Developer: Ryan Becijos
Size: 228 MB
Platform: iPhone & iPad
This gentle city-building puzzler is a bit like a more considered, expansive, and creative Triple Town, but with a card-playing mechanic in place of that game’s match-three core. The idea is to place a succession of bucolic units – from sheep and pigs to wheat fields and houses – harmoniously into a randomly generated 9×9 grid.
Each unit type has its specific conditions under which it will thrive. Livestock likes to be grouped together and must be ring-fenced, for example, while trees tend to like proximity to water and houses need interconnecting roads.
Those aforementioned rivers and roads must be drawn in at key junctures during the level, lending further definition to your emerging community.
This steadily bubbling gumbo of components comes to the boil after a set amount of moves, at which point your efforts are awarded a single overall score. When you smash through the level’s pass mark, it’s hugely satisfying.
What makes the game so unlike most other puzzlers is that there’s ample room for free expression. You’ll find yourself second-guessing the placement of your winding river, not merely on functional grounds, but for its aesthetic value. This is helped by a gently tinkling soundtrack and simple-yet-appealingly soft visuals.
Square Valley isn’t a perfect game. It’s a game that relies heavily on its unit descriptions, so the fact that these aren’t always clear with their terminology is a bit of a problem, and places undue stress on each round. We’re still not exactly sure what constitutes an ‘area’ in this game’s parlance.
The randomly designated nature of each turn can also occasionally run to the game’s detriment. It’s hard to feel like a strategically advanced town planner when you’re unable to place that herd of cows where they would be the most advantageous.
Besides its well-structured campaign mode, Square Valley gives you a Sandbox Mode that lets you cut loose with the creativity, as well as a daily run mode.
All in all, it’s a quietly compelling combination of puzzler and city planning elements that gives you a refreshing amount of leeway in how you approach its gentle conundrums.