Star-Wars:-Tiny-Death-Star-Review Star Wars: Tiny Death Star Review

   10/11/2013 at 15:20       Chris Grapes       6 COMMENTS. - Score 3/5
 - iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows Phone, Windows 8

I’ve never actually been in a lift that plays music. I’m convinced it’s all an elaborate lie by TV and movie studios in order to have something to fill scenes with uncomfortable silences. No, the lifts I’ve ridden in have all been silent, musically. The virtual lifts that make up the majority of your screen time in Star Wars: Tiny Death Star, however, are overwhelmingly vocal, spewing out muzak twists of John Williams until sanity snaps and volume is muted.

It’s all personal taste, of course. You may delight in hours of a lounge music interpretation of the Imperial March, or a curiously upbeat rendition of The Force Theme. You may even seek out an mp3 soundtrack to listen to when not playing the game. I’m not sure why even the most devoted Star Wars fan would want to put themselves through that Hammond Organ Hell, but horses for courses, I suppose.

Tiny Death Star, then, is a game about lifts. A game about ferrying people around in lifts. A game about manually ferrying people around in lifts, holding down the button until they reach their destination some 10, 20, maybe even 80 floors or so above. Floors that you’ve meticulously constructed and laid out in optimum fashion to give the residents of the Death Star jobs to do, food to eat, entertainment to enjoy to clean.

TDS is a spin-off/sequel to the fairly successful Tiny Towers. It’s functionally identical to the original, only with Star Wars veneer. R2D2 working in an ice cream store, Boba Fett hoping for his dream job in freight shipping, etc etc. When you open up the game after a few hours away, the Emperor spins round maniacally in his chair only to cheerfully announce you’ve earned 13,764 credits while you were gone. These credits flows in from the various stores—retail, service, recreation—manned by the various “bitizens” (who also need residential levels for somewhere to stay, because having Ewoks and Gungans live on the Death Star is clearly part of the Empire’s grand plan). Money also comes from missions assigned by Palpatine (usually a subtle prod of what needs to be built next) and secret missions from Darth Vader, which require building special Imperial levels like detention cells, tractor beams etc. Actual Death Star stuff, rather than karaoke bars and pet shops.

It’s also a freemium game, so that of course means micromanagement combined with lots of waiting around. Gameplay consists of pressing things. You have to stock the stores by pressing a button. And open stores by pressing a button. And pick up items by pressing a button. And send people about in lifts by pressing—and holding—a button. All with their own respective cooldowns that range from minutes to hours.

The freemium side of things manifests itself through the use of “bux”, which can be bought outright in bulk for real cash or trickle in slowly on completion of certain things (matching a Bitizen to their dream job, or constructing a new level), and can be used either to speed up construction or stocking, or saved up and spent on pointless tat like pixel versions of famous characters, rather than the randomly generated everymen who make up the usual Bitizens you’ll see. Most things are just a few bux, which isn’t all that bad, but some of the fancier, well-known characters are in the triple digits. At the time of writing, 100 bux would set you back a fiver.

Oh, and there’s also faster lifts you can buy. Lifts are necessary to ferry new Bitizens about or deliver the occasional VIP who’ll have a random effect like upgrading the stock levels of a store. The problem is, by the time you’ve built up a sizeable number of floors the lift can take a good thirty seconds or so to reach its destination, and even though the Star Wars universe has sentient robots and planet destroying battle stations they’ve yet to figure out how to automate lifts. So you have to hold the lift button down for them literally the entire journey from start to finish. Once they’ve moved into an apartment the Bitizens can move about on their own, but guests seem to need constant shepherding about for little actual reward (a tip in coins equivalent to the floor number and a whole minute off construction/stocking costs for that floor—useless when you’re earning thousands a minute and have countdowns measurable in hours). And if you don’t shepherd them, the notification icon flashes away endlessly and the Bitizen sits there, blocking up the lift until the end of time, ensuring no VIPs or special guests will ever get in. So faster lifts seems like they’ll be a solid investment. But they cost quite a few bux each (to get all of them would cost you in the region of 800 bux—40 quid in real money) and consecutively knock off a fraction of a second of finger-holding-time, making them as worthwhile as spending an entire day in an actual lift. 

So, quite shit then. But also annoyingly compelling. It’s one of the less insidious freemium games out at the moment—you can eke your way through at a reasonable pace without explicitly needing to spend any physical money, and most things you can purchase for bux eventually unlock through natural play (except, inexplicably, the lifts). Most freemium games tend to hit a wall of grinding to progress, not-so-subtly pushing towards having to spend real cash for anything to happen, but all you really have to do to move forwards in Tiny Death Star is check in a couple of times a day to restock the larger stores and build new levels. The two different kinds of missions also add a nice meta-game (with the ultimate goal being to build all the Imperial levels and make it a FULLY ARMED AND OPERATIONAL BATTLE STATION) and there’s the same sort of twee charm the Lego Star Wars games had, including occasional cutscenes and mini-narratives involving hunting down rebels.

It really boils down to how you get on with the cooldowns and long periods of doing nothing you get with the freemium model. If you’re the sort of person who can happily check in every few hours during ad breaks and keep things in your own personal Death Star ticking over, it should keep you entertained for a good while. If you’re someone who wants quick progress and cerebrally engaging gameplay (or someone who hates Star Wars and/or lifts) then probably best to avoid.

Star Wars: Tiny Death Star is free to download, and out now on iThings, Android, Windows Phone and Windows 8.

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