Star Wars: Tiny Death Star Review — The Cute, Capitalist Side Of The Sith


Platform: iOS, Android
Publisher: LucasArts
Developer: NimbleBit
Release Date: November 7, 2013

Just about everyone knows the story of the Death Star, how the Empire planned to use it a long time ago to crush a rebellion in a galaxy far, far away, and its explosive fate. What isn’t as well known is how Palpatine got the funds together to build his world-destroying sphere in the first place. Thanks to NimbleBit, that question and some related ones are answered by “Star Wars: Tiny Death Star,” a mobile game that proves you never knew how cute and business-minded the Sith could be.

See, while Darth Vader is eager to put the fully operational battle station to the test, the Emperor knows there are credits to be made first. That means it’s up to you to turn the Death Star into a place where bitizens (NimbleBit’s term for its pixelated people) want to live and work. While Palpatine gives you guidance on how he wants to see the place constructed, you get the final say on how the different levels fall into place.

If you’ve played “Tiny Tower,” you’ll have a pretty good idea of how this happens. Building residential levels allows bitizens to move in. Several different types of business levels give them places to work, and each one can be stocked with three different kinds of products or services. As the humans and aliens of the “Star Wars” galaxy drop in to shop, you’ll earn credits that can be spent on building more levels. In-between, you can earn a few extra coins by ferrying visitors to their desired floors using the elevator, or turbolift, or whatever the correct sci-fi term is. Oh, and you’ll have to be on the lookout for Rebel spies.

A big part of the fun is seeing all of the ways NimbleBit has put its stamp on the beloved “Star Wars” trademarks. Both heroes and villains look undeniably cute rendered in the company’s pixel art style, and there’s a large roster of characters and aliens from all six of the flicks. All of the John Williams classic music bits are in there too, though reinterpreted as if they were being played by an 8-bit lounge band in keeping with the game’s tongue in cheek sensibilities.

There are fun bursts of dialogue and short, unlockable scenes. Visual gags abound, from the robot scurbbing the “roof” of the Death Star to the Nautolan tirelessly running on the treadmill in the workout center. And there’s a small amount of strategy, as matching bitizens with the correct jobs can pay off in increased profits and shorter stocking times. Palpatine’s missions can also earn you extra credits (plus keep you on his good side, relatively speaking), as can crafting items in the slightly more sinister Imperial basement levels.

The only real problem is one of pacing. “Tiny Death Star” is great to play in short bursts, as there’s always plenty to do when you first log in once your Death Star has grown a bit. That’s less true if you try to play for extended periods, unless you really like running the elevator or keeping the stores stocked. The spy incursions do help, but they’re often few and far between. This play model worked fine for the original “Tiny Tower,” but the best mobile games today give people enough content to play short or long sessions as desired.

After loosening up a bit on the premium currency reigns in “Pocket Trains,” NimbleBit also tightens things back up here. Imperial bux are needed for the most helpful upgrade you can perform—getting a faster elevator—as well as unlocking most of the game’s cool extras. Bux can be purchased for real money in classic freemium style, and we’ll just assume it’s the influence of the Empire that makes the developers more miserly this time around.

It almost goes without saying that huge “Star Wars” fans are going to overlook those few gripes and want this on their iOS or Android devices. Anyone who doesn’t care for George Lucas’ most famous creations (and I’m told there are people like that out there) might find this a little redundant if they already have “Tiny Tower” on their phone or tablet, but if you have any doubt about whether you fall into that category, you’re going to want to give this a free download and try your own hand at designing a Death Star. Apparently it’s a lot more whimsical than we were led to believe a few decades ago.


+ Mash-up between “Star Wars” and the NimbleBit house style is just as enjoyable as it sounds

+ Lots of unlockables

– Uneven pacing makes it less fun to play for longer sessions

– Accumulating premium currency takes a long time

Score: 8.5/10


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