Review: Pocket City06 Aug 2018 7
Review: Pocket City
Released 01 Aug 2018
Aspiring urban planners, beware. Having Pocket City installed on your phone will give you a nasty case of compulsive phone-checking every ten minutes. Once you're fully invested, there's something about this quirky little city-building adventure that practically begs you to keep coming back, even when you're just sitting around waiting for your cash counter to tick upward long enough so that you can afford a new commercial zone to start the cycle anew.
Codebrew Games' Pocket City is one of the most engaging building experiences on either iOS or Android, and it's full to bursting with things to do, buildings and terrain to unlock, and events to keep you on your toes. The $4.99 game is a small slice of mobile heaven, free of the frustrating timers, obnoxious ads, or energy systems that plague too many of the platform's would-be gems of the genre.
The premise is simple: You start out with a humble plot of land, a handful of money, and a dream. Your first order of business is to start building roads, and then you can branch out from there. You can choose from industrial, commercial, and residential zones, all of which (like roads) can be built simply by selecting a starting point on the grid-based map and dragging outward. Your buildings will spring up in a matter of seconds. Next, you have to make sure they all have electricity and water by building power plants and water towers in a central location, then making sure your roads connect it all together.
There's a brief tutorial at the start of the game to get you acclimated, but you really don't need it, helpful as it is. It's extremely simple to pick up and play, and even simpler to get caught up in Pocket City's rewarding gameplay loop. Build more roads, structures, and zones, and you'll earn XP. Earn more XP, and you'll level up. Level up, and you'll unlock new structures and other cool things to help grow your city even further. You'll then start the cycle over, albeit with additional cash in your pocket to accomplish all this the more you play. The point-and-click interface makes things even easier to understand, because it's positively fool proof.
While building your city, you can utilize recreational locations like aquariums and art galleries to attract visitors, city-dwellers, and build service-oriented structures as well. Your city isn’t going to function properly without a police station, hospital, or fire station, after all. When robbers strike, or buildings go up in flames, you’ll be glad you had them built. Multiple locations are optimal, of course, so your servicemen can get to crimes and fires in time.
If you’re not sure what to do next beyond unlocking new structures and buying new plots of land to eventually buy up the entirety of the grid, there are also quests to complete. Finishing them up will net you a hefty amount of XP and cash, and they often help point you in the right direction. For instance, the fire chief may ask you to upgrade your fire station to level 2 so you can add chopper support, or you may want to upgrade your bank, so you can continue to amass more money. Most are relatively simple tasks to complete, but they do keep you on the right track and pay out big rewards.
There's a graph at the top of the screen that helps you figure out at a glance what your city needs more of at the moment: more residential areas? More commercial zones? You can play the entirety of the game simply by checking this graph, but there are additional stats that go into much more detail to pore over as well. You can see your income per second, your population, your city-dwellers' happiness, and a slew of other informative minutia to help you plan out the best possible city you can.
Sometimes, however, disaster will strike in the form of some pretty devastating natural events: you'll have to contend with tornadoes, erupting volcanoes, and even powerful thunderstorms. You can opt out of random weather events, or you can even trigger them on your own on purpose for a quick XP boost and rewards for coming out relatively unscathed. These disasters can be frustrating, but nowhere near the level you might have thought.
You can simply rebuild everything that was damaged with one click if you choose, although it'll eat up a staggering amount of pocket change. Triggering events feels a little sacrilegious if you're doing it to earn XP since we're hardwired to hate the things in games like Sim City, but it adds a fun strategic element here.
There are also a series of events you can choose to hold, such as block parties, street races, and fireworks shows. They’ll get you a nice XP boost, so you can rocket toward the next level, but have cooldown periods so you can’t simply reuse them over and over again.
Unfortunately, your time with Pocket City starts to feel a lot less fun when you're rolling in the dough and are a bit confused on what to spend it on. When you've unlocked all the land there is and you're simply not unlocking new toys anymore, it becomes a game of micromanagement and reworking the city plan you've already laid out to ensure its functioning optimally.
This may mean you'll have to change up entire areas by demolishing buildings and starting anew, which can be frustrating after putting so much time into that area. But it's a necessary evil, especially if you want to go beyond Casual and play on Hard or Expert difficulties. That's where things get especially hairy, and even more challenging. You'll get there, even if it feels like you've got more than you can handle – it's such a breezy, entertaining game that it's fun even when it's pushing you.
There's functionality beyond the regular game mode, though. You can keep multiple cities going at once to come back to, so you've got plenty of ways to practice. You can save up to 20 of them, if you so choose. If you make one that you're especially proud of, you can share it with the Cloud to let others try it out. Likewise, you can also download others' cities to see what they've done with their land.
There's also Sandbox Mode, which lets you play around with building fun new cities the way you want them to look, without having to worry about keeping your citizens happy, raising income taxes, or stopping an errant robber. It's a nice, relaxing way to play if you're not interested in building up an awesome place to live.
Pocket City is by far one of the best city-building experiences you can have on any platform, mobile or otherwise. The streamlined, ad-free experience is great fun at every turn, and minutes spent in-game quickly turn into hours. It's a wonder this review even got written, with a bustling city that's in need of its mayor unattended for the length of time it took to write this. If you're on the fence, just go ahead and pay the five bucks. You certainly won't regret it.