I was originally hoping that Snowtopia would quench my thirst for winter sports after my holiday plans were ruined for the last two skiing seasons now (first world problems I know!), but while running my own ski resort is certainly enjoyable and has a bright future, the game has a long way to go through Early Access.
Snowtopia doesn’t follow the traditional tycoon game norm. There’s no economy, so there’s no finance screens, no bank balance, no profit/loss counter in the bottom-hand corner of your screen. Your ski resort runs entirely on volunteers and everything you do is an attempt to grow, attracting more visitors as well as volunteers to work as lift operators, ski patrols and piste groomers.
You have the choice of a few maps, with the difficulty level based upon slightly different terrain and obstacles. Each map has 3 or 4 ‘Access Points’ which act as the heart of your resort where skiers will appear from. The tutorial does a good job of guiding you through building your first resort, starting with a builders’ lodge, placing your first lift and opening your first piste.
Building lifts and pistes is pretty intuitive, with simple click-and-drag mechanics. Overall there are 11 lifts which can be broken down into three types; drag lifts, chair lifts and gondolas. Drag lifts (or pomas) only transport one or two skiers up short, shallow slopes, while chairs and gondolas can be used to cover larger distances and up steeper parts of the mountain, while also carrying more visitors. By the late game, the map becomes a criss-cross of lifts to allow skiers to get from one side of the map to another, while also reaching the higher altitude parts of the mountain range.
Building pistes is probably the most satisfying aspect to the game. You choose from three widths, hopefully taking into account how popular you think each piste will eventually become. Building across the mountainous terrain, the steeper slopes will naturally be graded as higher difficulty slopes like red or black runs, while flatter runs, like greens and blues will be perfect for beginner skiers.
At the moment, my biggest issue is that there’s no way to edit a piste or lift once it has been placed. The only option you have is to destroy them in order to move or upgrade, though that’s hardly a concern when there’s no money involved. You can change the designated difficulty of a piste, but that won’t change the perceived difficulty of the piste by your visitors.
With a bunch of different skier profiles, you’ll need a variety of different runs in your resorts, with some slopes for beginners and some challenging black runs for thrill-seekers. Clicking on each skier brings up their profile, showing their experience and satisfaction rating. As you improve visitor satisfaction, the rate of volunteers joining your resort also increases, in turn allowing you to expand your resort with new pistes and lifts.
Skiers will want to see amenities around the ski area, like restaurants where they can get food, or shelters to provide some warmth. Safety also plays an important role, and you’ll want to ensure you have enough ski patrols on hand to help injured skiers, especially on difficult slopes. There’s a handy view that shows accident hotspots so you’ll know exactly where the best place is to build your ski patrol lodges, while another view can be useful to see where you may need a fast food stand or two to appease your hungry skiers.
Certain aspects of your resort, such as your ski lifts, can be unlocked and improved via the research station. The technology tree is split into three areas; lifts, maintenance and services. Research items for lifts include upgrades like longer and faster lifts, or allowing you to build on steeper gradients. There are also upgrades that reduce wear and tear, minimising down time. The maintenance upgrades relate to technologies like improved work speed or movement speed for your volunteer workers. Lastly, unlocking more services allows you to build restaurants, shelters and increase the appeal of your resort.
Partway through the research tree, you have the option to choose a specialisation. Currently, you have the choice between expanding your ski area either using lifts that can be longer and higher, or ones that increase speed and reliability. To be honest, it’s an odd choice to limit the player’s ability to use all of the lifts or upgrades in a single game, especially as it doesn’t materially change how you approach the map. It will be interesting to see how this mechanic evolves over time, and I’m also hoping for some quality of life improvements to the unintuitive layout of the research tree.
At its current stage in development, it’s obvious that Snowtopia needs a lot to achieve its full potential, but also that there’s a promising game here that isn’t afraid to do things differently. The lack of economy removes the restrictions that many tycoon games impose on the player through needing to grind and earn their way to the top, but at the same time it doesn’t quite give the player the same satisfaction as they would do expanding their resort as the game progresses. I’m sure that this will change as more features are added, but I found myself struggling to find things to do after just a few hours of playing in single map, and playing multiple maps has limited appeal.
That said, I found myself coming up with easily half a dozen ideas that could make the game shine, which is really encouraging and is exactly what Early Access should be about. For now, it may be hard to argue that the game offers value for money, but I’d certainly recommend the demo for those who are wishing they could take to the slopes.