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  • Writer's pictureNate Hermanson

Steam Next Fest February 2023: Townseek makes commerce cozy and accessible

I grew up enchanted by the likes of Sid Meier's Pirates! games that have you soaring from port to port to trade resources and make friends (and enemies) as you go; gaining a higher and better reputation the more you trade with each faction; and becoming a master of commerce in the process.

But ever since that masterpiece, I've felt many of the games I've tried since are just... a bit much. More historically accurate, more deeply involved. Each was harder to embrace and less satisfying than Meier's quick pirate adventures.

For the first time in a long time, I've found a trading-first game that just feels easy to settle into: Townseek.

It's easy to understand and breezy to play. I'm certain you can get into the nitty gritty, but if you decide not to, Townseek still provides a satisfying and engaging experience — the kind I've been chasing after for years. And after nearly two hours chasing 100% completion in its Steam Next Fest demo, I'm ready to call it one of my biggest surprise games of 2023.

An in-game screenshot of Townseek depicts the basic shark blimp floating above the newly discovered town of Meowosville. Cardboard boxes and giant cat toy inspired buildings make up the town and the surrounding area is lush forests and greenery.

​Just the Facts

Developer: Whales and Games

Publisher: Super Rare Games

Platform(s): PC, More platforms TBA

Price: $19.99 (TBD)

Release Date: 2023

Preview key provided by Steam Next Fest.

Whales and Games bring us Townseek out of Portugal, just the latest in what is a robust library from their team after nine years of existence. Participation in Steam Next Fest brings with it an exciting new announcement for the team and game: a new publishing partner! Super Rare Games, who we've written about in the past for their excellent Super Rare Mixtape project, are bringing Townseek into the fold as one of their Super Rare Originals.

Super Rare previously featured Townseek's game jam release in one of their mixtapes and is bringing their special care and focus to its full release. Super Rare has been a publisher to watch, simply for how much work they put into their originals lineup, working on fun collectibles and Collector's Editions for their games. Whether or not they do that for Townseek remains to be seen, but it can only be good news for the game to have Super Rare involved.

Townseek is a half-exploration and half-trading game. Leaving port from your hometown of Sharkdwell, your journey begins. Your task is to explore the lands of this colorful world known as Explora, stop at new ports to buy and trade things, and get to know the fascinating residents and landmarks of this world. A bulk of this game was conceptualized in the middle of the pandemic, when the idea of traveling, meeting new people, and being able to appreciate new cultures hands-on felt further than ever.

Townseek takes that wanderlust and bottles it perfectly.

At each stop, you'll meet a Town Representative — a unique personality meant to represent that town's people. They deliver the game's main bit of storytelling, along with the old adventurer's journal you fill out as you play.

For example, Sharkdwell introduces you to Captain Jawline, a steampunk shark ship captain whose boisterous attitude helps to guide you through the game's opening mechanics. Burrowburg has Fluffyroll, a comforting bunny who evokes the generally snug vibe of the town, with things like warm jackets, wooly hats, and hugs being some of their primary exports.

At each town, you're able to trade, accept quests, and simply catch up with the town rep. The demo lets you experience a bit of everything, but not the conversation mechanic. But that's more than okay because there's lot to get into otherwise.

An in-game screenshot of Townseek shows the trading screen for the town of Sharkdwell. On the left is the player's inventory of items available to sell. In the middle is the town's inventory of items available to purchase. And on the right is the town representative, for Sharkdwell it is Captain Jawline. He is a steampunk inspired shark with a brown leather jacket. He says: "Got anything cool from ashore? I can't wait!"

Trading is all about capitalizing on the categories of items each town is looking for. Sharkdwell seeks clothes, food, and souvenirs. The literally slimy Driplands is looking for entertainment, valuables, and souvenirs. Buy their goods at low prices, resell them somewhere else where demand is high, restock at the new port, and repeat. Luckily, there seems to be no matter of limited inventory space, so there's no stress in deciding what to keep and what to shuttle off.

Quests add a little variety, asking you to partake in one of the game's ancillary systems, buy and sell specific items, or shuttle tourists to one of the region's landmarks. Quests reward you with hard cash and reputation points. Your reputation in a town will unlock new tiers of items to purchase, including upgrades for your ship and unique tools that give you even more to do.

Once you start gathering up tools, you'll unlock some fun distractions in between the constant ebb and flow of going from port to port to trade, in the form of fishing, farming, and mining. Each activity comes with unique resources that are necessary for quests and provide a new source of valuables to hawk at each port (fish sell really well in the cat-focused Meowosville). They satisfyingly add to the checklist of things to do when you return to a certain area. "Okay, I'm near the Driplands. I know there are mining and fishing spots nearby; let's knock that all out while I'm here and then sell the bounty at the next town."

Townseek hits the three As. Accessible, approachable, addictive. Every aspect of its gameplay loop is easy to understand. Every system is easy to work within. And reaching your goals and filling your collection of resources and items is a thrill for all those completionists out there looking for another game to 100%.

You'll unlock more of the map as you progress, introducing new regions, types of currency to accumulate, and mechanics slowly unfurling. It keeps you hooked. Even in a demo whose main content could take as little as 30 minutes to complete, Townseek has perfect pace. I mean... there's a reason I nearly tripled my time in the demo and nearly broke the two-hour mark. I was bundled up nicely in Townseek's warm embrace and I didn't want to leave.

An in-game screenshot depicts Townseek's fishing mechanic. The player's blimp floats above a few distinct fishing spots. Little details dot the waters, like ducks swimming along, bits of coral poking out, and a beluga whale with sunglasses poking out of the water.

And to complete the cozy, comforting package that is Townseek, there's its adorable hand-drawn visual style. The main visual touchpoint is Explora's dense and detailed world map. As you fly past the landscapes in your customizable airship (its purchasable parts include a handful of references to other indie classics), there are tons of little quirks and fun details to catch across the landscapes of Explora.

Picnic blankets laid out in the orange-toned land around a beehive colony. Dancing deer hidden amidst the trees just outside the town of Lawride. A sunbathing starfish sporting sunglasses on the shores of Meowosville. And screaming red pandas who've settled around Burrowburg... to scream.

Townseek hits the three As. Accessible, approachable, addictive. Every aspect of its gameplay loop is easy to understand. Every system is easy to work within. And reaching your goals and filling your collection of resources and items is a thrill for all those completionists out there looking for another game to 100%.

It reminds me of something like... an interactive version of that race car playmat so many kids grow up with or a classic Waldo-esque hidden object book. Your imagination fills in the blanks of what it's like to live in this land and tries to catch some silly detail hidden amidst the cluttered landscape. A lot of the game is inherently about going back and forth across a lot of the same stretches of land. These little things you'll catch keep the world fresh. "Oh, I never noticed that tiny golf course on the edge of the bee colony."

The more detailed art, like the character portraits for each Town Rep and the mix-and-match pieces of the airship, keep the game's distinctive use of color and style at the forefront too. I love the theming of each region and how it carries through the world map, the town rep, and even its unique resources.

Add in a light soundtrack of fluttery piano keys and woodwinds and a genius bit of sound design that adds beeps and boops and blops of varying pitch and tone to nearly everything you interact with in the game's interface and you'll find it easy to just get lost in the sauce.

An in-game screenshot of Townseek depicts a vibrant orange landscape, with beautiful orange trees and bits of honey scattered about the ground. The player's blimp is a giant bunny and the body of the ship is a hot dog. A ghost follows along behind the ship. It's all adorable. around the Beehive Colony.

Townseek has a lot going for it. They've found a way to smush together concepts from games that are usually overcomplicated and drab into a bright, colorful, and approachable package. They've got a new publisher to help keep their game dev airship afloat on the way to release. And they've got one hell of a demo to whet your appetite during Steam Next Fest.

Give Townseek a shot and see if you can get past the 97% completion mark I managed. And then meet me outside Whales and Games office to start the line where we wait for it to come out.

The key art for Townseek depicts a shark blimped airship flying through a sunset orange sky toward a giant cat building. A loch ness inspired monster swims along and multiple parachuted resource boxes fly past. The game's logo sits in the foreground, with the T in Townseek stylistically replaced by a compass's arrows.

Keep up with our week of Steam Next Fest coverage right here on Video Games are Good and then once you're done reading... try the demos yourself and consider wishlisting the games we've written about. Wishlisting goes a long way toward supporting indie developers!


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