Nimblebit prepares for takeoff with Pocket Planes

Pocket Planes is independent developer Nimblebit’s long-awaited follow-up to its runaway success Tiny Tower. Incorporating the same super-pixelated retro art style as its spiritual predecessor, the new game tasks players with building up their own airline business across the world. Pocket Planes will be released on the iOS App Store as a Universal App on June 14. The team hasn’t said if the promised Android version will launch at the same time, but one is coming.

Pocket Planes is a much deeper, more complex game than Tiny Tower was, though it still remains accessible enough for almost anyone to enjoy. Players begin the game in a world region of their choice with a small fleet of low-capacity planes. The early hours of the game involve making money by picking up passengers and cargo and ferrying them to their destination. Flights take a period of real time to complete, after which a push notification informs the player of the aircraft’s arrival, and planes only have a certain range before they run out of fuel. This means that initially, the player will only be able to do short-range or domestic flights in and around their country of origin, but as they expand their empire they will be able to go further and further afield.

The player’s business expands in several ways. The fleet can be upgraded, either by purchasing complete new models from the in-game market or building them from parts acquired through play and traded with friends. Players may also purchase additional airports around the world as they earn enough capital — these may then open up as destinations for passengers and cargo, or used as “waypoints” for planes to refuel on longer journeys, allowing even short-ranged aircraft to cover long distances.

Besides simply carrying passengers and cargo around the world, time-limited events provide greater rewards for carrying specific characters to special locations. A new “Flight Crew” mode also allows players to team up simply by entering the same crew “tag” in the game and then compete in large-scale time-limited events for in-game prizes such as special aircraft.

It’s clear after just a short period of play that Nimblebit has been working hard to make the social component of Pocket Planes considerably more compelling than that seen in Tiny Tower. Besides the Flight Crew component and the ability to trade plane parts with friends, Game Center leaderboards allow players to compete against one another for the peak value of their airline, their experience level, the total number of miles flown, the total number of flights completed, the longest flight and the most profitable flight. A set of 36 Game Center achievements also ensures that players always have something to aim for if the vague goal of “make more money” isn’t enough for them. And the game is heavily integrated with Twitter, with players able to tweet from most game screens with a screenshot attached as well as retweet posts from the “BitBook” fake in-game social network.

Pocket Planes follows Tiny Tower’s lead in being generous with handing out hard currency for free through normal play. Again known as “Bux,” the game’s hard currency allows players to purchase new planes and parts, speed up lengthy flights or simply exchange for soft currency. Tiny Tower’s generosity in providing Bux to players for free actually convinced many players who would not normally spend money on free-to-play titles to open their wallets and throw a few dollars the developer’s way, which undoubtedly helped the game’s profitability. Pocket Planes looks set to continue that trend — so long as it manages to attract players in the first place, of course. Given the goodwill built up by the success of Tiny Tower, however, Pocket Planes looks like being every bit as successful as its predecessor — and is a deeper, better, more satisfying game, too.

Pocket Planes will be available from the App Store on June 14. Once it launches, you’ll be able to follow its progress through the App Store charts with AppData, our tracking service for iOS and social games and developers.