For a city-building game, Airborne Kingdom sure loves to move. The management sim, which is criminally somehow not named Cities in the Skylines, is ostensibly about traveling the world in a floating fortress. Your quest is to accrue resources that will make the fortress float forever. I’ve been playing the past week or so on Switch, and man, what a perfect platform for this game.
Yes, Airborne Kingdom has been out on PC for about a year, but landed earlier this week on consoles and Switch. As my colleague Luke Plunkett noted in his preview of the game, the pitch is in the name. You spend most of your time navigating a flying city across a sparse landscape, leveling forests, draining oases, and clearing fields of grain, all in the effort to keep a burgeoning group of citizens fed and happy. Sporadically, you’ll come across small ground-bound settlements and have the chance to recruit more citizens, provided your current citizens are fed and happy enough. You start out with little more than some housing blocks and airplane hangers, but quickly unlock more blueprints for fancier technologies (like a cutting-edge tea garden!) as you play.
For more on exactly how the game works and how damn fun it is, read Luke’s post. Here, I’d like to specifically call out how well this game works on Switch.
It’s not that I can’t put this game down—quite the opposite, in fact. I’ve been playing it in bursts between levels of Mario + Rabbids: Battle Kingdom (which I’m experiencing for the first time ahead of next year’s sequel; it rules) or when I need a break from beating my head against a tough boss in Metroid Dread (screw you, [redacted]).
Unlike some of its contemporaries—it’s been compared to Frostpunk, that relentlessly unforgiving city-builder about creating a self-sustainable society in a frozen apocalypse—Airborne Kingdom is notably devoid of serious turbulence. You regularly have to stay on top of finding resources or assigning new research in the Civilization-style technology tree. There’s always some structure to construct to meet your citizens’ desires. But dropping the ball doesn’t funnel you into a ouroboros of failure, as is so eminently possible with other games in this genre.
Key here: Your citizens never die. If you don’t meet their needs, they simply...head back to the ground. The most essential resource, coal, which keeps the city afloat, is also among the easiest to find. And if you’re short on the rest, you can trade any resource for any other, albeit at a markup, at one of the game’s twelve outposts. There’s just enough tension here to command your attention without demanding it exclusively.
Airborne Kingdom stumbles on Switch in exactly the ways you’d expect Airborne Kingdom to stumble on Switch. I’ve been playing entirely handheld on a non-OLED Switch. As a result, the vistas are in some spots muddy, but in all cases significantly less crisp than the stunning Ghibli-inspired visuals this game sports on high-end PCs and next-gen consoles. Placing pathway tiles causes the machine to sputter; more than once, I’ve felt that laying out a new swath of roadway would cause my nuts-and-bolts city to tumble out of the sky. The draw distance and load speeds could be better. I also imagine some of the fundamentals—like clicking through the many menus—are better-suited for a mouse and keyboard, rather than the not-terribly-responsive Joy-Con thumbsticks.
But flaws aside, Airborne Kingdom fits the specific niche Kotaku has previously dubbed the ideal commute game, one in which you play 25-minute bursts on the bus or subway as a way to pa– Oh, crap, that’s my stop!