Chillingo—publishers of such iOS classics as Angry Birds, Cut The Rope, and Order Up! To Go—have a new surefire hit on their hands in Pixel People, an addictive and unique mix of genre games that will have you constantly checking your iDevice for progress within your pixelated utopia.
What is it?
The basic premise of the game is not an entirely new one; you are tasked with rebuilding civilization in space as the Mayor of Utopia. To do this, you need to build various types of businesses and residences (similar to Tiny Tower) in order to make money and expand your fledgeling empire. These buildings need to be filled with clones in order to work, however, and this is where the game differs from the norm.
How does it work?
Unlike with other games of its ilk, citizens don’t just arrive ready to work. You will need to create them using a compelling, often hilarious element-combining mechanic called “splicing.”
All new citizens of Utopia arrive as blank clones who need genetic input. At the very beginning of the game you have access to two types of DNA: your own (mayor) and that of your companion Eve Jobs (Mechanic). Combining these two professions unlocks the engineer, who brings with him a new building type in the form of the Mine. Combining Mechanic and Engineer gives you Mechanical Engineer, Mayor and Engineer provide you with Architect, and so on. From here you are free to experiment with matches to unlock more professions and buildings thus expanding your pixelated city.
As your city grows you will eventually run out of land and need to expand its boundaries. This is done through use of the in-game currency that your citizens are hard at work earning for you. If you don’t have enough gold you can always convert the Utopium, which is slowly churned out by your mine or purchased with your real life money, into gold for your use.
It’s not all businesses and citizens, though; there are plenty of “Surprises” to keep you busy as well. As you build residences for your new pixel people they will start to become romantically involved. Every few minutes you spend just staring at your map (and believe me, you will find yourself staring for hours) a little heart will appear above one of your residences. Once you touch that building you will see that a little heart has developed between two of your pixel people, and tapping on this heart and holding it allows the love to grow and adds one heart to your collection at the top of the screen. Once you reach the 11th heart you unlock a “suprise” (money, utopium or collectable animals that have no other bearing on the game whatsoever). This love mechanic will keep completionists coming back to the game long after you have unlocked all 150 professions, as there are over 60 collectable animals to unlock.
One of the coolest things about Pixel People is the way it’s presented. The world really is a beautiful one, albeit fairly cartoony. The trading card style packages that pop up and need to be torn open whenever you unlock something new is a great design element that really appeals to the collector in me.
My one gripe with the game is that the world doesn’t feel quite as alive as I would like it to, after spending hours reorganizing my city to have a nice layout complete with roads and parks, it would be nice to see cars driving on those roads, or children playing at the parks. Unfortunately, that never happens.
Is it contagious?
Surprisingly enough, Pixel People is quite a deep game once you delve beyond its initial cuteness. Just as you think you have it all worked out there is something new to discover if you are inclined to look. Various buildings unlock secret bonuses such as an achievement system, ways to earn extra utopium or new ways to expand and upgrade your city. None of these are advertised through the in-game hint system or tutorial, they are quiet rewards for exploring the beautiful pixelated world you have created.
The addictive wait and tap for reward gameplay of Tiny Tower spliced with the combining strategies of Doodle God sounds like a strange mix at first, but it makes for a quirky, fun and enjoyable game that will dig its hooks into you early and keep you constantly returning for more. The game truly rewards exploration and interaction, with hidden bonuses sprinkled throughout, and it appeals greatly to the collector or completionist with its trading card inspired surprise system and profession collecting. Chillingo has bet on another winner with Pixel People, and I honestly consider it a modern iOS classic.
Freemium games should all be this good.