The Wandering Village early access review: a gorgeous city-builder with a loveable colossusYes, you can pet them
I’ve always thought each of the sixteen colossi in Shadow Of The Colossus is kinda cute in their own special way. There’s just something about the animal-like antics of those immense, lumbering creatures that make them naturally adorable, even though they wouldn’t hesitate in breaking every single bone in my small, weak body.
Zürich-based developers Stray Fawn Studio totally get what I’m on about, and have created their own lovable rocky giant in their city-building sim The Wandering Village. Their creature, Onbu, is a colossal six-legged beast, and the walking platform on which your village sits, a plateau of flat land mass on its back making for an excellent settlement ground. Onbu is best described as a gentle giant. They move slowly but carefully, love to munch on fields of wild mushrooms, nap in meadows of soft pink flowers, and tuck in their paws and tail when sleeping.
Onbu is the best and I will do anything in my power to protect them, which is the entire point of The Wandering Village. You need to take care of your human settlement while also looking after your new giant dinosaur friend. Getting Onbu to trust you will take some time, but throughout my time with The Wandering Village, I was determined to make this magnificent, hulking monster love me back.
Starting a settlement on the back of a megasaur isn’t ideal, but the humans in The Wandering Village are desperate. Turns out, the planet is being slowly eroded by toxic spores that make living on the ground near impossible, so the only hope of survival is to hitch a ride on the back of a giant beast. It’s a cool idea for a city-builder, and as Onbu wanders across the planet you’ll encounter different biomes that force you to adapt to hazards (including regular run-ins with the deadly spores). A big part of The Wandering Village is how you plan and adapt to these changing environments, often on the fly.
The beginnings of my settlement started like any other city-builder, as my villagers first start chopping down trees for wood, gathering stones, and harvesting berries. I then built several shelters, a research centre to start unlocking new tech, a water collection system, a kitchen to feed hungry mouths - you know, all the usual bits and bobs. As you play, you’ll be savvily moving your workforce around and utilising them as best you can, and it’s made as simple as assigning workers to buildings using the plus and minus buttons - it’s all very intuitive. You can also prioritise tasks that need doing in a hurry, like quickly growing herbs to cure poisoned villagers. The delicate delegation of jobs with post-apocalyptic survival elements make The Wandering Village feel very Frostpunk but, you know, with less enforced child labour. Not that I ever did that. Haha. Ha.
It’s the same busywork we’ve seen in other city management sims, but it’s completely different vibe-wise. The buildings have a painterly look to them and are all super detailed, like how the doctor's hut has medicinal herbs hanging outside and how the kitchen bungalow has a spout with smoke coming out the top. Each building is a different shape and size, making them easy to identify, but they all also aesthetically match as a cohesive whole.
The music perfectly matches the visuals. Traditional instruments with heavy percussion underline the game's entire OST, and moments of intensity are accented by a powerful chorus of voices. There's also an impossibly deep didgeridoo that shakes your very core when played. Everything is so rich and colourful, and, compared with other city builders, that's honestly one of the best differences. But the biggest difference is, of course, Onbu, so let me tell you about my colossal BFF.
When you first meet Onbu they're sound asleep, giving you some preparation time to set up your village. But I'll never forget the first time he woke up. There was a low rumble and a loud yawning groan, and all of a sudden the background started to shake as they stood up and started slowly stomping forward. I’ve put a decent number of hours into the Wandering Village and the excitement of being on Onbu's back never goes away. Even when they got a little grumpy and started shaking their back - destroying a bunch of my village's buildings in the process - I couldn't bring myself to get angry. I mean, look at their goofy face!
In the beginning, Onbu doesn’t care too much about their new passengers, barely giving your village and its people much attention, but as you begin to earn their trust, you’re able to give them instructions and directions, which is vital for weathering upcoming hazards. Speaking in the most reductive of terms, looking after Onbu is kind of like maintaining a ship. It's something you need to maintain and then eventually use to navigate the world.
If you don't take care of Onbu, they can mostly look after themselves: eating when they want, sleeping when they want, and moving when they want. It's great that Onbu does what they like, but is it ideal when they decide to take a nap in the middle of a scorching desert? Not particularly, no. Unlocking parts of the tech tree lets you build devices and buildings to gain Onbu’s trust and also look after them. I unlocked a special kitchen to make them food, a trebuchet to launch food into their mouth (I repeat, a trebuchet), a hot air balloon to cure them poison when they're sick, and then also the option to pet them (a big thanks to the Kickstarter backers for that option). It’s a lot of work but the focus is to make village life easier while also making Onbu's life easier. It's a somewhat symbiotic relationship.
"Even when Onbu gets a little grumpy and shakes their back - destroying a bunch of my village's buildings in the process - I can’t bring myself to get angry"
When they started to trust me, I built a giant horn and begin to tactically use my instructions, like asking them to go in certain directions on the giant map. I also regularly asked them to sit before we enter a desert - so I can prepare supplies - and to run through toxic regions, making the spore's impact minimal. I say request, because sometimes they listen and sometimes they don’t, which, to anyone who doesn't own a cat, is something you're going to have to get used to.
The tech tree also has other more...uhhh ruthless options. I innocently unlocked and built a dung collector, in hopes of using the fertilizer as a way to make my crops grow faster. But I realised with pure horror that the way you collect it is by drilling into Onbu’s back which then lowers their trust in you. Distraught by my discovery, I destroyed the horrible creation and gave Onbu plenty of sorry pets. The tech tree also includes a contraption that can extract Onbu's blood as an ingredient to feed your villagers, and it not only lowers Onbu’s trust but their health too. Nu-uh. Nope. Not on my watch. Absolutely not.
I can't say it's not crossed my mind how appealing these options are. Weather disruptions cause food shortages, during which fertiliser could be incredibly useful. My villagers have lived off berry mush and beet soup for the entire time we’ve set up in some areas, and something more filling and hearty might boost their productivity. Those options are there if you’re focused on the best survival strategy. No one’s going to judge you, promise (you heartless monster).
Its city-building mechanics may feel familiar for many, but the setting, aesthetics, and the fact that you’re taking care of a giant colossus make The Wandering Village a top-tier management sim. There are definitely some heavy inspirations taken from Ghibli’s Nausicaä Of The Valley Of The Wind, but Onbu is a wholly unique creature of Stray Fawn’s brilliant design.
As someone who craves world-building, I would love to see some more lore and world intrigue through the use of your village's scavengers (a two-person team you can assign to leave the village to search for more resources). Your band of humans are pretty isolated on Onbu's back, so some snippets of how the rest of the world is doing would be a welcome addition. There are also some Kickstarter unlockables that I’m keen to see added, including flying trade merchants, bird taming, and a ruins biome. But for a game currently in early access, The Wandering Village is pretty much at its destination, and what a gorgeous and captivating destination it is.