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Square Valley review - "Charming visuals and deeply strategic gameplay"

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Square Valley review - "Charming visuals and deeply strategic gameplay"

When you're tasked with the gargantuan responsibility of building lands for your citizens as the Spirit of the Valley, placing tiles willy-nilly just won't do. Square Valley not only offers welcome stress relief from the hustle and bustle of daily life, but it also gives you a bigger, grander purpose other than just randomly putting down tiles for the heck of it. You'll really have to embody the role of the Spirit of the Valley to make sure you tend to the needs of your people, but is this noble quest worth spending your precious time on?

Table of contents:

SQUARE VALLEY STORY AND VISUALS

I've always been a narrative-driven gamer, but I can totally understand how most entries in the puzzle genre often let the story fall by the wayside. After all, puzzlers are puzzlers, and the narrative isn't exactly the first thing that comes to mind when you're playing one.

This is exactly why when I come across puzzle games that put the same focus on the narrative as they do the gameplay mechanics, I appreciate the story even more. In Square Valley, you play as the Spirit of the Valley tasked with building lands for your people, and each new level reflects that purpose to give you an even bigger motivation beyond just hitting a high score.

That noble purpose is complemented perfectly by the game's lovely visuals. Everything is painted in soft and pressure-free colours, with artwork and a UI that's simply pleasing to the eye. All this goes hand-in-hand with the totally chill music serenading you in the background - each new level really does make you feel like you're this ethereal Spirit of the Valley come to grant your people solace.

SQUARE VALLEY GAMEPLAY

Of course, while looks are usually the first thing I notice in a game at a glance, appearances can be deceiving. Square Valley offers deep strategic thinking despite the low-key nature of the visuals, as each new tile that pops up on your board will have very specific requirements and characteristics. You'll need to pay attention not only to the descriptions of the tiles on your board but also to how each one interacts with the tiles around them.

For instance, certain tiles mustn't be allowed to touch specific edges like roads, rivers, walls and fences. Some tiles - such as livestock - must only be placed within enclosures, while others, like Old Oaks, are best placed when there are no other occupied tiles around. Sometimes, failing to fulfil these requirements simply won't give you any points; oftentimes, going against the required parameters deducts points from your overall score. That score is what will propel you to unlock the next level, so hitting that target is crucial to "winning" the game.

WHAT'S THE APPEAL?

As I went deeper and deeper into the levels, I found myself studying each tile thoroughly - I even caught myself planning my next few moves ahead of time by counting turns and estimating how long it would take me to get the tiles I needed. I also started planning certain areas of my board ahead of time just to make sure that everything is in place.

Of course, given the randomly generated tiles, it can be difficult to unleash your inner perfectionist here - placing tiles on the board is more a matter of fulfilling requirements rather than building a particular aesthetic. If you're aiming to prettify your board, it's not likely you'll get what you want and more likely you'll end up with a tiled mess just to hit the target score.

I suppose that's my main gripe with the game - that while I wanted to make sure my board looked pretty, it just didn't seem possible. It also felt a little contradictory that you're squeezing too much juice from your brain cells in what's supposedly a relaxing game. Thankfully, there's a chill sandbox mode where you can just build to your heart's delight - if nothing else, it's a great training ground for when you're ready to take on one of the 45 levels again.

While there are plenty of meditative titles on mobile out there these days, I appreciate how Square Valley does its best to put a creative spin on a tired genre. It might take a while for you to grasp how each tile works - descriptions can be lengthy, and you'll likely have to consult the glossary to understand terms like "clusters" and "areas" - but the city-building puzzler is pretty satisfying, and at just $1.99 a pop, it does feel like it's well worth the time and money.

Square Valley review - "Charming visuals and deeply strategic gameplay"

Square Valley is a city-building puzzle game with randomly generated elements, lovely visuals and relaxing background music. It might take a while for you to get a hang of the lengthy tile descriptions of the portrait game, but it's a great way to pass the time and indulge in a little brain training while you're at it.
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