Every time I get asked which are the best free-to-play games on iOS, my answer always includes NimbleBit's Pocket Frogs. I don't particularly like freemium titles, but this one has perfect combination of elements to keep you playing. After a long wait since we first heard about the studio's next project, it's time to download it for free and see how it measures against its predecessor.
Tiny Tower [iTunes Link] by NimbleBit is a time management simulator where you build and operate an ever-growing apartment block. Unlike other simulation games such as Sim Tower or Yoot Tower for iPad, the focus here lies in managing the stocks of the different commercial outlets you build and keeping a skilled combination of tenants to work in them.
The game mechanics follow other freemium hits pretty closely, demanding you to check during the day the production of your shops and re-stock them adequately. Something like crops in FarmVille, but without produce spoilage.
In Tiny Tower you get introduced to building and managing with the tutorial, which teaches you how to get started with the first floors. Then, you are free to expand your tower upwards only purchasing new floors with the in-game currency. Just like in other freemium games, there are two types: coins are used to buy new floors and stock your shops as well as income from product sales and rent from tenants. The soft currency is called Tower Bux, which can be purchased via in-app-purchase and is generally used to speed up the game's pace.
One of the biggest limitations I see is the short range of products—only three—that shops can sell. They all have different re-stocking times and makes difficult to coordinate production to be ready for the next time you launch the app during your lunch break. In Pucca's Restaurant, for example, you can choose to cook dishes from the restaurant's long menu, which have different production times, from 30 seconds to a whole day. As I see it, Tiny Tower misses that level of freedom to leave the game unattended for a day—at least productively.
The most striking aspect has to be the retro pixel art used in the game: all graphics, from floors to characters, texts and UI have a colourful edgy feel. The developer also included several ways to customise your tower and residents changing their clothes and decoration in shops and flats.
The frog evolution
Tiny Tower feels like an evolution of Pocket Frogs in so many ways that I can't stop thinking of their similitudes. If you haven't played it, I recommend you download it and give it a shot since it's seriously addictive and shows NimbleBit's work and polish at its best.
Before I continue I'd like to point out that the initial release of Pocket Frogs was fairly decaffeinated and a great part of the features that make it a great game were introduced later. The developer's compromise to update and improve a free game like this only keeps me more and more excited about the future of Tiny Tower.
While in Pocket Frogs the aim was to breed frogs of different types and value to level up, in Tiny Tower there's no obvious levelling system other than floors, residents and sales. Also, in the latter, all the action is limited to a tower view, where you operate the lift to take Bitizens (the people living there) to the designated floor, take care of V.I.P. visits that serve as some sort of power up, and find particular residents in the tower to receive a reward.
Pocket Frogs included two different main areas: the habitats where you breed, keep frogs and customise environments, and the pond area, where you tame your frog, jump around eating insects, find more valuable breeds and more importantly, collect gifts (new frogs, stamps, potions or scenery items).
Tiny Tower keeps the same spirit giving you the chance to get rewards if you stick more than a couple of minutes every time you launch the game. Some visitors will tip you with a Bux for taking them on the lift, and you might get a random V.I.P. visit that speeds up construction, buys all the stock for a particular product or brings more customers to the shop.
After playing the game for just a day, I must say that there's not a lot to do while you wait for construction and re-stocking. The fact that all the action takes place in the main view, that skilled new tenants appear randomly and that there's no obvious achievement or goal, makes me remember that this is only the 1.0 version and more stuff should be included in the future to keep it fresh.
This doesn't mean I didn't like Tiny Tower—I guess the first days without cash are going to be slow anyway. I wished it included those little additions that made Pocket Frogs so addictive, specially that Pokemon-inspired "Catch 'Em All" mechanics that encouraged players to expand their frog collection and exchange frogs with other players to unlock achievements. So far, there's little social interaction between members—you can only see their tower like in We Rule—and there is no incentive to interact with others yet.
As a free download, there's no reason why you should miss this awesome game. However, I can't stop seeing it as an evolution of Pocket Frogs and I have trouble finding an aspect that makes this game better. Tiny Tower delivers as a snack-sized game that you can play in your spare time during the day. It's packed with good humour, great geeky references and cute animations that only talk about the care that has gone into its production. I hope the developer keeps working to improve it and add other mini games and a more meaningful way to interact with Game Center friends. Expect to see it ranking high in a couple of days.