A Ton of Bricks

HIGH Making the buildings happy.

LOW Trying to move the buildings around.

WTF Having to restart the whole game if one wants to redo a chapter.

As a child, I’ve always had a slight fixation on giving life to inanimate objects. Not in the Dr. Frankenstein-animating-corpses kind of way, but in the “caring about something that is an object” way. For example, I would be sad if lost a pen and would spend the entire day wondering if someone had found it and would take better care of it than I did.

(Yes, I was a weird and often lonely child, thanks for asking.)

Blackstaff Games’ title operates in the same vein, in that the main idea is giving life (and voice) to buildings that are trying to make better lives for themselves. The player steps in with the objective of improving several 2D neighborhoods by rearranging the buildings on a street to make each one optimally happy. Indeed, under the guise of a city management sim, Buildings Have Feelings Too! is actually a puzzle game.

In a title like this, the most important thing for a player to understand would be how the puzzles work, but this is where Buildings starts to fall short. The tutorial explanations are dry and brief, and never go into details that matter.

The core mechanic is that every building has an influence on others, either good or bad, depending on the type and placement. The factory will bring pollution which the residential buildings won’t like, so it will have to be placed away from homes. The pub needs customers, so it will need to be near an apartment building, and so on. Unfortunately, mistakes are not easily undone — it isn’t possible to cancel the wrong building and take back the resources spent if an error is made.

On a basic level, the tutorial explains how buildings influence one another, but then the player is left on their own to figure out everything else. For example, major details like how removing a business from a building will have negative consequences and no direct help is ever given if the player gets stuck, other than vague hints on which buildings need to be improved.

The concept itself is not difficult to understand, but buildings can be moved in order to change which ones influence the others, and I kept having to shift all my buildings around to find the perfect positions for each. After a while, the whole thing had turned into a ring-around-the-rosie situation — shifting a building would solve one problem but inevitably create another. Sure, juggling such things is part of the overall puzzle design, but I rarely felt like I was getting closer to a solution.

To add insult to injury, the controls are excessively clunky. One would think moving a building around on a 2D plane would be a simple affair, but using the joypad and buttons results in a frustrating experience because the buildings just won’t do what the player wants. To make matters worse, the in-game text is so painfully small that I had trouble reading it when in docked mode and displayed on a TV, and the smaller Switch screen was even worse!

Graphically, BHFT! looks pretty, with simple colors and a European vibe reminiscent of a style that might be used in an animated short — it doesn’t go overboard on the cuteness, but keeps things colorful and fresh. The visuals are where where it best succeeds, along with some witty commentary from the buildings.

In the end, as much as I tried to get into BHFT!, I soon found that my will to keep playing had evaporated. The text was too small, the controls were too clunky, and the mistakes too punitive. A patch or two could fix these issues and turn Buildings Have Feelings Too! into a quirky winner, but nothing has materialized so far. In light of this, I can only recommend it to puzzle lovers people who would be willing to overlook its issues. I might feel sympathetic to these poor, sad buildings in search of happiness, but not sympathetic enough to suffer through this.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Blackstaff Games and published by Merge Games. It is currently available on PC, PS, XB and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on Switch. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: The game is rated E by the ESRB, and it contains Alcohol Reference (one of the buildings is a pub, and there’s also a whiskey distillery.) That warning aside, I would definitely consider this a perfect game for all ages.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game does not feature spoken dialogue. Text cannot be altered or resized, and it is very small on the Switch.

Remappable Controls: There is no control diagram. The game is controlled with the analog sticks to move the buildings around, the A button to place them and the other buttons to open up the menu and making choices. The controls are not remappable.

Damiano Gerli

Damiano Gerli was born with a faithful Commodore 64 by his side. It taught him how to program basic adventure games and introduced him to new genres. Then, he fell in love with Sega -- while the Master System wasn't as powerful as the Genesis, it was where he played Sonic and Outrun.
Years later, he got the idea that he was the most Sega-knowledgeable person in the world, so he opened a website in 1997, The Genesis Temple.
He's a sucker for great stories in gaming, he loves adventure and indie titles, but he never shies away from action and triple-A RPGs.
Damiano's been writing about videogames for 20 years, with no plans to stop. Say hi to him on Twitter at @damgentemp, or on his blog https://genesistemple.com (now dedicated to the history of video game design).

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