The Star Wars universe provides a unique opportunity for game developers to place familiar characters and settings into any genre they choose. Just this year, we’ve reviewed a Star Wars console RPG, collectible card game, and second Angry Birds spin-off. Now Disney has recruited Tiny Tower creators Nimblebit to build a Star Wars version of their popular freemium tower-building simulation. We spent some time with Tiny Death Star, which is available now in New Zealand and will be blowing up the entire planet soon.
If you’ve played Tiny Tower, you’ll instantly be familiar with the basics of Tiny Death Star. In the opening sequence, Emperor Palpatine summons an adorably low-resolution Darth Vader and instructs him to build a shopping plaza within the Death Star that can help fund its construction. This premise seems a bit weak, since the Death Star is supposed to be a world-destroying battleship and not a mall, but it does give the developers an excuse to cram a variety of Star Wars locations in one place.
Your Death Star’s shopping, residential, and recreation centers are built vertically, and not in a spheroid shape like the Death Star itself. It would have been nice to see the levels wrap around in a circle, to combine the two distinct visual styles. If you don’t think of Tiny Death Star as part of the official Star Wars canon, that might be enough to keep fans from raging against game’s unusual concept.
Your first task is to build apartments for the galactic “bitizens”, who are pixelated peons that will live and work in your tower. You will also be visited by the occasional Star Wars hero, like Luke Skywalker or Princess Leia, but we can only assume that they’re gathering intelligence for a Rebel attack. Again, don’t think too hard about the plot complications in Tiny Death Star, or the lack of logic may cause a mental short-circuit.
The bitizens look fantastic, due to the fact that you can randomize them with costumes inspired by a hundred Star Wars background characters. While cycling through outfits, your character may tie their hair into a pair of buns, or don an X-wing fighter’s jumpsuit. More than anything else in Tiny Death Star, we think that the randomized bitizen outfits help settle this game in the Star Wars universe.
The rest of the game seems to be a straightforward reskin of Tiny Tower. Instead of coffee shops, you’ll build cantinas that serve blue milk and womprat stew, which you’ll have to press a button to stock. Then, you can sit back and wait for the credits to roll in. Just like in Tiny Tower, you can hurry along production using Galactic Bucks, or you can save them up for larger purchases like hero characters. Special Imperial levels, such as interrogation rooms, are built below the main tower and provide unique missions that serve the Emperor’s primary goals.
We praised Tiny Tower two years ago for its original concept, and Tiny Death Star doesn’t make too many changes to the formula, except to add lots of Star Wars-themed artwork. One subtle addition is “scenes”, which are animated encounters that randomly appear when special characters enter a particular level. The one we saw featured Jar Jar Binks wrecking the cantina by slurping up a frog dangling from the ceiling. These scenes are automatically saved so you can view them later, which makes Tiny Death Star feel slightly more cinematic than the original Tiny Tower.
The Star Wars license alone will probably encourage lots of players to download this freemium app, but they might also be confused by the gameplay mechanics held over from Tiny Tower. If you’re a Star Wars fan, you probably won’t understand why you have to wait so long for basic supplies to stock, or why the Rebel Alliance would rent an apartment inside the Emperor’s interstellar weapon of mass destruction. The lack of a logical explanation for these events is disconcerting, until you accept the true reasoning behind them: With Nimblebit and Disney joining forces, they can rule the App Store.