We are in an age where life simulations are everywhere. Hell, an indie like Stardew Valley managed to sell 10 million copies and still gets updates, while over 22 million copies of Animal Crossing: New Horizons have been sold in under six months. This means we get to see other developers explore with their own takes on the medium. Sean Young’s Littlewood is exactly that sort of game. It brings in elements from both Animal Crossing and Story of Seasons games, adding in a scenario that feels pulled from a Rune Factory, and pairs it all with an artistic direction that sometimes reminded me of Professor Layton’s London Life. As you might expect, it’s a delight.
Littlewood begins with an almost entirely blank slate, both in terms of the town and yourself. You’re a hero who helped save the world from a Dark Wizard, but also lost your memories and sense of self in the process. (You get to completely determine your identity and look, as well as personality.) You’re in a nearly empty town left behind after the final battle, almost alone. Two of your former companions, Willow and Dalton, are around too. Your new goal is to, well, make this town a better place, gradually commit to tasks that open up your world, and maybe remember your past.
It’s easy to see where Young draws inspiration from. Every townsperson can be befriended and romanced, even if they’re a bird or an orc. They can also follow alongside you to get you additional currency when you go through your daily activities or to help you achieve Personal Goals. You can farm if you find the right crops and trees and level up certain skills. Speaking of which, it’s like Rune Factory or Fantasy Life in that everything you do, be it things like farming, bug catching, woodcutting, or merchanting, levels up that skill and nets you rewards and access to new areas or chests. So you’re constantly improving yourself and your relationships with others.
In the same way, there’s a definite sense of city management too. Terraforming is available from the very start, unlike Animal Crossing: New Horizons locking it away until you’re ready. You need to craft materials to build homes, businesses, notable establishments, and decorations. People in town want the insides of their homes to look certain ways and to live near certain places. You also need to invest in certain businesses and towns to unlock new abilities and places to go. You can absolutely do whatever you want, and perhaps only temporarily give in to their desires to get the array of rewards before doing it your way.
But the thing is, Littlewood handles this all in a way that doesn’t feel as pressing or overwhelming as some of its contemporaries. Time advances based on your stamina, so you don’t have to worry about meeting certain deadlines. You run out of time when you’re ready. If you like hanging out with certain people more than others, you can invest in “wishes” at your office that reward you with more dewdrops, which are money, for having that specific person around. You can invest in one area or business typically without being walled off by another, though you definitely do have to spend a lot of time mining and woodcutting for the materials to keep building everything.
The result is yet another one of those games that works its way into your life in such a way that you find yourself sitting and playing for three hours straight when you only intended to for at most one. Littlewood is infectious and charming. It makes you think it is a simple game about leading a simpler life, which is absolutely true. But there’s a depth to it too, given how much you can do to improve and shape yourself and your town.