use the toolkit. However, without the charm of the story, I found myself moving on to the sandbox only a few challenges in.

As you move into the sandbox mode the game really begins to define itself. You can set the scale and style you wish to play. You can play ecologically with the threat of decay as you must build a sustainable society, or you can choose to build without limits. I chose to build ecologically and was instantly overwhelmed by the potential of what could be done with my tool kit.

Because I had taken on the story mode before hand, I was well equipped to build a vast city in a pretty short period of time.  The needs of your people and animals encourage you to integrate and synergise different building types, this inspires you to make some interesting building choices. In my city, a lot of my farm land became integrated alongside the buildings to keep people happy. This creates interesting emergent gameplay as you have a lot of freedom to play trial and error on the combos you can form.

Having played the story mode, I entered the sandbox mode very hesitant about bringing in negative ecological factors. Progress proved slow without them, however, as I used them I found that their by-products could be balanced out into positives with the use of different cleaner energy outputs. As I entered my city, I started building more aggressively with all of this in mind and found it didn’t work as I thought. Patience and taking your time is the recommended approach as you build and learn with Block’Hood, something that sets it far apart from other city builders that always bait you forward with promises of unlocking shiny rewards or buildings. Block’Hood plays the same way it thinks.

With its variety of modes and gameplay options, Block’Hood makes a confident first impression, however, it comes with some issues that may irritate over time. The camera and placing block controls can become a little finicky as your city grows. As time goes on, and your city develops, you get in a real rhythm of balance that makes decay pretty difficult.

Neat and minimalist in its design and colour palette, Block’Hood is a very pretty game. The minimalism and blocky textures give it a timeless clean look which doesn’t need to try too hard and will ultimately help it age well. The games sound effects are light and unintrusive, and a lot like Minecraft, the score is classical, lulling you into a sense of relaxed creativity. The mix of its minimal visuals and classical score can make Block’Hood an almost meditative exercise.

While Block’Hood has many positive qualities, the scope for replayability will come down to how creative you want to get with the toolkit. With more blocks in development, and the modding communities open involvement, time will tell how replayable the game will be.
In eight hours of playtime Block’Hood took me through a lot for its small package. The ups and downs of the story mode left me feeling introspective as I entered the other games modes with its moral weighing heavily on me. Sandbox is where I really had fun, as I built a home for my people and Bear the Ostrich. The game’s themes and gameplay sit strongly together in a pretty effective package for an indie release. I’m definitely going to return to create one final masterpiece with an ostrich for every rooftop. I can’t wait to see how Sanchez pushes this game further, as Block’Hood gets updated with its upcoming modding feature and the community becomes more involved.

Block’Hood has just left Early Access on Steam. The game has received a new story mode and revamped aesthetic. Check out the trailer below:

Block’Hood retails for: A$16.99, $14.99,  £10.99,  €14.99,  pуб.349,  R$27.99

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Game Review: Devolver Digital’s Block’Hood is a building game with heart

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