As our beloved 4X Golden Age slowly sinks into the deeper oranges of sunset, it’s clear that the sun has risen on a new era of city builder games. While developers continue to iterate on the established norms of the genre, players have plenty of options when it comes to constructing the metropolis of their dreams/nightmares.
But what if you don’t want to build a city on the moon (Anno) or on Mars (Surviving Mars), or some weird alien planet (Aven Colony)? What if you’re not interested in barely surviving a frozen hellscape (Frostpunk)? What if you just want to build a normal city, on normal Earth, and you don’t want to have to worry about setting the third traffic light on the fourth street of your burgeoning metropolis (like in Cities: Skylines)?
Well then, you might want to give Pocket City a try.
Pocket City is a new (relatively, it launched in 2017) game from mobile veterans Codebrew Games. There isn’t a lot of setup to talk about here. There’s no special twist or genre-exploding feature that sets PC apart. It’s a city builder – straightforward and expected.
With PC you can choose to either build your city in sandbox mode with infinite cash or you can follow the storyline, which is the real meat of the game. As always, you start with a clear bit of map space and the ability to create roads as well as residential, commercial, and industrial zones.
Eventually, the populace will grow, and you’ll have to add additional services such as fire, police, education, etc. The larger your city, the more options you’ll have and you can build stadiums, ports, and even famous landmarks. Disasters will occasionally show up (or you can choose them from a menu) and you’ll have to deal with their path of destruction.
Traffic may become an issue (though it’s far less omnipresent as in a certain game whose names rhymes with cryfines), and you’ll have to adjust your roads for smoother transport. Or you can add public transportation to help alleviate the pressure. Public transit will also help with pollution, another potential problem.
Your citizens will also make requests of you. Some of them make sense, like building more parks. Some are a little… Indulgent. Your fire chief wants a house overlooking the water. OK… Some are downright creepy (Find someone doing yoga for the bank manager. Yikes). But it continues to give you something to do during the game beyond working towards more money, more experience, and more stuff.
But you know all this. What’s amazing is that it’s all happening, smoothly, in such a tiny package.
Codebrew is clearly comfortable in a mobile environment. The controls are intuitive and the UI is intelligent – useful, but unobtrusive. On both the phone and the tablet, I found it extremely easy to navigate menus, find what I want, and place it in my city.
The graphics overall are solid and even attractive. PC uses a cartoony, low-pixel aesthetic that strikes a nice balance between running smoothly on a mobile platform but giving you clear, recognizable icons. I never struggled to understand what I was looking at. The final result can often be quite pretty, actually.
I played almost exclusively without sound but what’s there is fine. The music is just one song, and you will turn it off soon after you start the game. Ambient noise is nice, though, and does a good job of helping immerse you in the environment.
PC is a full-fledged, functioning, city builder on the go. It is more than just a good-enough compromise that you can put up with because you can take it anywhere. It’s a legitimate game that you might reasonably decide to play instead of the fancy AAA experiences you have on your mainframe’s hard drive.
However (bum bum buuuummmmmm) this means PC also struggles with the same problems that those other city builders do. After you’ve seen the game once, you’ve seen it all. There are no surprises and content does not evolve to encourage replay. Because of its simple nature, PC seems particularly vulnerable to this issue. Even building another city, just to try something different, will end up as a straight road to Sameville.
The developers seem to recognize this and put up gates to try to add complexity in the midgame. The aforementioned quests, for example. The game also forces you to purchase more land and limits your earnings until you reach certain levels. And, of course, there are the disasters. But these are not real challenges, just annoyances that – more often than not – impede the fun rather than draw it out.
This is a genre where just leaving the game on to collect cash is a legitimate strategy and PC’s simplicity, unfortunately, only makes it worse. That said, I really enjoyed my time with PC and I think you will,too. Even better, there are no in-app purchases in the game. No weird economy that forces you to purchase purple crystals in order to play longer than twenty minutes. You pay once, $4.99, on your Apple or Google device, and then you go build to your heart’s content.
Yes, Pocket City can be simple sometimes. But that’s also what makes it great.
TL;DR: Pocket City is a no-frills city builder in a mobile package. The game has many of the same features as it’s AAA brethren, but it lacks some of the depth. That’s often a good thing as there’s no overbaked features to keep you from having fun. However, it also suffers from the weaknesses of its genre and replayability is going to be an issue.
You might like this game if:
- You enjoy city builder games
- You want a simple, fun game to play on the go
- In-app purchases drive you out of your mind
You might NOT like this game if:
- You want a lot of detail
- You’re looking for some kind of story or narrative
- Your boss already warned you about playing games during conference calls
Joshua purchased the game for himself and played for 10+ hours on an iPad Air and an iPhone 7.