Last week I delivered the long-overdue iPhone review of Pocket Planes, a delightfully pixellated management sim in which the player must build and manage a thriving airline. This week I’ve developed another hopeless addiction, and that’s for another 8-bit-style simulation called Pixel People.
It’s a city building game with a twist – instead of dealing with economics, politics and waste management, you just build a utopia. For fun. And you clone people too! It’s a creative, methodical but altogether casual attempt at a classic genre and the result is like crack for your thumbs.
After all, SimCity isn’t out for a few months yet, and so this is probably the best way to scratch the city-building itch until then.
Pixel People isn’t just a casual 8-bit-style time-based city builder, but a casual 8-bit-style time-based city builder with a story. This story exists only to shine light on one of the game’s peculiarities: gene-splicing. The game challenges you to build a utopia, after the loss of all civilization. You start with only a few buildings and occupations available to you, with more discoverable by splicing genes together.
Discovering new occupations is a game of matching genes to create new outcomes. Rarely is this a challenge thanks to a handy indicator which lets you know if your current combination is a winner or not. Once you’ve discovered a new occupation, a new building becomes available and more space is required to build it. As your city grows and roster of able-bodied citizen clones expands, you will have to buy more land so you can expand your metropolis, which costs money. This is in-effect leveling up, and costs more and more each time (in accordance with your city’s increased wealth).
Pixel People is free to download and free to play. As with most games that fit this “freemium” model, there are two currencies – coins (which you earn constantly in-game) and Utopium, a currency which must be bought. You will earn free Utopium for tapping on hearts and leveling up, but seeing as most landscaping options like trees and fountains are bought only with Utopium you will have to budget carefully if you don’t want to spend any real money.
There are decorative items to place which have positive effects on your city, such as trees that produce currency and roads which make the place look a little neater. The citizens you create man the businesses which are placed throughout your city and all you have to do is give them a tap every now and again to keep the money coming in.
City Building Lite
The city you build is a pixellated cartoon world presented from an isometric perspective – Sim City this is not. There is no zoning, no water pipes or power stations to worry about and no treaties to form. This is city building at its simplest – deciding what goes where, and changing your mind if you want to move it again.
This doesn’t mean that Pixel People isn’t a fun city builder. The vast expanse of pixels that appear before you as you discover more and more combinations definitely feels like your own creation. It’s city building in the loosest sense, and it suits a casual game that’s meant to be played with your thumbs.
Pixel People continues to keep you coming back for more by providing lots to discover. There are 150 occupations to discover, many of which come with completely new buildings. In addition to this there are 80 hidden animals to discover and find, which are more like collectables than anything usable. These are not just items from the gallery screen (a running total of your discoveries to date) but zoom in far enough and you’ll see an orangutan among the olive groves, and your park ranger hard at work.
The game owes much of its success to the distinctive art style which makes it a joy to look at, with colors that pop and satisfying income pop-ups to let you know your businesses are raking in the cash. The ability to move your already-placed businesses is a nice touch, especially when you unlock more decorations and want to pad things out a little bit.
That’s pretty much it. There’s not even a main menu as all in-game functions are accessed via the Town Hall. Saving is done automatically, and syncs over iCloud so you can pick up your progress elsewhere, and with all these factors combined Pixel People becomes one of the best pick-up-and-play games on the iOS App Store.
City building and a puzzle-like game of mix and match? No wonder I can’t stop playing it. I haven’t been this addicted to an iOS game since Stainless Software re-released Carmageddon for the platform. Sure, it’s the same-old formula ad nauseum but with so many occupations, animals and buildings to unlock as well as the option of designing and beautifying your very own city, Pixel People has proved there’s life in the old time-based freemium simulation genre yet. Grab it!
Do you like Pixel People? Any similar games you’re enjoying? What are you playing till SimCity lands in March? Let us know in the comments, below.