Pocket Planes for iPhone and iPad
In the terrific little iOS Game Tiny Tower, developer Nimblebit tasked you with building a tower that reached into the clouds. The game maker must have decided that the only place to go was up, as its latest app—Pocket Planes—has you build an empire across the skies. The casual airline sim is a decent download for your iPhone or iPad, even if it never reaches the heights of Tiny Tower.
In Pocket Planes, you’re in charge of a tiny airline with big dreams. You’ve got a small regional operation moving people and cargo between a smattering of airports, but you can use the money you earn from tasks to expand your fleet, open new routes, and—eventually—build a transport juggernaut that spans the globe. Controlling where your planes are headed and what they’re carrying to their final destination can be handled with a series of taps, and an in-game tutorial walks you through the basics the first time you launch the app. You’ll be up and flying in no time.
Pocket Planes features the same old-school 8-bit graphics you’ll find in Tiny Tower, and they’re every bit as charming here. A lot of thought clearly went into the look and feel of Pocket Planes, especially the sound effects. Besides the roar of plane engines as they take off and land, you’ll hear that familiar airplane chime when one of your planes is loaded up and ready to fly. It’s a really polished game.
But there’s a big problem with the gameplay that’s likely to turn off some casual gamers. One of the great things about Tiny Tower is that you can play the game in fits and starts, but still continue to progress. Your 8-bit tower residents continue to toil away, even when you’re not playing the game, so that the next time you launch Tiny Tower, you have a larger pile of cash on hand to keep improving your building. That’s why I’m still playing Tiny Tower nearly a year after first launching the app, with a building that’s 155 stories tall and growing. (And no, I do not need other hobbies, thank you very much.)
That happens in Pocket Planes, too, but at a much slower pace. The legs between flights are short—especially in the early going—and the financial gains from flights small, so it takes some time to build up the cash you need to expand your operations. And you will need a lot of cash, both in the form of coins and Bux, to get anything done. Want to buy a new plane? You’ll have to spend Bux on acquiring the parts and assembling them; you’ll also need to spend coins adding a slot for this newly built plane in your fleet. Setting up shop in a new airport costs you some coin as well. Whereas you could play Tiny Tower at your own pace and never have to part with a dime of real-world money, progressing in Pocket Planes either requires a lot of patience or a spate of in-app purchases to build up your virtual bankroll. While I don’t begrudge app makers their right to earn a buck I find the pay-up-or-play-at-a-snail’s-pace approach to be a little off-putting.
And that’s a shame, because there’s a really engaging idea behind Pocket Planes. I like the ability to plan out how to expand my airline, from assembling planes that are better suited to longer routes to spreading my reach from one continent to another. I also like how Pocket Planes uses iCloud syncing to keep your game up-to-date across multiple iOS devices: There’s no need for me to cover the same ground on my iPad that I’ve already taken care of on my iPhone. I’m less impressed that the app turns on notifications by default and forces you to go into Notification Center to turn them off if you don’t want your phone constantly reminding you that one of your cargo planes has landed in Reykjavik.
There’s a lot to like about Pocket Planes, particularly if you’re a fan of world-building sims. I just wish there was as much to love about the game as there is with Tiny Tower.
[Macworld.com editor Philip Michaels has cornered the market on air travel in northeastern Canada.]