Is any gaming franchise free from the evil clutches of the Empire? It appears not, certainly not now Disney is involved, and the latest game to get a Star Wars make over is Tiny Tower. Star Wars: Tiny Death Star takes the formula from the incredibly popular collect-em-up and shifts the setting from a tower block to the titular space station. With the scene change comes all your favourite characters, with the Emperor and Darth Vader at the centre of the action.
The game’s concept is either simplicity itself, or a cunning way to get you to make many, many in-app purchases, depending on the way you look at it. You start with a relatively empty Death Star, and to ensure its completion, the Emperor turns to good old capitalism. Your goal is to build residential, commercial and recreational levels, all of which fund the Empire’s nefarious goals on the lower levels.
You build Star Wars-themed levels, like the infamous Cantina, or the game’s own creations such as the groan-inducing Toydarian Toys, and Rebo’s Karaoke. Then, hire Bitizens to staff the stores, and order up stock to sell to other Death Star inhabitants. Below the main levels, the Empire carries on its plans, so you can interrogate captured Rebels, and build ever-more evil machines.
At the heart of all this commerce are standard Credits and the less common Imperial Bux. You earn Credits from selling items, from visitors to the station, and seemingly just time passing. Imperial Bux are awarded at different times, sometimes as a reward for doing the Emperor’s bidding, or after catching a Rebel spy. Inevitably, you never have enough of either, and as building the station gets increasingly more expensive, the temptation is always there to visit the store.
So, what’s there when you go? The big promotional offer costs £2.99 and gives you 4500 Credits and 50 Imperial Bux. You can spend much more than this of course, but this is a decent opening offer. Credits are fairly easily earned, and if you leave Tiny Death Star running in the background, you can earn money even while you’re not playing. Imperial Bux are harder to come by, and are primarily used to speed things along.
When you buy stock or build new levels, a strict time limit is introduced, and sometimes it can take 20 or more minutes for stock to arrive. Spend a Bux, and it’s there instantly. Another aspect of playing Tiny Death Star is ferrying visitors from the Death Star’s entrance to other levels. This is done by elevator, and although it’s fast enough when you’ve got four levels, it’s not when you’ve got ten, twenty of even more. It’ll cost you 25 Imperial Bux just to up it by one speed. Don’t forget, £3 gets you a mere 50 Bux, so it’s very easy to spend a lot of real money in Tiny Death Star.
However, this is what Tiny Death Star is all about, spending both real and virtual currency, improving your station, and collecting stuff; whether it’s characters or amusing little cut scenes. All the while, the Emperor is pushing you to make more progress. If you let it, the game will send you notifications telling you something needs your attention, and warns you best take a look before Darth Vader finds out!
This combination of collecting and in-app purchases is a dangerous one, especially when it’s presented so well. Tiny Death Star’s 8-bit graphics are cute, the sound effects fun, and even the hideous Emperor is faintly comic. It’s shockingly addictive, and surprisingly enjoyable despite its simple gameplay, and should you succumb to the temptation of in-app purchases, it’ll inevitably be a slippery slope to spending more and more until you’ve built all 80 possible levels.
It’s in this spending where Tiny Death Star’s long-term appeal lies, and if you don’t want to go down that road, the need to fire up the game each day will quickly disappear. The app may be free to download, but it’s only possible to play it without spending anything for so long. If you’re looking for a management sim which isn’t stuffed with cruel attempts to empty your wallet, do take a look at Kairosoft’s Mega Mall Story, which is similarly addictive, but without any in-app purchases.
If the draw of the Star Wars name is just too much, you’re certain to have fun with Tiny Death Star, just don’t expect it to come for free.