Staxel has a severe case of the cuties. A voxel-based sandbox game made by Netherlander indie studio Plukit, the game revolves around an old run-down farm located in the outskirts of a rustic village where players can take care of their crops, animals, and build whatever they want, modifying the terrain at will.
At EGX Rezzed in London, I sat down for a hands-on session with its director, Bart van der Werf, who introduced me to the game and its premise. The indie title puts players in charge of an old farm close to a cute little village, where they can interact with NPC’s, develop relationships, and pursue quests. The game focuses on being a relaxing and customisable experience, so there are no enemies around. Animals can be fed, crops can be harvested, and buildings can be built; Staxel is a bit like Minecraft meets Stardew Valley, but better.
While Minecraft is an amazing game with a plethora of building choices, it suffers the same fate of most purely creative games: it has no real purpose besides that which you make for yourself. Staxel retains that freedom and building capabilities, while providing a context for the story: you’re a new arrival to the village who recently got possession of an old rundown farm nearby, and moved there. What you actually will do is up to you -- you can take care of the farm, move to the town, or tear the whole village apart, It is a sandbox game with few limitations.
My favorite part, however, comes from how cute everything is. The blocky Minecraft aesthetic is there, but everything is made extra cute by the way they are treated. Characters are charming and sweet, buildings are pretty little cottages, and everything from seeds to cows come in boxes -- you literally buy a Cow Crate, complete with a cow portrait, if you got no cows around but want some. It is phenomenally cute.
The gameplay and building system are interesting, forgoing the classic huge square blocks and giving players a bigger variety. The voxel mechanics are akin to Minecraft’s build freedom, but the game provides you with a sense of purpose that the Mojang game doesn’t really have; grass is just a small layer on top of the dirt, walls and fences are thin, and items like cupboards and toilets all exist in reasonable dimensions. Shops are all stocked with items arranged on proper shelves, and you build a display stand anywhere to store your tools. It is a bigger, more end-user fleshed out experience, and something dearly missed in a world of purely creative games like Space Engineers and Minecraft.
Staxel is due out via Steam and the Humble Store later this year, but can be bought right now at the developer’s website. Though it originally went through Steam Greenlight, it won’t be put through Steam’s Early Access; instead, Plukit is handling the versions directly and partnered with Humble Bundle to offer a “sprout edition” of Staxel for U$10. This edition is cheaper than the final version will be and gives access to the full game, including its current alpha and upcoming beta branches.
Over the half hour I spent with Staxel, I grew quite enamored with it. I’m a real sucker for cute things, and I loved the way the game presented itself -- especially the cows and their cow crates. I look forward to playing it more, and if you also enjoy creative games but struggle with their lack of purpose, Staxel just might be the game for you.