Visit Camp Canyonwood, where there are absolutely no ghosts, aliens, or government agents. Honest.
Camp Canyonwood is quite hard to define. It’s part tycoon game, part character management, and part ghost story all mixed together with a touch of Animal Crossing and a dash of Don’t Starve. Taking place in a summer camp for birds, this Early Access release shows great potential to tap into a rather unexplored combination of genres with a unique theme.
You play as a newly appointed camp councillor for the titular Camp Canyonwood, a down on its luck summer camp, the likes of which you’ve probably seen in countless American movies and TV series. Your appointment has a few question marks over it, as it seems the previous holder of the role vanished all of a sudden. Regardless, you’ll be responsible for groups of youngsters over the course of each summer. They’ll need to be fed, entertained, and protected, all whilst ensuring they earn their badges so their parents feel the trip was worthwhile. Of course, you might want to find out what happened to your predecessor in between all this.
Before going any further, I should preface this by pointing out that this is a very early version of the game. There’s not a huge amount here right now, but there’s great potential for a very engaging game once all the promised features are included. For now, Camp Canyonwood is a little bare bones, but considering how well done developer Deli Interactive’s previous release We Need to Go Deeper was, I’ve high hopes for the development of this.
After a short tutorial, you’ll be introduced to your first group of campers, each of whom has their own interests and quirks. Over the course of seven days, they’ll want to earn badges by completing lots of different activities multiple times. You’ll take them out into the wilderness to fish, chop wood, catch bugs, and other wholesome summer activities. As the kids do these activities, they’ll begin to earn badges, which is one of your own goals too.
The more badges the campers earn, the more money you earn at the end of summer which is then used to improve the campsite. You’ll go from simple tents, to cabins, as well as being able to afford more equipment for the campers to use, meaning quicker badge progression. That Animal Crossing feel comes in here too, as there are a lot of decorative items you can acquire to make the area look that much more appealing if you’re into that side of things.
Those Animal Crossing parallels don’t end there though, as the only way to increase the products the vendors have on offer is to complete gathering tasks for them. This is where you need to start being really efficient. Those kids need their badges, and you need a pile of wooden logs, so perhaps you’ll want to spend the day having them chop down trees. It’s a nice mechanic that ties the two elements of the game together, and if these were the only elements to manage things would be quite simple and relaxing.
But you’re looking after kids, remember, and if you have ever had to manage children you’ll know that herding cats is a simpler life. These children will get bored quickly if you keep having them do the same thing. They’ll get tired, nag about being hungry, and wander off at a moment’s notice. Having a plan of what things to do throughout the day is a smart way of playing, and you’ll want to pay attention to what the kids like, as well as having food and plasters on hand. If the kids get too bored, hungry, or injured, they’ll tell their parents and you’ll end up not getting paid at all. You’ll need to think about how to manage all these things to ensure no one gets hurt. It’s a lot like being a real parent I suppose.
Now, how about that spooky theme? As of right now, there isn’t a huge amount to this, but the initial elements are there. From spooky dreams featuring a cryptic jackalope, to finding out what actually happened to your predecessor, you’ll realise there’s a fair bit going on here behind the scenes. There are government agents blocking access to areas, a crazed conspiracy theorist hiding out in a camper van telling you all about aliens, and even ghosts to spot at night. Honestly, a lot of the most interesting things happen at night, but you’re putting the kids at risk of bear attacks in chase elements akin to Don’t Starve.
Camp Canyonwood is made up of all these risk/reward balancing acts. Want to find something interesting going on? You’ll need to put those kids at risk. Interested in completing those quests? Best put the kids to work and hope they don’t get bored and wander off into a bee’s nest. It’s all interesting enough as it stands.
With that said, at the moment these things can get a little repetitive. There isn’t a huge amount of mystery that can actually be pursued in the current build, and there are only a few activities that can be completed with the kids. Those gathering quests can take a long time to complete too. Finding dozens of dandelions to gain access to the next tier of accommodation was beyond tedious after finding just a few across the whole map.
This is Early Access though, and Camp Canyonwood has a good groundwork to begin with. The current release is an alpha build, but the lovely art style and music already seem to be exactly where they need to be. The next steps will be adding content and polishing up the mechanics. Yes, there are bugs, like a choppy framerate and getting stuck in places you can’t escape from. I’m expecting all this to be cleaned up over the coming months. The developers expect this to be in Early Access for a year, during which time they’ll add more environments, activities, and story elements. It will be interesting to see how the game grows over the next twelve months.
If this has piqued your interest, Camp Canyonwood is currently in Early Access on Steam.