Developer: Stir Fry Games
Price: $2.99
Version Reviewed: 1.0
Device Reviewed On: iPad Air

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★☆☆
Controls Rating: ★★★½☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★☆☆
Replay Value Rating: ★★★½☆

Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆

When it comes to city building, the sky is quite literally the limit in Merchants of the Sky. Instead of starting a new community on the boring old surface, players colonize an archipelago of floating islands. Once they get up there though, the somewhat taxing gameplay might bring them back down to Earth

mots 2Like in real life, the goal in Merchants of the Sky is to earn as much profit as possible by building and maintaining a thriving community. After the player’s airship touches down on unclaimed wilderness, it’s time to build a new colony. The key to an effective town is smart railroad placement. This isn’t like Sim City where everything is connected by convenient streets. Each building a player constructs, whether it’s a coal mine, meat farm, clothing store, or inn must be located near the railroads they trace along the map. Players also must keep enough trains in circulation to keep passengers and cargo moving along smoothly.

If that already sounds like a lot to juggle we’re only just getting started. Keeping resource levels high and unemployment low is crucial to maintaining a colony’s happiness. Otherwise, unhappy workers go on strike and with no one working making people happy again just becomes that much harder. Tweaking the import and export prices can help, but in general players must make sure to pace themselves and not spread out too far and too thin too fast. Honestly, it’s far too easy to get stuck in a vicious cycle with virtually no escape. If business is booming though, then it’s time to expand the empire and fly the airship to other nearby islands full of unique resources to plunder.

mots 5As a quainter version of something like Civilization, Merchants of the Sky is pretty decent. There’s a lot to do and the sky setting is conceptually interesting, even if the bland 3D graphics don’t take too much advantage of it. There are even other non-economic victory conditions to explore like moving all the way up the tech tree or completing scientific research. And yet, despite being a technically fast game with no freemium elements to speak of, the overall experience feels slow and full of grinding. Only by doing a ton of small tasks will players feel like they’re making a marginal amount of forward progress. The game also consistently crashed when trying to load old saves, which meant hours of precious work were just lost.

The city building genre, while plenty of fun, is a kind of niche. So anyone looking to get that particular itch scratched will probably be just fine with what Merchants of the Sky has to offer. However, it unfortunately never soars.

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