Over the years, we’ve seen Star Wars adapted into an absurd variety of genres on iOS, from Hoth tower defense to cantina time management. Many of those games have vanished from the App Store like a dead Jedi, since they were developed by THQ before Disney acquired the Star Wars license, but we have a feeling that Tiny Death Star will make more of a lasting impact.
Star Wars: Tiny Death Star is a remake of Tiny Tower, by pocket-sim developers NimbleBit. When we first played Tiny Tower a long, long time ago, we praised it for its unique art style and in-game economy, which had you stocking inventory so that your tower earned currency while you were away. By moving Tiny Tower to the Star Wars universe, NimbleBit has a deep well of characters, settings, and terminology to draw from.
Tiny Death Star makes formidable use of this property in the character designs, which combine the 1970s and 1980s sci-fi aesthetic of the original Star Wars trilogy with NimbleBit’s big-headed, retro-style “bitizens”. You’ll see cutesy versions of Luke, Leia, Yoda, Darth Vader, and dozens of other main characters from the series. Most of your Death Star’s residents are humble workers and residents, who we hope move out before the Battle of Yavin.
As you construct residential towers and a clever collection of shops (including holochess, lightsaber stores, used droid retailers, and many more), you’ll also have to perform mini-missions for Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine. These include tutorial-like tasks, such as opening menus for a small reward, but later in the game you’ll be able to build underground Imperial levels. From interrogation rooms to weapon labs, these represent the dark side of the otherwise happy, mall-like atmosphere of Tiny Death Star’s above-ground levels.
If you’ve played Tiny Tower, you know how addictive and satisfying it can be to keep your tower fully operational. A few quick check-ins throughout the day will generate a lot of in-game currency, and watching your bitizens move around is hypnotic. The Star Wars outfits and occasional cutscenes provide joyful bursts of fan service, and you can expect to spend a lot of time growing your Death Star without necessarily spending real-life money.
For a game that lets you construct and manage the Death Star, though, there’s not really a lot of action. You can’t blow up planets, or activate laser defenses to fend off a Rebel attack. Even the tiniest action minigames, like NimbleBit has in their freemium sim Pocket Frogs, would make your Tiny Death Star feel more like a battlestation than a business.
We also have a slight issue with the elevator controls, which lets you drop off bitizens at different levels to move them into apartments or go shopping. On a full-sized iPad, the elevator button is placed near the middle of the screen, which means you can’t comfortably reach it with your hands resting on the edge. Moving these buttons closer to the side of the screen would save us a lot of strain, especially if we’re going to actively manage our Tiny Death Star instead of playing in very brief bursts.
If you’re a fan of the original Star Wars series, Tiny Death Star manages to feel both nostalgic and highly modern. It’s a well-balanced freemium game with an overwhelmingly clever visual style. A lot of thought and effort went into making Tiny Death Star feel delightfully fun throughout, making it well worth your time.