It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a mobile game which carries the price tag of “free” must be in want of the contents of your wallet.
There are exceptions, of course, but it’s pretty rare to find something that you can download for free that actually is free these days.
It’s even rarer to find one of these games that doesn’t suck, as the market becomes increasingly-flooded with appalling “card battle” games and gameplay-free tap-fests in which you do little more than log in every few hours for a shower of coins.
The last free-to-play mobile games which really captured the public’s imagination came from Nimblebit. Their game Tiny Tower in particular got an alarming number of people hooked, despite the fact that there really wasn’t actually very much gameplay there at all, and there certainly wasn’t enough strategy to call it a successor to Sim Tower, like some people were. Their follow-up Pocket Planes captured people’s interest for a while, too, but by that point a lot of people were starting to get wise to the fact that these games were little more than fairly mindless diversions rather than anything which required something more than the very minimum of brainpower.
It’s been a while since Pocket Planes, and a whole ton of free-to-play mobile games have come and gone since then, many of them bloody awful. So it’s only fair, then, that I pay a bit of attention to some which aren’t complete crap and which are even actually — hush, now, don’t tell anyone – quite good.
Here they are. They’re free, of course, so you can try them out for yourself and see if they’re worth bothering with for more than a single session.
This new title published by Chillingo has more than a little bit in common with Nimblebit’s games. It’s populated by oddly-endearing pixelated people, there is no real hard “goal” as such and the majority of your time is spent making sure your income stream is as efficient as possible. You don’t have any expenses to worry about — it’s just a matter of how quickly you can make your pixelated town earn the spondulicks required to level up and expand your territory.
The basic gameplay in Pixel People revolves around genetic splicing. You’re building a Utopian colony of clones, you see, and in order for it to run smoothly you need clones in appropriate roles. When clones are delivered to your colony — which will happen regularly so long as you have houses available for them — you are able to pick two “jobs” that you already know and splice them together to hopefully make a new one. The interface gives you feedback as to whether or not the combination you’re trying will make a new job, so you won’t waste clones or time, and there are various ways to unlock hints (including, yes, paying up) as you progress through the game.
The thing I like about Pixel People is that as you play through, you’re constantly discovering new neat little things. You’re never doing much more than picking random combinations of jobs and tapping on buildings to keep them producing money, but every so often you’ll discover that tapping on a certain building performs a special function. Tap on the police station, for example, and you’ll find your achievements list — the game doesn’t even log in to Game Center until you’ve discovered this for yourself — and be able to claim rewards for challenges you’ve already completed. Tap on the observatory, and you can change the background of your colony — and also score yourself an achievement. While none of these things vastly affect the way you play the game and certainly don’t give it any “strategy,” they’re a nice touch that keeps you wanting to play without resorting to the usual Skinner Box tricks of using experience points and showers of gold.
By far the best thing about Pixel People, though, is that it just looks like one of those awesome gigantic pixel art town pictures. Despite the fact that the placement of your buildings and roads doesn’t matter in the slightest — and you can move anything around at will, anyway — I’ve found it oddly compelling to just want to arrange my buildings into an aesthetically-pleasing, vaguely “realistic” arrangement rather than just clustering them all together haphazardly like I did when I first started playing. So now my cloning centre has a road running from it with shops and other facilities down it, running around a corner (on which the L-shaped university building sits), past a large park and into a residential district. Beyond the residential area is some natural forest land, which is where the sheriff and his deputy live, next to the Utopium mine.
I’m overthinking it. It’s not that good, really, but if you liked Tiny Tower you’ll probably enjoy Pixel People – and, like Nimblebit’s titles, you never feel like you need to pay up to make satisfying amounts of progress.
Book of Heroes
I remember trying this for the first time a good few months back, and I remember quite liking it then. Book of Heroes is a role-playing game specifically designed to be played in short, bite-sized instalments on your phone. It’s largely text-based, its interface is designed for touchscreens, and it’s not trying to be World of Warcraft or anything.
Since I last tried it, what I believe used to be a single-player experience has gone full-on MMORPG on your ass. Now you can compare your characters with your friends, chat in real time with other people, join guilds and go on “raids” together in an attempt to prove your own supremacy.
Mobile MMORPGs of this type are often utter garbage, usually falling into the “card battle” category and being completely free of any sort of gameplay or strategy whatsoever. Where Book of Heroes differs is in the fact that it actually demands some interaction from its players; rather than following a linear line of quests, you gradually open up a large number of areas in the game world to “explore” (well, fight a string of battles in) and complete various objectives before returning to town to spend all that hard-earned loot.
Combat is the main area where Book of Heroes differs from its rivals. Rather than taking all control away from the player, as happens frustratingly frequently with this sort of game, Book of Heroes allows the player to control their character’s actions in a quasi-turn based format. Each action takes a set amount of real time to perform — we’re talking seconds here, not “pay up to do this quicker” — and while an action is “charging” the enemies are doing the same thing. It becomes a matter of weighing up whether or not it’s worth using the slow-charging super-powerful attack or whether you should try and get some quick hits in before the enemies have a chance to attack. It’s a fairly simplistic system, but it works well in the context of a mobile game.
The thing with both of these titles is that they understand how mobile players treat games — as a diversion to dip into for a few minutes at a time, not a massively compelling experience intended to keep them hunched over staring at their tiny screen for hours. They’re both eminently suitable for toilet play, and they’re both simple to pick up but provide plenty of long-term… I hesitate to say “challenge” because neither of them are difficult in the slightest… umm… content, I guess, for players to check out over time. So, in short, they’re at least worth a look.
Grab Pixel People here and Book of Heroes here.