Planetiles Review – Insert Ti(t)le Here

Squares are gaming’s most powerful shape. From pixels to blocks, from Tetris to Minecraft, they are responsible for the most pleasant brainworms in the medium. Seeing a new square-based game activates what is a seemingly endless, hidden supply of dopamine as if a forgotten square inside your brain awoke from a deep slumber. Yet only a few out of the thousands of games managed to prevail on the blocky podium. Is Planetiles one of them?

This cozy puzzler/city builder (planet builder?) certainly starts strong. The basic mechanics of mixing and matching the four different types of tiles are creatively rich, and the systems surrounding them appear to complement them well. Each session begins with setting down a single starting tile and then expanding with differently shaped ones to cover as wide a space as possible. Putting tiles of the same type next to one another or completing missions rewards you with points, which add more chunks that can be used for building when a certain goal is reached. If you run out of chunks or cannot place your current chunk anywhere, the game ends.

A screenshot of a typical game of Planetiles
Mixing and matching

To progress, the main goal must be completed. There are two kinds of these: making sure that there are few enough empty spots left by the time a game ends, or collecting enough points. Side-goals, which earn you ribbons, are only slightly more varied, typically requiring you to use certain modifiers, which are unlocked as you gain more points during levels, with a total of 21 levels to be reached.

There is a great sense of discovery to be found when starting with Planetiles. It gives you a bit of insight into its facility system—matching a certain structure, such as a tree surrounded by sand on a 3×3 grid, provides you with different types of powers—but the majority of these are up to the player to discover. This can be done in its sandbox mode, but only when they are built during missions will they show up on the left side of the screen as a reminder of what their arrangement looks like and what bonuses they contribute.

A tutorial describing how the structures function, in this case a village
The game introduces a few structures in the tutorial, but most are up to the player to discover

During gameplay they can be upgraded further, as upon reaching 500 points, a pop-up provides you with a choice of two different facilities that can be improved. This, however, always comes with a downside in the form of a natural disaster. Both can be slightly manipulated with the choice of modifiers, but, ultimately, it is always up to chance, making for a seemingly varied gameplay loop, with an admittedly pretty well-paced difficulty curve.

Yet the downfall of Planetiles is also its systems. Few hold up after the first few runs, as building space expands and I got to test the random generation more extensively, most noticeably the natural disasters. For example the volcano, an event that is supposed to spawn a 3×3 structure and destroy a few tiles at random, nearly always spawns far enough to cause no damage, it quickly becomes apparent that by filling a large spot in a distant location, it instead serves as a pure benefit.

A screenshot of the volcano natural disaster spewing out fireballs
The natural disasters prove to be a very underwhelming mechanic

The others can admittedly cause a good bit of damage. Flooding tiles make them unusable for structures, and adding a timer to placing your chunk is devastating on larger maps in the late game. But others are often similarly underwhelming. Instead, the main challenge comes from RNG. Waiting for the right shape of a chunk or the right kind of tile to appear can be grueling, and though there are ways of slightly manipulating it, Planetiles never feels strategic. It can, however, be frustrating, losing that coziness aspect it seems to be going for.

It also does not have the animation flair to back up the amount of restarts. Building structures never feels momentous, and the style can feel tired when the planets have little to differentiate them visually. Though a built-in photo mode is present, I never felt like my planets were picturesque enough to be worth photographing. The sound does the heavy lifting instead, with little distorted blurbs announcing disasters and the sound of tiles plopping into the water accompanying every placement, even if the soundtrack consists of ambient pieces that are nothing to write home about.

A screenshot showcasing a late-game map where the building areas are seperated in two
Only one level really spices things up, forcing the player to cleverly use the structures to complete the main goal

Planetiles feels like a stop-and-go kind of game, most enjoyable as something that you do not commit your full attention to. Some of its issues sort of go away if you play it with a podcast on and lose yourself to the cycle of repeating runs until every piece falls in place, or if you play it in shorter bursts, throwing a few pieces at a time while doing chores, which makes certain choices and bugs especially damaging.

Any crash or outside issue is completely devastating, as Planetiles does not save progress unless done so manually with the “take a break” button in the menu, which also quits the game. I only ever crashed once, but that is ultimately enough to lose a lot of progress on later, more difficult planets. This is nothing compared to the shattering bug where on the final, biggest planet, spinning to an empty part of it simply removes all placed tiles. This is not fixed by restarting the game, which can also result in the same bug, meaning that it has to be done all in one sitting, as you cannot save without quitting the game.

A screenshot of a zoomed out, mostly filled planet
No matter from what angle I look at it, Planetiles needs some work

Even overlooking issues that can be patched in the future, the more I played Planetiles, the more my interest in it diminished. I played around a bit with the sandbox and tried to go for all the extra objectives and achievements, but nothing felt satisfying after I unraveled all its mysteries, finishing my time with it at around eleven hours total. It just loses its luster sooner than I had hoped. Sadly, the lack of impact ultimately prevents it from reaching that coveted blocky podium, though it does not prevent it from being an enjoyable way of spending a good few hours.

Mateusz played Planetiles on PC with a review code.

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