App Reviewed on: iPhone SE
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City builders should be all the rage on mobile, but it’s a game type that doesn’t actually crop up that much, at least not the way that you want. There are, of course, the builders loaded with microtransactions, ads, and arbitrary gating systems, but very few that try to offer a premium city building experience without any of that stuff. Pocket City is one such game that offers simple city building without freemium hooks, which is great, except for the part where the game itself is a little strange (and disappointing).
Build it better
Simply put, Pocket City is a city building game much in the same vein as something like Sim City. You start with an untouched piece of land which you can then build the city of your dreams on. This includes houses, industrial zones, commercial corridors, highways, and more.
As you build, people move into your city and pay taxes, which can let you then build more. The general principle of Pocket City is the better your city is, the more money you can make, and making more money lets you build more stuff. Eventually, as your funds grow, you can even buy neighboring parcels of land to keep building your city into a sprawling metropolis.
Whenever you build something in Pocket City—whether it’s a university or a fire station—you earn experience points. Accumulating certain amounts of experience points can level you up, which then allows you to build newer, more exciting things for your city.
In addition to leveling up to unlock things, Pocket City also has a mission structure that gives players little challenges to complete as they grow their city. Sometimes, these challenges involve hitting a certain population level, or it can be something as small as zooming in on a little citizen as they do yoga. In either case, completing these objectives can grant you bonus experience or additional money, which—again—can let you build more stuff.
The core of Pocket City revolves around this cycle of growing your city, completing challenges, and using the rewards from those challenges to grow your city even more, which can be a pretty compelling gameplay loop. It mimics some of the all-time great city builders in this regard, but this is also where Pocket City reveals some of its weaknesses.
Although built to resemble something like Sim City, Pocket City is severely limited in how you can build things, which can lead to frustration. Building rail systems in your city, for example, is a confusing endeavor in that you’re always forced to build elevated rail lines that have endpoints that can’t be built on top of roads. Similarly, there’s a system in the game that requires buildings to have road access, but you can skirt around this issue by placing disconnected tiles of road down next to buildings that need them and it solves the problem completely, even though it’s a solution that doesn’t make any sense if you're actually trying to build a functional city.
The bottom line
Some rules in Pocket City are frustratingly rigid, while others are so easy to work around that they feel game-breaking. These inconsistencies ultimately make for a game that only stays enjoyable up to a limit. Although there is a pretty fun progression to the game, you never feel like you have the full freedom to make the city you want. Instead, you always feel like you have the freedom to make the kind of city that nobody wants, which is not particularly satisfying.