If you’ve had a smartphone for more than two years, it’s likely that you’re familiar with the work that Nimblebit has done. Their “free-to-play” breakout hit, Tiny Tower, once captured the attention and wallets of adolescents and adults alike. The premise of Tiny Tower is simple: Construct a skyscraper, fill it full of apartments, restaurants, and retail establishments – and profit from them. With each level you create there is an increased construction time that can be bought-out with in-app, real money “bux”. Bux can also be earned in game, but they are sparse in nature when compared to what you get for their rate of exchange. As you build you also earn coins through retail sales, which drive the construction of new floors. Coins can also be purchased for real-world cash, with packages ranging from one to ninety-nine US dollars. Nimblebit extended this mechanic to their later games, Pocket Planes and Pocket Trains.
The games are pretty addicting. However, as the return for time spent becomes to dwindle – you are more inclined to purchase currencies to speed up the development process. It’s a pretty standard mechanic of the F2P platform, but in this case it is hard to resist the temptation to buy into the digital currency. At the end of the day, Nimblebit knows how to squeeze money from its fan-base, taking advantage of the player’s desire and impatience to create an empire that thrives.
Last week, in a galaxy far, far away – Disney made good on their promise to push the Star Wars IP onto the mobile platform. On November 8th LucasArts, in conjunction with mobile developer Nimblebit, released Star Wars: Tiny Death Star world-wide for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone. Tiny Death Star is essentially a reskin of the original Tiny Tower, with a few distinct modifications. The first being that YOU’RE CONSTRUCTING A FREAKING DEATH STAR! With direct orders from Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader, you’re on a mission to build the biggest, and best, flying sphere of death possible. The game has the typical restaurants and retail outlets, but also includes Imperial constructions. These include but are not limited to, interrogation rooms, blast doors, map rooms, and tractor beams – built on lower levels under the habitable areas of your Death Star. With Imperial levels, you are able to craft parts necessary to fulfill Vader’s improvement missions.
Your Death Star never feels lonely as it is populated with licensed characters and races from the franchise. You’ll see jawa, gungan, and the majority of the Empire’s military forces – roaming your expanding structure. That’s not all, the more you build, the more likely you’ll get to see familiar faces from episodes I-VI. In my game, Alderaan Leia kept sneaking through the floors, eventually getting into a shootout with Stormtroopers. Tapping on rebel supporters rewards you with bux, and the delight in knowing that the Alliance hadn’t pulled one over on you. You can also artificially bring in characters with digital currency, but it is terribly expensive to do so.
Even with all the references, including the infamous Cantina scene, Tiny Death Star just feels like it’s cheapening the impact of the Star Wars series. The characters are rendered in a cute and memorable style, but are paired with a system that is an unabashed money-suck. I can’t help to think what Star Wars 1313 could have been, if Disney hadn’t made LucasArts abandon their project for mobile games like this. It’s really a shame.
What are your thoughts on Tiny Death Star? Does it stack up with other Nimblebit games? Do you think that media like this, degrades the worth of the Star Wars series?