Summerhouse Is A Dream Vacation I Never Want To Come Back From

I want to go to there.

As soon as the opening splash screen appeared, accompanied by a calmly-spoken introduction from creator Friedemann, I knew I was in for a treat with Summerhouse. Not so much a game as an interactive curiosity, it’s been my break from the crushing cruelty of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth’s hard mode and the digital crack of Balatro over the past few days and I’m genuinely delighted that it exists.

Summerhouse doesn’t take much explaining. It’s a window into a tiny, pixelated world where you’re presented with a picturesque canvas and an assortment of blocks to construct quaint buildings in a completely objective-free environment. With nothing but enchanting, lo-fi backdrops and shallow plane to work on, it’s a soothing and serene digital building toy where the vibes are immaculate.

It’s also a tiny thing, and by design. The selection of building blocks and objects is somewhat limited and it’s mechanically simple, which keeps things small and focused. I’d even be tempted to call it cosy. It’s a distraction, a 15-minute stay in a meditative microcosm between gruelling bouts at the desk where all pressure is off and choice paralysis is checked at the door. The less-is-more philosophy really is key here, though I’d happily welcome further updates as a reason to keep coming back.

Though there are only four environments, there’s a fair amount of real estate to work with in each, with plenty of room to scroll horizontally to find the perfect plot, a good amount of height and the ability to change the depth of your placed blocks by a few notches forward or back. The great thing is that perspective can be used to hide certain details or properties of blocks to allow you to sort of repurpose different pieces for the final effect, if you’re the type to want to get super creative and show off your work. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out if there’s a way to hide the UI overlay in order to get nice screenshots or videos, but if there really isn’t I’d love to see that implemented down the track.

RELATED:  Broken Roads Review – Cactus

The whole experience shines when you start to focus less on the completed picture and more on the journey there. Like the communities humanity has built itself, there are stories in every piece and every process, and the way things evolve and take shape means just as much as how they end up.

As you build, you may set out to paint yourself a digital dream home and go at it with a purpose, or you could simply wing it and start to create little stories around each new idea you throw in – that differently-coloured window might be from an incident involving an errant football, or there could be a late addition to a home that stems from an eccentric relative taking up residence following a messy divorce. By handing users such a simple set of tools and a satisfying but not overly generous assortment of pieces it really allows creativity and imagination to flourish and fill in the gaps.

There are some hidden secrets and unlockables to find should you need just that little bit more incentive, too. At one point I was building what I’d told myself was a set of duplex units, where one showed visible signs of its occupant having disappeared or passed, only for a block placement to spawn a dog sitting alone on a set of steps by the front door, instantly breaking my heart but really driving home that sense of emergent, personal storytelling.

In case it wasn’t obvious from the screenshots of a few of my poorly-designed abodes and one of Friedemann’s own very pleasing creations, Summerhouse is also a stunning game to look at. It’s barely taxing on even my modest (read: decrepit) rig and its lo-fi shading techniques hide surprisingly detailed scenes packed with life and motion. I’d happily have this going as a screensaver if the danger didn’t exist of spending hours at my desk just getting lost in it all.

It’s also less than the price of some Melbourne coffees, so grab it right here.