Summerhouse Review – Give My Head a Holiday

We all have that place in the world that we call our happy place. The one place in the world that when we drift off into a daydream, we end up picturing.

Whether that be standing on the sand as the waves roll in before us, or lying in a countryside meadow as a kaleidoscope of butterflies fly above head. This place will always look a little different for everyone, but the general feeling this place gives tends to be the same. Nostalgia, serenity, and a wave of calm.

Summerhouse is a game that takes this feeling that our summer haunts instill in us, and tries to bottle it up in gaming form, to provide a construction sandbox where you can build a pocket-sized summer getaway.

It’s a game where the only limit to the possibilities is your imagination, but equally, it’s a game where milage may vary, as the simplicity and lack of clear goals may make this one you bounce off pretty quickly.

But when all is said and done, is Summerhouse a mental vacation that you need to take yourself on? Well, you can find out in Indie Game Culture’s Summerhouse Review, Conducted on PC.

Pixel Paradise

Firstly, let’s talk aesthetics, because that’s honestly the main selling point of this game due to the fact that the gameplay is so simple in nature. Summerhouse is a game that uses cute pixel visuals, and offers a series of assets that you can place in up to four quaint and tranquil backdrops to create serene scenes that you would just love to pack a bag and jet off to.

Summerhouse game artwork

When it comes to pixel cozy game aesthetics, it’s a well that has been regularly tapped, and as such, we have seen pretty much all there is to see when it comes to this approach.

However, doing pixel art well can still reap rewards, and credit where it’s due; Summerhouse really nails this artistic approach, not only offering a variety of assets to use as you wish, but the one-man developer has taken the time to animate each asset, making each scene you create feel more and more alive with each new addition.

This is then combined with suitable ambient noise, like birds chirping in the sunshine, or lashings of rain in a downpour, and you also have a calming lo-fi selection playing as you create as well.

Thanks to the intuitive UI allowing you to place items at custom depths, and the freedom to do whatever you like with the assets on hand, the curated options come together beautifully, and even if you don’t have an eye for design, which I would say I do not, you can still create some eye-catching locales without too much effort.

Summerhouse does an amazing job of capturing this sleepy vacation home vibe through its design, but if I were going to lay any criticism at its door, it would be that after two or three builds, you begin to see the lack of variety in the options available, and this is probably the point that you will bounce off this one, because it’s at this point that you realize that Summerhouse is more of an idle experience than an actual game.

One Game Please, Hold The Game

As mentioned, Summerhouse is a game without a lot of the staples that warrant that label. It’s a sandbox that will do more than enough to warrant playing around with and experimenting with, that’s for sure. However, whether there is enough here to make this a worthwhile venture for those looking for substance is another matter.

Summerhouse gameplay

Gameplay in Summerhouse is pretty bare-bones. You don’t really have any goals, quests or gameplay loops to engage with. What you have is a series of assets, and a handful of maps to place them and create idyllic holiday hotspots on a whim.

This is done by hovering over the spot where you want to place your item, adapting the depth and rotation if needed, and then clicking to add it to the world. It’s essentially like vacation home LEGO, and as much as we all love LEGO, even they built full-fledged and multi-faceted games around their world-renowned product.

What this means is that, when you’ve built your first Summer Home, played around with all the items available, and explored the different maps, you have pretty much seen it all.

Summerhouse goals

There technically is a progression system where, if you use or combine certain items within the game, you’ll unlock new blocks with wildlife and people to make your custom maps feel more alive, but it’s hardly ample reason to keep playing this game for hours on end.

If you’re someone that can squeeze more life out of a sandbox game by creating goals internally, or dreaming up unwritten narratives for yourself to keep entertained, then you may get a little more out of Summerhouse than I did, but after an hour or two, I felt I had seen all I had to see, and unless I am in need of some mindless meditation in gaming form, I can’t see myself jumping back in.

Some Quality of Life Hang-ups

So now that we have established that it’s a game that is perhaps a little style over substance and relies heavily on its easy-to-grasp construction mechanics, we need to talk about some minor fixes that I hope the game will make later down the line.

Summerhouse assets menu

Firstly, in the assets menu, if you want to scroll through the options, you just have to scroll through at a snail’s pace, like trying to get through a terms and conditions section to mindlessly agree, and I just wish there was a little sidebar to make it a quicker, more streamlined process.

Then secondly, it would have been nice to have an option to scale the items on screen. Whether that be to make a tree bigger, a pole longer, or whatever it may be. You simply need to accept that the assets are the size they are, and unless this was a technical limitation, I just don’t why this wasn’t an option, as it would allow for more creative builds.

Then, thirdly, another basic feature that seems to be a strange omission is the fact that players cannot change the color of assets either, and while I could have accepted this for smaller, more defined items, the option to paint walls, roofs, and structures would have been a welcome addition.

Close Alternatives

If you want a casual builder much like Summerhouse, or something casual and not to far removed from this one, then you might want to check out this selection of games below:

Pros

  • Cute and competent pixel visuals
  • Serene locations, with soothing ambient sound
  • A sandbox feel where the only limiting factor is your imagination

Cons

  • Would have expected more unique assets to play around with
  • Some Quality of Life Issues
  • Lacks any sort of gameplay loop

The Verdict: 6/10

Overall, I have to say that despite the fact that the gameplay that makes this game a game is pretty much non-existent, I came away from Summerhouse having had a pretty pleasant experience.

Being given the tools to create a Summer Vacation spot in my own image was a very cathartic and relaxing venture, and thanks to the cute visuals, calming background music, and soothing ambient sound, it really felt like, for those couple of hours, I sat down with this one, that I had actually taken myself on a little mental holiday.

It’s not one that will keep you coming back for more, and it perhaps lacks the polish of stronger casual builders like Townscapers or Dorfromantik, for example. However, considering this is from a solo developer, and it’s cheap as chips to grab on Steam, I would say that this one is worth giving a bash anyway.

Summerhouse, when all is said and done, is kind of like Summer Holidays that it is inspired by. Relaxing, re-energising, but ultimately over way too soon.

As always, thank you for reading Indie Game Culture.

Play Log

Callum played this one for roughly 2 hours and, within that time, had seen everything that there was to see. However, he can definitely see himself returning whenever he needs some mindless meditation in the form of Summerhouse crafting in the future.

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