Wandering Village sets a city-building simulator about a creature resembling Miyazaki

Village building simulators usually open in a familiar way: They assign you to gather resources to craft and build buildings. This is why I told the villagers to harvest the branches of Onbu, yielding 30 stones. It seemed like a smart decision at the time, except for the small fact that I hadn’t read the fine print, and therefore didn’t realize it would make Onbu trust me less. We went to a rock begin.

In Wandering Village, you have to build a town that can survive the apocalypse. Groups of nomads attempt to cross a ravaged Earth with a toxic environment that can no longer sustain life. Your new home is Onbu, a primitive creature of Hayao Miyazaki that happens to have a large, habitable space on his back. As Onbu traverses the game’s world, you must adapt the village to environmental challenges while supporting the growing number of survivors. The game, now available in Steam Early Access on Windows PC, Mac and Linux, feels surprisingly polished – although it does have some obvious room for development.

City grid, showing different types of buildings in an illustrative style including farmhouses and water fountains.

Image: Stray Fawn Studio

Onbu is almost always on the move. As it trudges, it brings the village back through various biomes that affect farming and soil toxicity. Deserts reduce water production, and mountainous regions are cold, and crops are slow to grow. Poisonous air pockets cause Onbu’s soil to rot, killing plant life. It feels a lot like Timberborn or Don’t starve, where seasonal changes require players to adapt to survive. But in Wandering Village, the challenges don’t come in a regular seasonal clip. Instead, the player can see where Onbu is going through the underworld map and try to command the sluggish creature. It adds another layer of strategy that requires planning on an additional plane, unlike XCOM 2 or Wildermyth.

This means building a relationship with the Onbu, who won’t trust you at first…especially if you rip off its spikes. If you build a whistle-blowing facility, a villager might try to tell Onbu which way to take at the intersection: Please go towards the lawn and not the poison pit, Onbu! I think when I try and fail. Onbu’s reaction is determined by its trust in you. Onbu can agree to a call, but my Onbu likes to go the opposite way like a sulky child. You’ll also need to feed the giant creature, which means you’ll get to see a cute animation of a trebuchet tossing a food ball into its mouth. You’ll also need to find a place to sleep for the Onbu, otherwise it could end up sleeping in a bad place, like in the middle of a storm. Survive my butt.

A giant creature with a city on its back, sitting and yawning in a spoiled landscape.

Image: Stray Fawn Studio

Environmental changes are more forgiving than I expected. If Onbu heads into the desert, it’s simple enough to switch from turnips, which don’t tolerate heat, to corn, which thrives in high temperatures. It’s primarily a balancing act between village management and Onbu, and much of this is done through the game’s research trees. For example, you’ll want to research a decontamination facility to manage toxic land, but you’ll want to research an Onbu doctor to help the creature heal from its own poison. While this trade-off adds an extra layer of complexity, the game can add to its town management aspects, either through more options for reacting to changes in the biome or through Add more detail to the city building through flap style or automation options.

The final research tree reveals two approaches: Build trust with Onbu, or ruthlessly harvest and manipulate Onbu. In the current version the stakes are not high enough to do anything but live in peace with the massive creature that is your home. In Frostpunk, I don’t make my workers eat sawdust porridge because I’m a sick person (well, maybe a little); I do it because it eats sawdust or dies. I can’t imagine the act of gentle cruelty, if irrevocable, Onbu. The game also doesn’t rely on humor to cover up its gruesome actions like in Cult of the LambCute animals and funny animations, even in the case of ritual sacrifices.

Even in early access, Wandering Village is changing the familiar formula of city management simulation. I’m interested in seeing where they all land.

Wandering Village went into Steam Early Access on September 14 on Windows PC, Mac, and Linux. The game has been evaluated on Windows PC using a pre-release download code provided by Stray Fawn Studio. Vox Media has an affiliate partnership. These do not affect editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased through affiliate links. You can find Additional information on Polygon’s ethics policy can be found here.

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