Every now and then, you will come across a video game which has been created using familiar ideas, but at the same time it uses them in new and fascinating ways. Blook’hood is one such game. Developed by Plethora-Project and published by the industry veterans at Devolver Digital, Block’hood is a modular neighbourhood-building simulator. The game consists of a number of purpose-built blocks which can be combined in order to create a thriving, interconnected world. Your goal is to manage the balance between inputs and outputs, such as water, power and fresh air, forming a thriving community both in nature and in your human settlements. And like all good stories, this one begins with a boy and a boar…
story in Block’hood isn’t its most shining feature, but it serves the purpose of getting you used to the game and teaches you a thing or two about the delicate harmony that you need to achieve in your ‘hoods. There are only five chapters, but they tell the story of a ‘hoods journey in time. You begin by creating your first home, ensuring it has the resources necessary for its residents to survive. The ‘hood expands from here over the next couple of missions, developing into a large, high-tech community filled with economic prosperity. By chapter four however, the pollution and damage of this industry has brought the human civilization to its knees. This is when the animal inhabitants of Block’hood take over, forming a new land in which they can flourish instead. It is at this point in the story that the true breadth of the game becomes clear. Block’hood isn’t just about building cities like any other game. You have to care for the natural environment too, as well as its inhabitants, or else the constructed world is doomed to fail and fall. Having learned this lesson, the fifth and final chapter focuses on rebuilding again, but this time maintaining this delicate equilibrium. Despite its short length and simple premises, Block’hood’s story teaches you everything you need to know to enjoy the game, and a few lessons about real life as well.
Beyond Block’hood’s story there are several ways to play and enjoy the game. For the creative mind looking to be let loose in the game’s extraordinary world, there is of course a Sandbox mode. This mode allows you to create the world as you imagine it, and produce bigger and better hoods than some of the simpler missions in the game will allow for. Naturally, the balance between elements is equally important here as it is in any other mode, but you gain the freedom of not being nudged into playing a certain way. For those looking for a more directed challenge however, there is a healthy number of challenges in Block’hood as well. These take the form of simple but testing missions which you can attempt to complete. This might involve producing a certain amount of resources, attracting a specific form of inhabitant or otherwise making your ‘hood flourish in some given shape or form. These are not story driven, however the knowledge of having an objective to work to certainly still helps the game to flow. Whether you want a focussed goal or the freedom to create then, Block’hood will have you covered.
Whichever way you decide to enjoy the game, Block’hood’s ideas make it something truly special. Many, if not all, city builder titles involve some level of balancing resources with the needs of the population, but none do it in quite the same way as Block’hood does. The natural side of the equation, for example, is often forgotten in other titles. The norm is that you are encouraged to build onwards and outwards until the end of time, whereas Block’hood reminds you of the importance of the natural worlds and the creatures within it. There is also an emphasis on building upwards rather than outwards, making the most of the available land, which is a very real-world issue. Speaking of real-world issues, the game’s focus on keeping your ‘hoods clean when it comes to energy and production holds an important message which nowadays should be all too relatable for us.
Despite conveying these complex ideas, Block’hood makes its gameplay as simple as possible for the gamer to enjoy. The modular design of the game is delightful to look at, with its small, intricate details and brightly coloured pallet. Each block serves a clear purpose, either as a direct input/output device or as part of a chain to create a more intricate, specific product. For example, a wind turbine directly outputs energy, whereas to make money from a product like clothing, you need every module from cotton farms to outlet stores in order to get from A to B. It is an intelligent setup, and although some elements of it are more in depth than others, it is not too difficult for the player to create and recall these production chains and watch their in-game wallets expand. Naturally, some of these long production chains are more polluting than others, but the game’s HUD helps you keep an eye on this. Detailed inspection tools allow you to keep track of every part of your hood with ease. Whether you need to know about resources, population needs/wants or a specific building’s productivity, the game makes it quick and easy to get this information up in front of you in a pinch. This is yet another example of how Block’hood takes some deep, intelligent concepts and makes them a simple as possible on the face of things, all to maximise the player’s enjoyment of the game.
Truly, Block’hood is delightful. It is an awesome little game and there are few flaws to speak of in its design. At the cost of only £6.99 (on the Steam store at the time of writing), it is well worth every penny. There are a couple of little niggles to note, as in any new release. The camera controls and angles of the game are sometimes less than ideal, which can sometimes make it difficult to get the view of the world that you want. The story is perhaps a little shorter than some might appreciate, and that is a shame given the meaningful messages that come out of it, but there is plenty more to do in the game beyond this anyway. Otherwise, my main gripe was the lack of 21:9 monitor support, but frankly this is common in many bigger games than this one, and ultimately it made little difference to my overall experience. For the few minor details which could be better, there a numerous little touches which do the game well as well. The ability to time lapse, for example, makes a huge difference to the pace and flow of the game with the simple addition of a single button on the UI. Others I have already mentioned throughout this review.
On the whole, Block’hood is easy for me to recommend. I believe that both city builder fans and the wider gaming community will get a lot out of this title, as it has truly been designed as a simple, open and inclusive game than can be accessed by anyone. More importantly, it puts a unique spin on its genre which pushes it outside of the norm. Simultaneously using complex ideas and presenting them in a clearly understandable and utilisable form, Block’hood gives you a lot of detail and makes it easy for you to play with it. If you have a small amount of pocket money to spare and want a new game to have a play with this week, I highly recommend you give Block’hood a whirl; it is truly a delight to play!