Not too long ago, in a review of Tiny Tower, I commented that the publisher, Nimblebit, may have missed a trick in not selling out to Zynga, which proceeded to photocopy its game when rebuffed. As addictive as Tiny Tower was, it was an ultimately shallow experience, with most of the enjoyment coming from comparing towers with your friends. Well, I may have been worried prematurely, for Nimblebit’s follow up to Tiny Tower, Pocket Planes, is in an entirely different league.
Instead of building a skyscraper and filling it with stores, apartments and occupants, Nimblebit now asks you to craft a globe-spanning airline, starting from a handful of airports and a few rickety planes. It might seem obvious, but the premise of the game permits it much greater depth than Tiny Tower, as you actually have to think about how you expand: go for cheap airports for quick cash or save for more expensive ones and build for the future.
Some Tiny Tower mechanics are carried over: the whimsical 8-bit graphics and tone, and the “bitizens” that fly with your airline. There are still two forms of currency as well: cash for building and upgrading airports and “bux” for purchasing new planes and hurrying your flights. You can purchase bux for cash through the game, but there’s nothing you need to spend money to achieve. All it costs you is a little more patience.
The main substance of the game comes in routing flights of bitizens and cargo from one airport to another: the further the flight, the more money you make, and if you can fill a plane with items for a single destination, you’ll get a bonus. Meandering flights will make you less money (or even cost you money), so some strategic thinking when purchasing airports will pay off in the long run. As your airline grows, you’ll purchase airports further and further apart and faster planes with longer ranges to connect them. In turn, you’ll need to concentrate on higher tier airports that can support those planes.
There are plenty of achievements to pursue, unlockable items to collect, upgrades to pay for and cosmetic changes to tinker with. As for social elements, there’s both a step forward and a step back from Tiny Tower. The ability to view your friends’ efforts has been lost, but in its place there’s a chance to cooperate as part of a “Flight Crew” sharing a hashtag to achieve particular tasks in-game and win bux and special aircraft. It’s a little less personal, but it offers new content every few days, and novelty in a game like this is an important feature.
Pocket Planes isn’t perfect: it’s still a little buggy, with a tendency to quit quite often and an odd Flight Crew glitch that delivered me way more bux than I’d actually earned. The Flight Crew mechanic is also somewhat compromised by the fact that the #toucharcafde hashtag is by far the biggest anywhere. Still, Nimblebit will undoubtedly patch the game until it works smoothly, and for a free offering, there’s a huge amount of content in here. Whether I’ll follow it as far as I did with Tiny Tower, a game that burned out my obsessive-compulsive habit, I’m not sure. However, Pocket Planes is a far superior game to its predecessor and well worth trying out just to see if it suits you.