Release Date: January 31, 2023
Publisher: Square Enix
At various points during my time with FutureLab and Square Enix’s PowerWash Simulator, I was struck by a sort of banal existential dilemma. During these episodes of clairvoyance, I’d become blisteringly aware of the fact that in the only physical lifetime I will ever have – in my one and single corporeal opportunity – I was opting to blast a digital stream of H2O across a fictional individual’s RV/bungalow/penny farthing. Did these sudden jolts of awareness drive me to get up and do something “worthwhile” with my time instead? No, no they didn’t. PowerWash Simulator has its hooks in me now, and I’m shackled to these blue overalls by a mix of catharsis and compulsion – but boy does it feel so good. Truth be told, this isn’t even a new development. I’ve been a slave to the machinations of the game’s grubby world since it originally launched into Steam’s Early Access model. Valve’s digital storefront seemingly recognized how dull of an individual I am, and algorithmically shoved the game in my face on the day of its release – so that was my original date of incarceration. With the game now arriving triumphantly on Switch, it feels like PowerWash Simulator has reached its final form. It’s ready to engulf your attention in ways we haven’t seen since paid actors sat slack-jawed in front of SNES’s during 90s video game commercials.
This might all seem terribly dramatic, but I can’t quite stress how addicted I am to PowerWash Simulator. Even as I write this review I keep feeling the urge to set the laptop to one side, pick up my Switch, and return to pastures, er, filthy. Back when the game was relegated to my PC, it at least required me to set aside time and go to a dedicated room in my house to indulge in some digital custodianship. Now, thanks to the Switch version it can happen anywhere, and that’s as tantalizing as it is terrifying. See, about 95% of the game’s core appeal is found in its one main mechanic – shooting water at dirt. It does this one thing so bloody well, that the game fervently propels itself across a 30 hour campaign with ease. I’m not sure what kind of arcane wizardry developer FutureLab engaged in to achieve that feat of design, but they have managed to curate their core gameplay loop in a way that so many AAA games routinely fumble and fail at. One press of the right trigger in PowerWash Simulator eloquently demonstrates why the game doesn’t need to rely on superfluous elements like narrative or presentation – despite that, it excels in those areas too.
As an overall package, PowerWash Simulator is almost betrayed by the presence of the word “Simulator” in its title. Up until now, the sim games I’ve engaged with have all had this kind of austere, charmless and functional vibe to their overall presentation. It would seem that the genre as a whole generally eschews humor or charm in a vague attempt to be seen as “enthusiast software”, and not as silly toys. PowerWash Simulator, on the other hand, revels in its existence as a game, and has had enough artful thought and technical skill put into its overarching plot, writing, and graphical presentation, that it supersedes the rest of the genre in broad appeal. It doesn’t even need to do any of this, as the core mechanics more than sustain the experience, yet it does anyway. This for me harkens back to the days of GameCube and Wii, where even niche games with limited commercial appeal would have enough going on in terms of design and craftsmanship that they would be justified in their existence (I’m looking at you, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004).
Particular commendation must be given to the game’s writing. Each new area you arrive at, nozzle in hand, has generally been on the receiving end of some kind of comedic tragedy – manure whipped up in a storm, mansion peppered with eggs by a roaming band of monks, that sort of thing. A rotating cast of characters will fill you in on developments and contextualize these events within the grander plot of the game – and the writing chops employed in giving each of these characters a sense of identity and a role in the story is impressive. You never physically see these people across the runtime of the game – they all exist as text messages on the right-hand side of your screen – but it doesn’t matter. It’s sharply written, has a unique identity, and there’s just enough content there that it never feels overbearing or overwrought.
And oh, the places you’ll see! Thanks to the conundrums each denizen of PowerWash Simulator finds themselves in, you’ll be whisked away to all manner of filth-zones. Fire stations, houses shaped like a shoe, entire subway terminals, and even Lara Croft’s stately Manor if you pick up the free DLC that’s launching alongside the game. Each subsequent location you visit does tend to get a little more fantastical as the game progresses, but the mechanics are never compromised by this, and it only ever adds to the zen-like fun. There’s a giddy thrill in seeing a text come through indicating that a new job is available – you then open up your in-game tablet and see a thumbnail showcasing the next assignment. Conveniently, you can hop back and forward between available missions while still retaining your progress on each level, which serves as a fantastic quality of life addition to the game. Some of the larger environments can take well over an hour to fully blast through, so it’s nice to know you’re not locked in to the larger jobs and completely at the client’s behest.
In addition, you can also invite a fellow sanitation enthusiast along for some online co-op (no split screen here, I’m afraid). They can take their character into your campaign and assist you with your progress. It won’t advance their save, mind, but its enjoyable nonetheless. Once you finish a stage, you’re treated to a time-lapse of you (and your partner, if applicable) dousing the dirt away – it’s ridiculously satisfying, although the quality of the time-lapse has suffered a touch in the transition to Switch. In this version, its looking more like a .gif from 2008 than the slick bit of punctuation it is on other platforms – a minor mark against the game, but a mark nonetheless.
On the topic of technical performance, it’s worth mentioning that the game’s transition to Switch has been handled with distinct care and attention. The game was built on the Unity engine, which has its own set of challenges when it comes to porting games to the system. It’s abundantly clear here however that the necessary due diligence was given to ensure that PowerWash Simulator looks good and plays well on Nintendo’s hybrid machine. The resolution is a touch low at points, but the performance is solid. The visuals retain the pop and clarity present in other versions, and the developers have wisely chosen not to utilize any egregious anti-aliasing techniques that might fuzz up the overall image. It’s imperative that you see every little nook and cranny in PowerWash Simulator in order to get that 5-star, 100% completion rate on each stage. It would be nigh-on impossible to fully complete each stage, unlocking more pressure-washers and attachments as you go, if the image was overtly blurry.
All in all, PowerWash Simulator feels like it occupies the same space as the original (and great) Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games. It filters just enough realism down from its source material – while staying laser-targeted on its goal of being an accessible, more-ish and fun videogame with a core gameplay loop that’s to die for. Its arrival on Switch marks my second full playthrough of its campaign – and frankly, I’m obsessed. It remains to be seen whether or not PowerWash Sim spawns a legion of sanitation die-hards in the way Guitar Hero birthed guitarists, and Tony Hawk’s drove ankle injuries. Regardless, the game is easily recommendable as one of the best indie games on the Switch – seriously.
PowerWash Simulator copy provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.