You Should Play: Tiny Tower

[These days, keeping up with games can be a full-time job. So how do you separate the signal from the noise, the wheat from the chaff, the Temple Runs from the Temple Jumps? Allow us to help by regularly selecting a game You Should Play.]

Take it from someone who’s reviewed a metric ton of iOS games since Apple first opened up its mobile platform to third-party app makers four years ago: The second we reviewers finish testing, rating, and writing about a game, it’s almost instantaneously banished from our phones and tablets. Even games we like are, more often than not, sent to the land of wind and ghosts once we’ve completed our tests. It’s no reflection on the game itself; rather, there are just too many other apps to review to linger over old, familiar favorites.

Of course, there are always exceptions to this otherwise hard-and-fast rule. And for me, Tiny Tower is one of those exceptions.

I first reviewed NimbleBit’s 8-bit sim game for Macworld just about a year ago. And in that time, Tiny Tower has remained a fixture on my iPad while other games have come and gone. I think it merits a space on your mobile device, too, whether as a first-time download or if you’re giving the game a second look.

Recent additions to Tiny Tower include the ability to select specific floors when you expand your tower.

In Tiny Tower, you construct a building floor-by-floor, choosing whether to build housing or devote each floor to specific kinds of businesses—retail, service, recreation, and creative. Building residential floors allows you to bring in tenants, whose rent can help fund your Trump-esque expansion plans. You can also put tenants to work in your assorted businesses (some have greater skills at those various businesses than others), bringing in more virtual moolah. Before you know it, you’ll have amassed a real estate empire to make other tycoons green with envy, all of it rendered in glorious old school-style graphics.

I won’t discount the notion that I’ve stuck with Tiny Tower in part because I’m not ready to walk away from a tower I’ve spent the better part of year expanding ever skyward. One simply does not walk away from a 158-story tower or the 285 Bitizens that depend on me for their livelihood. Still, there’s more than inertia at play here: I keep coming back to Tiny Tower because developer NimbleBit has done such a great job at introducing new features.

Has a VIP shown up at your tower? You can now save them for later use.

Different versions of the game offer different capabilities—the iOS iteration of Tiny Tower is up to version 2.0.1, while the Android offering is only at version 1.7.0.8. But in both instances, NimbleBit has rolled out additions to the game that enhance the Tiny Tower experience. Late last year, the game gave you the ability to gift virtual goods to your Tiny Tower-playing friends. More recently, the 2.0 release on the iOS platform lets you choose a specific type of floor when it’s time to expand—you can now spend some of the in-game currency to specify that you want to build a pet shop, for example, instead of just being assigned a random retail outlet.

That 2.0 update also lets you save randomly appearing VIP Bitizens—real estate agents, construction workers, and the like—for when you need them. One of my great frustrations with Tiny Tower was to have a VIP show up and have no way of using them. Being able to stash them away for later has made the game infinitely more enjoyable.

Tiny Tower has kept a hold on my gaming heart for other reasons, though:

It’s Customizable: Don’t like the look of your Bitizens? You can pay a couple of virtual TowerBux to dress them up as spacemen, frogs, or any one of a number of costumes. You can also rename your Tiny Tower floors. And while I may be the only person who’s amused by the fact that I’ve dubbed my mechanic business Them’s The Brakes or rechristened the florist shop to be Flowers4Algernon, it still makes me smile every time I play the game.

Weekly missions add a new challenge to Tiny Tower.

Regular Challenges: The iOS version of Tiny Tower debuted with Game Center achievements in which you scored points for fully stocking two similarly themed floors. (In a move that appeals directly to my fondness for plays on words, NimbleBit came up with pretty clever names for these achievements: In Bar Fight, you fully stock a pub and a martial arts studio, while Tea Square requires you to fill up both a tea house and an architects office.) Tiny Tower has subsequently added themed missions, in which you stock specific items in exchange for TowerBux. (A recent Summer Olympic-themed mission required separate items from your shoe store, volleyball club, and racquetball club, for example.) The missions appear without fail every week, and it adds another level to the game beyond just building your tower into the heavens.

Fun for Free: Tiny Tower is a free-to-play game, meaning you don’t have to part with a dime if you don’t want to. A lot of the time, these freemium-style games are free in name only: You can play them for a time, but if you really want to enjoy the game, you’re going to have to pay up—usually in multiple installments. (If you’re looking for an example of a game that pushes in-app purchases a little too hard, consider another NimbleBit app, Pocket Planes. A lot of my TechHive pals really enjoy this free business simulation game set in the friendly skies, and I kind of do, too, but I think you need to pay up for in-game currency to really get the most out of Pocket Planes.) Tiny Tower isn’t like that. Yes, an impatient player can stock up on coins and TowerBux to speed up their expansion plans. But a casual gamer like myself can play Tiny Tower a little bit here and there and build up a tower without ever spending real-world money. In nearly 12 months of playing Tiny Tower, I haven’t made a single in-app purchase. Not a lot of games can claim to offer a year’s worth of entertainment for free; Tiny Tower can.

Developer: NimbleBit
Platforms: iOS (Universal), Android
Price: Free (All platforms)

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