Pocket City Review - A City Builder Without Microtransactions

Pocket City

City building as a genre has been around for as long as any game genre in existence. In recent years the mobile gaming market has been flooded with variations of building simulators ranging from farms to tropical islands to classic cityscapes. The trait that many of these games share is that they rely heavily on microtransactions to purchase in-game currency to progress and succeed past a certain point. With Pocket City, the small Canadian developer Codebrew Games set out to buck this trend and prove that you can create a thriving city builder without microtransactions. And boy, did they succeed.

Pay Once, Play Forever

Pocket City is not a free game. Unlike most of its competition, you’ll have to fork over USD 4.99 to own it on your iOS or Android device. The good news is that once you’ve purchased it, you’re free to play it for as long as you like and you’ll never be asked to buy anything else. What a quaint idea. Most other mobile city builders rely on lengthy quests to keep players engaged. The impatient among us often throw wads of cash at those games to alleviate the often incredibly time-consuming requirements of these quests, and that’s how those games make money. Pocket City aims to keep you engaged by offering loads of in-game quests and activities that should keep things from getting stale.

Following the classic model of the city building genre, you begin in Pocket City with a modest budget and start by following basic quests that teach you how to build the basics of your city. Power and water are the primary resources required for your city to grow and they are distributed by roadways. These roads connect the standard three zones; residential, commercial, and industrial. As you progress, other city improvements become unlocked, ranging from police, fire, and medical services to educational institutions and leisure activities for your citizens to enjoy.

Everything in Pocket City is purchased with the in-game dollars that you earn through taxes and export of goods. There are no magical beans, lucky stars, or special currency that will speed things up. In fact, throughout the many hours I’ve sunk into the game, I never once ran low on cash. Perhaps that needs some rebalancing for those looking for a stiffer challenge, but I tend to play mobile games to relax, not to be challenged. As your city grows, you’ll expand the area you can build on, unlock wider roads, upgraded zones to allow larger buildings, to hold more residents, who pay more taxes, require more services, and complain more. It’s pretty standard fare when it comes to city building, but so far I haven’t yet gotten frustrated with any of the mechanics, something that usually happens sooner or later.

Am I a Good Mayor?

Pocket City is almost too easy. The typical problems you may encounter range from criminals taking over your city, to entire city blocks burning down, to one of the many disasters that can occur. It’s all quite tame, however. I never really had a problem with crime, even though some areas were inexplicably more rampant with criminal activity than others. There are visual overlays offering assistance pinpointing those hotspots, as well as showing power and water distribution, and traffic congestion. Strangely, a fire coverage overlay is missing, and that’s a real shame because it can become troublesome figuring out what areas are well covered and what city blocks are likely to burn down at any moment.

Traffic is the bane of my existence in Pocket City, at least judging by the stats the game provides. According to the stats, I am doing an excellent job of connecting various zones to each other, but the congestion is a nightmare resembling that of my native Vancouver. Aside from that, I don’t notice it. Sure, occasionally an entire block burns down because the fire department can’t get there fast enough, but once I unlocked the fire station upgrades that provide helicopter coverage, even that wasn’t a big deal anymore. There are options to improve traffic issues, such as a bus system and a monorail system, as well as larger highways. The problem is that only regular roads will distribute water and electricity to neighborhoods, so aside from the occasional monorail, I just stuck to regular roads and plopped bus stops everywhere at random. This seems to be fine.

I really shouldn’t complain about the fact that people seem to be happy, I’m drowning in money, and everything looks so adorably cute.

Speaking of Cute

The graphics in Pocket City are adorable. Every little detail is rendered in a quaint pastel-like color palette and animated lovingly. Pedestrians, vehicles, and buildings are inspired and can be zoomed in on to discover all the hustle and bustle of your small metropolis. I’ve had fun watching people get mugged by my local gangs, and watched fire trucks put out that fire caused by the block party I threw. Yeah, you can throw little events to cheer up your citizens. Everything from fireworks to block parties and more can be triggered at will, provided you’ve unlocked them.