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Review: Pixel People (iOS)

Saturday, February 9th, 2013 by

pixel_people_title

Pixel People, by Lambda Mu, tries hard to separate itself in the App Store’s crowded free-to-play casual space. So hard, in fact, that it has inspired the first review haiku, or “reviewiku.”

One more town builder,
Splicing genes is the gimmick,
Is it worth playing?

pixel_people_jobsPixel People is yet another town builder with an interesting gimmick that skew more towards the hardcore gamer out there. You are tasked with creating and re-colonizing a world in outer space. You’ll take some job DNA and splice it with other job DNA to make a new clone. It’s this science fiction slant, apparently set in a post-apocalyptic world, that will have regular gamers take notice.

There are 150 jobs available in all, and each new clone opens the door to creating all-new jobs. Each clone you splice together comes with the kind of tongue-in-cheek, punny name you’d expect from Garbage Pail Kids. You’ll notice, if you create a second or third clone, that the people at Lambda Mu went the full nine and created more based upon the clone’s sex. Neither the names nor the flavor text are funny, but they are charming regardless of their inherent cheesiness.

Many of the jobs you unlock come with new buildings. These buildings take between one and four spaces on the grid, and can only be manned by specific jobs. These buildings, in turn, occasionally have effects that open up new customization, cosmetic upgrades, or abilities for the player. While most are throwaway abilities, a few like the Bank’s cash-doubling ability, are invaluable. Unfortunately, “Double Time”, the most useful ability in the game, is tied to an in-app purchase. However, at ninety-nine cents, it’s fair to deem that the price of admission.

Once manned, these buildings need to be tapped to activate. The biggest challenge Pixel People provides is space management. You’ll need to save up your coins to expand your reach.

Pixel People tricks you early with such non-threatening timers that you simply feel like this is the way things will be. But, like all good things, it comes to an end. With each building, with each resident, with each expansion, the timers increase. Little by little, you’ll feel the fairness erode until you’re left with day-long timers and nothing to do. While you weren’t paying attention, Lambda Mu erected a pay wall. If you want to feel the satisfaction knowing what your next job unlocks, you could always pay to speed things up. But that, then, is an exercise in futility as you instantly hit another pay wall.pixel_people_town

Pixel People is actually quite generous with its secondary currency, Utopium. There are numerous ways to earn Utopium, but most of them require you to stay within the game. The best route is to simply fill your town with trees and farm your maximum of 25 Utopium a day, but the rewards are random and each tree takes up valuable space that might be better used trying raising your colony’s spirit to lower initial timers and reduce expansion costs.

While you wait, hearts appear over the residents’ houses every thirty or forty seconds. You’ll tap and hold them for about ten seconds to build a heart meter at the top. Once full, you’ll be rewarded with a “Surprise.” Occasionally, you’ll get some Utopium. Most of the time, you’ll get a small amount of coins or a collectable animal that can then appear in your town. It’s not exactly thrilling stuff, but it does fill the gaps while you wait.

Now, you may have read this and noticed there’s a lot of things going on. There’s something to be said about the satisfaction you get when you discover a new job or finally buy that expansion that you’ve been saving up to buy. However, that satisfaction gets spaced further and further apart as you go along.

You start to notice little flaws as the armor cracks. The painfully short production timers mean you’ll need to check your town often if you’re to expand. Animals feel tacked on and provide the only signs of life on what should be a bustling town. Nothing is animated aside from properties under construction. Even things like the lack of landscape orientation and inability to turn properties for a better fit began to get under my skin.

With no missions or mini-games to distract you, you realize you were never having fun at all. The only thing that kept you playing was the compulsion to unlock everything. Once you have that epiphany, you’re left with either continuing down that path or cutting your losses.

Pixel People looks fine and sounds good, but the only reason it stands out is its gimmick and setting. Mechanically, it does little to differentiate itself from its contemporaries. It is a good idea and manages to be charming, for certain, but is nothing more than the sum of its mundane parts.

Oh, the irony,
Set in space, this game proves that
bright stars burn out fast.

2 star

(Pixel People is available for free in the App Store and features iCloud saves, GameCenter integration, and support for widescreen displays. The “Double Time” in-app purchase was used for the review.)

About the Author

Fade to Slack is a founding member of Delta Attack, an American expatriate in South Korea, and a true believer in the legitimacy of mobile gaming. Keep up with him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Fade2Slack so he can justify having a Twitter account.

Fade to Slack has written 347 posts on Delta Attack
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