Westward is a real-time resource collecting and village building simulation, with some quest completion thrown in for good measure. The blend of gameplay elements work well together, but there are a few limitations for this Palm OS game (also available for Windows Mobile).
The objective of Westward is to found and build up several towns in the Wild West. Along the way you’ll have to complete specialized tasks, or quests, to advance the storyline and provide you with additional tools, techniques, and resources. The game starts you off with a well-designed tutorial that gets you up to speed. It shows you how to build gold mines, lumber mills, farms and wells. Typically, the game guides you through the construction and purpose of each building via character dialogue. Rarely is one character controlled in any given scene, but instead certain characters must be directed around the city based on the active quests. For example, upon moving to a new town, some bandits may have damaged a town person’s home and they need wood to fix it. The tutorial will provide instruction to take another town resident and have them build a lumber mill to produce the wood that you need. Once you have the wood, the game with show you how to repair a damaged building. While you always receive tips through the remainder of the game, the main tutorial period lasts about 30 minutes and gives you a means to build more advanced structures like ranches, windmills, sheriff offices, general stores, churches, hotels, and more. In addition, side quests pop up that upon completion, provide permanent access to useful tools like dynamite (to clear paths) and bridges.
Your towns usually start off with only a couple people, but as you build more houses and keep your food (from farms) and water (from wells) levels up, more people will randomly stop by and want to stay. New town folk can then be assigned a house or camp to live at, and also given a place of employment to collect or generate a resource. Sometimes when new people show up they create a quest because they might need food for their abandoned horses down the road, or their buddies were attacked by dangerously roaming bandits. These events force you to build new structures for your town and trigger advancements in the story. After playing for a short period of time, it becomes evident the main plotline involves around a hustling, swindling Russian dude, Doc, who is causing all sorts of trouble for people out West. This will lead you on a chase from one town to the next, either trying to overcome the problems caused by the Russian, or staying on his tail to find out what he’s up to. Every time a new destination town is reached, it’s usually small or in poor shape and must be built up.
The characters of your towns move around like most real-time strategy or sim games. The gameplay can be controlled through the directional pad or with the stylus, or a combination of the two. Most of the time the game is moving at a lax pace and the d-pad works just fine, but in urgent cases where bandits are attacking, you need to be able to select your sheriffs and gunslingers quickly. This is where the game can suffer a bit. If you have a group of characters, they can be selected by drawing a box around them and then dragging them to the point of interest. However, it can be difficult to control parties of 6 or more when defending your town or conducting raids on bandit camps. But I can’t really deduct too much for this because the Palm screens are naturally small and the townspeople consist of a minimal number of pixels. The menus are well-designed and easy to access and the tutorial does a great job of teaching gameplay concepts and getting anyone up to speed quickly.
Even though the characters seem a little small because of the screen, the overall graphics are well done and clear. The people are visible, they just aren’t always easy to select and move quickly while in bunches. The music fits the Wild West atmosphere, but as to be expected with most pocket-sized games, it does get a little repetitive.
The only real gripe I can make against Westward is that it can actually be a little bit too much for a Palm game. The ideal Palm game allows you to play for 5 minutes while you’re waiting for someone to show up at a conference, or it can keep you entertained for an hour at the airport while your flight is delayed. Westward exceeds expectations with the latter, but it is a bit disjointed when played in 5 minute increments. The game can be saved and program exited at any point, but most of the quests take longer than 5 minutes to complete, making it difficult to play in one sitting, shut it off, and then come back two days later and remember what exactly you were doing. There is a “to do” list in the menu to automatically keep track of your tasks, but the game just doesn’t really support a short-term rhythm to it.
Westward is a well-thought out, finely polished title that any casual or hard-core gamer with a Palm will enjoy. The fact is, there is a lot of game here and it will take you hours to complete. If you want to store a game on your memory card that you can pull out anytime you have an hour to kill, Westward can keep you better entertained than a lot of DS or PSP titles. However, if you’re looking for a quick gaming fix while waiting for the bus, you might want to look elsewhere. If interested, you can check out a demo for yourself at the Astraware website.