Homescapes is the follow-up to Playrix’s fantastic match-3 simulation, Gardenscapes: New Acres. Fans of Gardenscapes’ combination of garden-building and puzzle-solving will find plenty of familiar gameplay to love in Homescapes, while newcomers to the series will have an easy entry point thanks to Austin’s friendly charm and fresh start away from the sprawling garden.
Homescapes begins with lifelong butler Austin deciding to take an overdue vacation and visit his parents at his childhood home. When he arrives he finds that not only is the estate in disarray, but his parents are planning to sell it and move elsewhere. Struck by nostalgia and a passion for fixing things, Austin immediately begins repairing the house, replacing the furniture, and trying to convince his parents not to sell and that he can help them love their home again.
Just like Gardenscapes, Homescapes is split into two distinct sections: the home renovation progresses the story, introduces new characters along the way, and provides concrete goals for you and Austin to work towards. Completing these goals is technically optional, but picking out new wallpaper and furniture to decorate the home in your selected style is fun and rewarding. The house is just as beautiful and richly detailed as the grounds in Gardenscapes, with even more variety in colors and types of objects to place. Seeing Austin interact with his parents and childhood friends makes him even more endearing than he already was, and he has tons of little actions and dialogues to watch in between events.
The other section in Homescapes is, of course, the puzzle gameplay. When you’re not fixing up the house or watching Austin go about his day, you can play the current match-3 level. Completing a level will allow you to move on to the next one and will award a star and a small amount of coins. Stars are the currency used to complete tasks: for instance, replacing the carpet will cost a star or repairing the stairway may cost two stars. Coins allow you to buy different furniture if you want to change any of your previous remodeling choices, as well as purchase power-ups for use in the match-3 levels.
These levels are the primary area where Homescapes differs from its predecessor. While the goals and format are very similar—collect a certain number of tiles, remove all obstacles from the board, etc.—Homescapes features a different set of power-ups and some new tile types. Matching four tiles in a row or column now creates a much more powerful rocket that crosses the entire board instead of the smaller version found in Gardenscapes. Tiles can be matched in squares as well, which creates a paper airplane power-up that flies to a random, goal-related tile and removes it. The Rainbow Blast—earned by setting off enough explosions in Gardenscapes—has been removed, but matching five tiles in a row in Homescapes will create a Rainbow Ball. This booster will clear all tiles of the color it is matched with, but it can also be swapped with other power-ups in order to spread dozens of them all over the board.
These latter two new power-ups are extremely strong additions to the game. Being able to match in squares of four opens up narrower stages that would otherwise be very difficult to create power-ups on. The airplane’s ability to fly to anywhere on the board—and its focus on hitting actually useful tiles—makes it easier to collect distant tiles you would otherwise never be able to reach. Swapping a power-up with a Rainbow Ball is extremely satisfying as you watch dozens of rockets or airplanes explode across the screen.
Despite the strength of these new abilities, Homescapes is still an extremely difficult game. Its challenge level actually ramps up more quickly than Gardenscapes, and we found ourselves stuck replaying even some very early stages. It introduces tricky obstacle tiles early on, including double-chains, wall-like cookies, and carpet that must be placed across the entire board. Part of the added challenge is that Homescapes doesn’t feature as many bonus opportunities as Gardenscapes: there is no daily wheel to earn free boosters and completing a day’s worth of home renovation tasks does not refill your lives. While Gardenscapes did not initially launch with these features either, it seems an oversight to not include them in the sequel as they are now standard elements of the series. At the same time, Homescapes maintains the very low coin rewards and high costs from its predecessor, awarding a paltry 50 coins base for finishing a stage and charging 900 coins to “continue” with only five additional moves.
On top of the disappointing economy, we found Homescapes’ puzzle tiles to be less attractive than their Gardenscapes’ equivalent. While the mansion and its furnishings are beautiful to look at, the standard match-3 tiles—made up of a green teacup, dark blue book, red bowtie, pink button, yellow lamp, and light blue teapot—seem less detailed than the pears, berries, flowers, and so on in Gardenscapes. They’re still colorful and tactically satisfying to move around the board, but they have an almost gelatinous, formlessness more reminiscent of Candy Crush Saga. The obstacle tiles—such as the wafer cookies, yellow apples, and cherries encased in jelly—are very detailed and lovely, so it’s really just an issue with the basic tiles. Yet, since we’re looking at those tiles on every board across hundreds (and likely, eventually, thousands) of stages, we wish they had the same quality of design as everything else in Homescapes.
While these complaints are far from game-ruining, they point to the general issue with Homescapes at the moment: it’s simply not as good as Gardenscapes. Granted, Gardenscapes has benefited from a year of regular content updates and fixes which Homescapes will almost certainly receive in the coming months—and the daily prize wheel is reportedly planned for one of those updates. But Homescapes arguably should have launched with the extras that have made Gardenscapes the extraordinary game it is today and improved upon its shortcomings, such as the extremely low coin rewards and the lack of any permanent in-app purchases. Instead, Homescapes was released in a bit of a black hole as if it had no predecessor to learn from.
The result is still a wonderful match-3 slash simulation game that scratches all the same itches as Gardenscapes but in an entirely new environment. If you’ve conquered Gardenscapes and are looking for a new version of roughly the same experience, Homescapes is a must-play. But newcomers to the series should stick to Gardenscapes for now, at least until Homescapes catches up to all the updates and enhancements of the original.