Block'hood - Review

Block'hood is a neighbourhood building sim by Plethora-Project and published by Devolver Digital.  It was initially released to Steam on 11 May 2017 and has generally favourable reviews.  The premise of the game is that you want to celebrate biodiversity and build a unique ecosystem within your neighbourhoods.  As you may be able to gather from the name of the game, it uses a low-poly blocky visual style and has over 200 building blocks in your toolbox to build with.

Whilst playing you need to balance your neighbourhood, consider what blocks you are going to use and how these complement each other, optimise inputs and outputs to generate resources and avoid your blocks decaying.  Pretty much the standard fare for a city builder game.

 The game has 3 game modes with which to entertain yourself.  A story mode, where you work through a series of 5 levels, a challenge mode with 25 levels ranging from producing 100 fish and 100 vegetables, to building 40 housing units, and a sandbox mode.  The sandbox mode, like many games, is more of a custom game mode where you can set the dimensions of the world and whether the economy mechanics are in place.
Block'hood - Career level 1
This first thing that strikes me with the game are the visuals.  If you look at my other reviews, you'll know that I'm a sucker for low poly and pixel art graphical styles.  These models are, however, clearly pretty detailed.  From the wooden plank effect of the corridor tiles to the details of having individual items on the shelves of shops, the artwork is excellent.  The sound design is also pleasing with a nice relaxing ambient audio track playing.

When you start to play the story mode it feels very much like an on the rails experience, rather than a creative simulation game.  You are given a very specific instruction, with only the required tools and blocks available to you for building making this game mode feel a lot more like a tutorial than a campaign mode, despite the game also including a number of tutorials.  A nice touch with this story, however, is that you continue to develop the same small island, so some of the decisions you make whilst placing blocks will impact on your later levels.  In the second level, I did reach a point where the game asked me to do a specific task, however that did not then result in the game allowing me to progress.  I gave up on waiting for the game to advance after about 5 minutes and went rogue, building an additional corner store which seemed to do the trick.  Later in the level I also got to a point where I appeared to have hit a wall with the progression.

The gameplay arc didn't keep me engaged in the story mode.  I felt that the whole process was very slow and clunky, and it was taking me a lot longer to get through these levels than it probably should have, due to the high level of dialogue between the main character and a wild pig.  Added to the extraneous dialogue that frames are often dropped in the animations making them very slow and disjointed, and that the building system is a pain to work with, and it's just not an overly fun experience.
Block'hood - Building the first apartment in scenario 2
At this point, I decided to cut my losses with story mode and have a look at the others.  First up, challenge mode.  There are a total of 24 challenges for you to try your hand at, and these can be played in any order.  I decided, where better to start than the beginning?  So loaded up challenge 1in which I had to produce 250 units of water.  Again in the challenge mode I don't have access to anywhere near the 200+ blocks which the game boasts about on the store page description.  I also seemed to have an issue where blocks would all suddenly receive a damaged state resulting in requirement to delete these, but without any feedback of what the issue had been.

Finally I decided to have a shot at the sandbox mode, with the ecology settings enabled.  I went with the default settings which make a block which is a 10x10 square, with a height of 20 squares.  Finally, I have access to all of the blocks in the game to fully customise my neighbourhood.  When I got into the game I was immediately disappointed by the building space for the world.  The largest map size is tiny, and some of the mechanics just don't seem to make much sense (admittedly I had not played the tutorials at this point).  I decided to go back and do the tutorials at this point, only to confirm my suspicions about the story mode behaving like a tutorial, with a lot of information duplicated across the two modes.

As you can probably tell by now, I had a lot more negative experiences than positive experiences with this game.  I honestly wanted to like it, and tried hard to enjoy the game because I liked the concept of interdependent blocks promoting a unique ecosystem, and the graphical style is very much one that appeals to me.  Unfortunately, despite taking a few weeks away and coming back to the game at a later date I just can't enjoy it.  The pacing of the game is just not there for me and with the frame rate issues I was having (with very minimal graphics options available for tweaking to try and push a little more performance) I just can't say that this game is that great.  A quick look at the Steam forums also suggest that after a substantial silence of about 18 months, the developer dropped an update, promised a further update and then disappeared again and has apparently moved on to another update.     

Block'hood - Attempting to place an item in an invalid location with the expected red ghost image

Block'hood - Gorgeous night time lighting
/div> Block'hood is available to purchase on Steam for £10.00/€14.99/$14.99.

Block'hood - Review Block'hood - Review Reviewed by Parcival on May 11, 2020 Rating: 5

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