After spending the last 48 hours passing through various airports, sleeping very little and being crammed into economy airplane seating I don’t think I’ll ever consider a career in commercial aviation. Jet lag aside, there are only so many impatient travellers and take-off procedures I can stomach in one week.
I’d rather pretend with the aid of my iPhone and Pocket Planes, another of those oh-so-popular micro-management games that have captured the hearts of casual gamers over recent years. The sim is the work of NimbleBit, the same guys who won us all over with Tiny Tower.
If you’re a fan of the genre then you will absolutely love Pocket Planes.
Come Fly Away
Pocket Planes takes the Tiny Tower formula and applies it to air travel. Instead of managing a tower, you’re now in charge of your very own airline. Instead of customers, you’ve got passengers and instead of building shops you expand your empire by moving into new territories and airports. This particular review refers to the iPhone version, though this is a universal app that runs similarly well on the iPad as well as Android devices.
If anything this method takes the sting out of the waiting around involved in the genre – instead of waiting for shops to be “built” you’re waiting for planes to land. It makes slightly more sense, and of course there are still premium options for speeding up time (not that you’ll need to spend a penny to enjoy this one).
The game first asks you to choose a territory, and dumps you in a couple of the major airports. You earn money by loading cargo and passengers onto planes and sending them on their way. With the money earned you can build up a large fleet of aircraft, upgrade your airports and expand your horizons by going international. It’s not a quick process, which means there’s plenty to keep you busy, but it’s also not hard – just methodical.
This fits in nicely with the casual play style and there’s always something to do even when all your planes are in the air.
Like most management games, in order to advance you’ll need to expand your operation. Upgrades cost coins which are easy to come buy – but for some you’ll need “Bux” which can only be earned by certain jobs and via a premium purchase. It’s understandable that NimbleBit need to make some money on what is a fantastic game, and thankfully it’s not too limiting.
If you want to expand quickly then a purchase will do the trick, or if you’re happy enough continuing at a more sedate pace then you won’t have to buy anything.
Mixing It Up
The problem with micro-management games is that usually very little changes aside from the scenario, be it an airline, a hotel or a mall. Interestingly, Pocket Planes attempts to shake up the tried and tested formula which is most definitely a welcome change.
The game awards you with perks like complimentary Bux and free expansions as you level up, as well as aircraft “parts” for unlocking more craft as you buy your way into more locations. This means if you find a few parts you can save money on new craft by buying the parts you don’t have and crafting them together.
As well as crafting there are global “events” with prizes for completing certain criteria in certain regions. This can be anything from a sci-fi convention in Los Angeles to a gold rush in Havana, and while it’s possible to go it alone, the game introduces “Flight Crews” in order to better achieve these goals.
Flight Crews use a hashtag as an identifier, and by default this will be your Game Centre name. If you decide to team up with someone by sharing a hashtag, you’ve got a much better chance of completing the criteria in the limited time. It’s a nice touch, and adds a social element to what would otherwise be an entirely single-player game. You can also gift parts and planes you no longer need, another welcome addition.
The game uses Game Centre to rank you on leaderboards with 36 achievements to unlock, as well as iOS notifications to let you know what your fleet is up to. iCloud integration syncs your progress across devices, and it goes without saying that the game has been optimised for the iPhone 5.
It might just be a micro-management game, but it ticks all the boxes and includes a few unexpected perks like Flight Crews and crafting to make things more interesting. The delightful 8-bit graphics and addictive gameplay ensures the game is great to look at and there’s always something to do, and that’s why Pocket Planes is featured on our Best iPhone Games list. NimbleBit have triumphed again in a field they know so very well and I can’t wait to see where they go with the genre next.
Download: Pocket Planes @ App Store