The Subway Gamer: Tiny Tower

I might be in trouble.  Tiny Tower is scratching an itch that I’d thought I’d gotten rid of.

Tiny Tower came out a week or two ago, to much acclaim from some of the gaming press.  A free-to-play title, filled with pixelated charm, capable of devastating addiction if not watched carefully.  I downloaded it (of course), but the tutorial was a bit confusing and I didn’t quite understand what I was supposed to do.  So I put it away and forgot about it.

But people kept talking.  That’s the curse of today’s social media – if you’re plugged in, you can’t escape it.  I was bombarded with too many tweets and forum posts about Tiny Tower’s addictive qualities, and then somebody referred to it as a vertical Farmville, and suddenly I understood what the game was about.

And now I’m hooked.

I used to have a Farmville problem.  In fact, now that I think about it, it’s been just over a year since I pulled the plug.  Lots of people hate Farmville, and I suppose I understand where they’re coming from, even if most of the hate is simply based against Zynga’s horrendous business practices and/or “casual” gaming in general.  For me, though, there was something about it that was tremendously compelling.  In fact, now that I think of it, I realize that the appeal of Farmville (and other similar titles) was very similar to what I wanted to like about the Civilization games – it’s resource gathering, but without enemies or antagonists.  There’s no pressure.  You build, you reap, you sow, you earn, lather, rinse, repeat.  The Keflings games on XBLA scratch this itch for me too, although in both of those games I ended up screwing myself by running out of builders.

But Tiny Towers scratches this itch like crazy.  You, as a building developer, are continually adding floors to your tower.  A floor may be residential, or one of 5 different kinds of store.  You move people into your building and give them jobs in the stores.  Each person (or “Bitizen”) has certain preferences for where they want to work, and it’s up to you to manage their happiness – the happier the employees are, the easier (and cheaper) it is to restock their stores’ inventory.  That’s it.  When you’re done with all that stuff, your main task (besides watching the money roll in) is to work the elevator that lets visitors go to different floors.

The addiction sets in when you realize that need to build another floor because your tower has a need for a certain type of store, and then you realize that the floor you just built doesn’t have enough Bitizens to properly staff it, and so you then need to build another floor because you need to house all the Bitizens in order to staff that store, and then you need to build another floor because you have too many Bitizens without jobs, etc.

And the dangerous part is that each task in the game takes time.  But if you need instant gratification, you can spend “Bux” to speed the process up immediately, or you can transmute your “Bux” into in-game currency which can then be used to buy new floors.  And “Bux” cost real U.S. Dollars.  As the game is free on the iTunes store, I did succumb to temptation once and bought some “Bux”, but I rationalized it by saying it was a thank-you to the developer.  I am hopeful that it was just a momentary lapse of weakness.  I can’t get sucked in again.

Thankfully, this isn’t really something you can play for more than a minute at a time (unless you’re endlessly buying things, which you can only do with real money).  My commute to work is around 40 minutes or so, and there’s only so much elevator-ferrying I can do before I start getting restless.  But it is something I check in on every hour or so when work gets slow, and since the game is constantly running in the background, every time I log in I’m greeted with a large amount of cash that’s accumulated since my last check-in.  So that’s nice.

NameTiny Tower

Price:  Free, with endless opportunities for micro-transactions.

Description:  Some sort of tower-building sim thing.

Can it play background music?:  Yes.

Can you play one-handed?:  Yes

Do you look like an idiot when you play it?:  No.

The Final Word:  I’m giving this a 4 out of 5.  It’s relentlessly charming, and fiendishly addictive.  Your mileage may vary depending on your taste for this particular sort of gameplay; it’s not necessarily for everyone.  But it’s certainly for me.  Goddammit.

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