About this time last year, a game called Tiny Tower dominated the App Store over the course of the summer. Millions of players around the world poured their social lives and the contents of their wallets into the mortar which held their increasingly less tiny towers together, myself included. Now Nimblebit, the game’s developers, have returned for what’s left of your souls with its new game, Pocket Planes, which surprisingly comes with one hundred percent less money grubbing.
Little has changed with the overall style of Pocket Planes over Tiny Towers, and that’s good, no need to fix what isn’t broken, but the game itself seems a bit more “cuddly” than Tiny Towers. As your typical freemium game, Tiny Tower lurked in the bowels of the App Store, preying on those lured in by its “Free” price tag, only to leap out at them and attack their wallets with in-app purchases. While there is some of that in Pocket Planes, monetization is a lot more subtle, I can even say that a player could very easily progress quite far into the game without ever spending a time. Nimblebit throws just enough premium content at the player for free to make them feel special, to try out the product before heading to the shops to buy more. I understand that developers need to make money, and if in-app purchases in a game like Pocket Planes is the way they intend to do it, I hope that more follow this Nimblebit model. This point will come up more later, but for now, on with the review!
Wait, hold on, need to send off this passenger flight that just landed in Detroit. Alright, done.
The art direction taken in Pocket Planes follows Nimblebit’s established pedigree to a T. Big-headed 8-bit styled characters dim-wittedly pace around the waiting room environments offered in the game, and while they’re not the most charismatic (character development is hardly the point of this game) they are intended to look at. Planes in the game look equally simple, but everything is well-coloured and pleasing to look at. Overall, the art gives the game a cheerful charm, and who doesn’t like a game that makes you smile? You heartless monster. While the subtle chiptunes looping in the background contribute to the airliner feel the game tries to create, they still convey that same cheerful charm which the rest of the game does so well, not the tedious awfulness of its real life counterpart.
Nimblebit has done very little to alter their gameplay model in Pocket Planes, if you’ve played Tiny Tower — which you more than likely have — then this should come pretty easily to you. In the beginning, the player is asked to choose a starting region, this is where your humble airliner will take root before spreading to all corners of the globe. Assigning work to each of your winged vessels is as effortless as tapping a few buttons: one to select which plane you wish to use, a few more to load said plane, then a few more to select the destination. Despite its simplicity, careful consideration should be taken while selecting plane loads and destinations in order to best maximize profits. For instance, loading a plane up with as many passengers as it can hold, then sending it on a multi-stop trip may yield the most profit on paper, but the cost of all of those takeoffs and landings could you leave you in the red by the end of your journey.
As they amass more money or “bux”, the player will be able to increase the hangar capacity of each of their airports, meaning you can have more planes in the air at a given time. Managing which planes are headed where becomes a serious trial later in the game because if too many planes are at one station, then the player may ultimately have to send excess planes to other stations without taking on jobs along the way, once more leaving you in the red. The aforementioned “bux” are the premium in-game currency which players may acquire more of through in-app purchases, they’re one more thing you should be familiar with from Tiny Tower. What’s different this time is that Nimblebit has made acquiring these bux a bit easier. By leveling up, finishing “special” jobs, or following your plane’s flight to a given destination, players may find “hidden” bux — as well as normal in-game currency — without having to spend a dime. This becomes quite useful when you consider that bux allow your planes to instantly complete their flights to any destination, or may be used to purchase high end crafts cheaply, rather than spending hundreds of thousands of your own hard-earned cash. Nimblebit have turned bux from a sneaky strategy to gradually take all of your money, into a cool way to speed up the game and maximize your profits…and then spend money if you think it’s worth it.
By the time you’ve spread your air transit goliath to all corners of the globe and marvel at your accomplishments while planes you own zip steadily across every inch of the world, you’ll know that Pocket Planes was more than worth the nothing you paid for it. It is a game that makes you smile while stroking that part of your brain that makes you happy when you feel like you’ve accomplished something for the day, while simultaneously stroking that other part of your brain that doesn’t want to do anything. It’s a total package, and worth adding to the list of games you check when rolling out of bed in the morning.