Pixel People (iOS) review
Pixel People is a new iOS game published by Chillingo and developed by LambdaMu Games. It’s available now as a free download from the App Store, with additional in-app purchases available of the game’s hard currency.
Pixel People is obviously taking very heavy cues from Nimblebit’s popular mobile games Tiny Tower and Pocket Planes, but manages to create a distinctive experience while maintaining the same endearing pixel-art style. The concept of the game is that the player is in charge of a futuristic colony of clones and must splice genetic material together to discover the game’s 150 jobs. Unlocking jobs subsequently unlocks buildings and allows the player’s colony to grow and increase its regular income, but the player must check in regularly on the colony to ensure that all its citizens are getting on with their work. Players may also share their new job discoveries on Facebook — playing communally with friends to discover all the combinations is a good way to make rapid progress.
Basic gameplay in Pixel People involves building houses in order to free up space for new inhabitants, then waiting for new clones to arrive in the “arrival center” facility. When a new clone arrives, they are a “blank slate” and must have their genes spliced in order to find them a job. Initially, two jobs are available — mayor and mechanic — but as the player combines different arrangements of jobs together, they gradually unlock more and more different careers for their pixelated citizens to join. Most of these jobs are discovered by splicing genes together, but some are simply awarded for making a particular amount of progress in the game. The interface gives good feedback on which combinations the player has already tried, which ones will result in a new job and which ones will not work at all — this helps ensure that the player will never waste their time creating jobs they already know. A humorous “news ticker” across the bottom of the screen occasionally provides hints on new combinations, and tapping on buildings with unoccupied jobs allows the player to unlock the genetic formula for the missing careers in exchange for hard currency.
Upon discovering a new job, sometimes a new building type becomes available and must be placed on the map before the new citizen can star their career. Different buildings take up varying amounts of space on the game grid, and there is a limit to how many spaces the player is able to occupy with their colony. This limit may be bumped up by spending increasingly large amounts of soft currency, and is one of the main means through which the player’s progress in the game is reflected.
Besides splicing genes and building, the player must also keep an eye on their colony to ensure it is running efficiently. Occupied “job” buildings will only produce money for a set period of time, after which they must be tapped on again to continue. Similarly, naturally-landscaped areas around the colony regularly produce coins and sometimes hard currency, which must be tapped on to claim. Finally, hearts occasionally appear over residential buildings — tapping and holding on these claims the clones’ “love,” which is exchanged for a prize when 11 have been collected. Prizes range from soft currency awards to collectible animal species, which are tracked in a separate screen to the discovered jobs.
Much like Nimblebit’s games, Pixel People is a simple to play and endearing game that doesn’t have all that much depth or strategy to it but still manages to remain compelling and addictive regardless. Its monetization is unobtrusive and never requires that players pay up to make progress — they can simply progress a little quicker if they pay for some hard currency. It’s obviously been designed to be fun and entertaining first and foremost, and to make money second. As Nimblebit proved with their titles, this is a good way to win the hearts (and subsequently wallets) of a broad spectrum of players — including the notoriously difficult to please core gamers.
In short, then, Pixel People is a very strong addition to Chillingo’s lineup, and a sign that perhaps LambdaMu Games are a studio that are well worth keeping an eye on in the near future.
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A fun and endearing — if ultimately slightly limited — mobile game in the Nimblebit mold.