Summerhouse – this dreamy pixel renovation game is the ideal escape

<span>‘Reliably melts away a day’s frustrations’ … Summerhouse.</span><span>Photograph: Friedemann/Future Friends Games</span>
‘Reliably melts away a day’s frustrations’ … Summerhouse.Photograph: Friedemann/Future Friends Games

Imagine an idyllic vacation. Where is your mind wandering? A Tolkienian pastoral glade? Maybe a terracotta cottage in a dusty desert? A lifetime of small-town living leaves me longing for a busy city apartment flanked by neon ads and wall gardens. Summerhouse is an intimate shoebox world that offers an outlet for such architectural fantasies, allowing players to meticulously craft lived-in spaces that match their vision of a perfect escape.

The antithesis of Grand Designs, Summerhouse is a game of indulgence – a pixellated playpen for the kitschy, quaint, grandiose, or obscure. You won’t need to consider a budget, or the foundations, or, god forbid, planning permission. Developer Friedemann’s hazy pixel world is your oyster.

Before donning your metaphorical hard hat, you’ll choose one of four lively spots, such as the base of a snow-capped mountain or the borders of a metropolis. On location, you’ll rifle through a Microsoft Paint-esque side menu containing windows, doors and decor.

Summerhouse’s wonderful ignorance of physical geometry leaves blueprints gathering dust on the pavement. White picket fences can line your tiled roof like medieval parapets, and vending machines can be repurposed into doors. The burden of choice that usually overwhelms me when I play a city-building game melted into quiet contemplation as I created a house made mostly out of postboxes in an arid valley.

Inspired placement of Summerhouse’s building blocks will occasionally reward you with a cute character cameo and new objects to flesh out your cosy concepts. But this isn’t something to work towards or plan for; rather, Summerhouse incubates your inner inventor, letting you stumble across progression. This approach suits the game’s warm, welcoming ambience, and once you’ve developed a thriving space, it can take on the form of a halcyon diorama, something to sit and admire, like David OReilly’s game Mountain.

With the touch of a button, crisp moonlit nights shift into fuzzy sun-kissed mornings. Other times, I preferred to kick off an atmospheric storm that reminded me of washed-out Queensland camping trips and summer BBQs gone wrong. You can inspect your mini kingdom in all of its states, as if living through an entire year’s worth of holidays. In its strongest moments, Summerhouse had me recontextualising my actual summer holiday memories: some of the homes I built were beautiful homages to my past, others twisted monsters of Escher-esque geometry, whose tortured abstraction I grew to love nonetheless.

Relaxing doesn’t come easy to me. I can’t sit still to save my life. Yet, with Summerhouse, I relished the quiet. I took my house building as an opportunity to sort through and rearrange my mental filing cabinet, keeping my hands busy while letting my mind wander. With only minimalist ambience and clicks to accompany you, Summerhouse reliably melts away a day’s frustrations, a contemplative addition to the cosy game cabal that’s slowly conquering my hard drive.