Jun 28, 2011

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Review: Tiny Tower

Review: Tiny Tower

Although I don’t usually enjoy freemium “background” or “real-time” games (like Farmville or Zombie Cafe),  when Tiny Tower released, I decided I’d give it a try. After all, what did I have to lose? If it ended up being frustrating or money sucking, then I could simply delete it from my device and move on.

The thing is, I’ve been playing Tiny Tower for three days now, and I do want to delete it from my iPad, but not because it’s a terrible game: because it’s terribly, horribly addictive fun.

Tiny Tower has been inevitably compared to Sim Tower (one of my favorite games), a title from back in the heyday of Maxis. Like ST, TT tasks you with building the highest tower you can, based on limited funds and limited workers, although Tiny Tower simplifies things a bit. TT has two currencies: coins, that you’ll need to build new floors, stock your shops, and make cosmetic changes; and bux, used for speeding up re-stocking, building, and more.  You can use bux to buy coins, and you can use real money (via in-app purchases) to purchase more bux.  However, unlike some freemium games that are nearly unplayable if you don’t spend real money, TT is perfectly enjoyable without spending a single penny.

You can build six types of floors (only one location per floor): residential, food, service, recreation, retail, and creative, with all but residential earning coins when stocked.  At the beginning, you only have two floors: a residential floor and a food floor, but eventually you can expand.  You earn coins by selling items in your shops.  Each shop can sell up to three types of items of increasing price, with each shop offering unique items.  The first item sells for one coin each, the second for two, and the third for three; each type of item also takes an increasingly longer amount of time to restock, and you also need the same number of employees per establishment in order to stock the equivalent number of items.  So, for example, if you only have two employees, you cannot stock the third type of item until you add another worker to that floor.

Each Bitzen has their own dream job and skill levels for each type of work.  Bitzens with low skills in a particular area will not only be unhappy in their job, they will restock slower and not offer you a discount on restocking; the reverse is also true. Placing a Bitzen in their dream job will make them very happy and grant a bonus. Of course, due to the fact that Bitzens and floors are generated randomly (you can choose the floor type, but what results is a surprise), it means that either you have to constantly evict your Bitzens to find those whose dream jobs coincide with the stores in your tower, or live with only satisfying the dreams of a few.

While the game is open (not in background mode), you get the opportunity to earn bux in various ways.  The primary source of bux is helping random NPC Bitzens find various residents in your tower (e.g., the president is in danger and one of your Bitzens is the only dude bad enough to save him, or they have a box of kittens that need delivering).  Find the Bitzen, and get a bux.  Likewise, various non-resident Bitzens will visit your tower, and you need to direct the elevator to their desired floor.  About 25 percent of the time, they tip you a bux.  You also earn a bux every time you build a new floor, and occasionally when you fully stock a store; placing a Bitzen in their dream job  nets you three bux.  If you’re patient, bux add up quickly, so you can enjoy the game without spending any real cash.  You also occasionally get one of several VIP Bitzens visiting your tower, each with their own unique effects.  For example, the Celebrity  increases sales on the floor to which you deliver them for a limited time, and the Construction Worker  decreases a floor’s construction time by three hours.  As with most things in TT, these appearances are random, which can be a bit frustrating, but adds to your fun and surprise.

Because this is a real-time background game, your Bitzens continue to live out their little lives even while you are away from the app, or even away from your iPad or iPhone.  However, unlike many games of this type, nothing bad will happen if you don’t respond to every alert, or if you leave the game running in the background, unattended, for hours at a time.  The only penalty is you won’t make as much money (or bux) as you would if you left it opened and attended to it constantly; the game will be there when you’re ready to pick it up again.

The game is loaded with charm and humor, and it’s obvious a lot of love went into its development.  Tiny Tower has a very pixelated, 8-bit style, which looks great even on the iPad’s large screen.  Each apartment and store has its own detailed look and theme, and not only can you repaint them, but your Bitzens will occasionally repaint on their own.  Bitzens do have some personality; they have unique names, you can spend one coin to re-dress them, or check what they’re thinking in the “BitBook” from the menu.  Think of it like Bitzen Facebook.  Reading through Bitbook is completely optional, but is often hilarious. The background music is also fitting, and surprisingly, doesn’t grate even after playing the game for long periods of time.  However, while you can turn the sound off in the menu, it would be nice if you could toggle the sound effects and music off separately from each other, and it would be even better if you could actually adjust the volumes of each independently of your system volume.  The game also supports Game Center, which not only includes silly achievements but also lets you visit your friends’ towers to compare.  I do think being able to send updates from your tower to Twitter or Facebook would be great, too.

Honestly, Tiny Tower is a blast, and it would be well worth a purchase.  You constantly will find something new, and it’s fun to watch your tower grow and your Bitzens live out their little lives.  Except for a few minor gripes, it is a well polished, fun time sink soaked with personality.  If you own an iOS device and can afford to lose some time, you should go download now if you haven’t already.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, my Asian Cuisine needs to be restocked.

Tiny Tower
Platform: iPhone, iPad (universal)
Genre: Strategy
Release Date: 06/23/11
Developer: Nimblebit
Publisher: Nimblebit
ESRB Rating: 4+
MSRP: Free