App of the Day: Pocket Planes

Long haul.

Pocket Planes perfectly captures the experience of travelling by plane. There's the waiting to check-in, the waiting to board, and the waiting to meet one of those friendly passport inspection people on the other side. Not to mention the time spent on your flight, chewing stale peanuts while watching episodes of Fraiser on an in-flight screen the size of a Game Boy.

NimbleBit's latest feels similar because it is, quite literally, a waiting game. It's a lot like Tiny Tower, except you're now landing planes rather than restocking shops. Your fleet of aircraft starts small, just as your stubby skyscraper started short. Levelling up unlocks more planes and the ability to buy more airports, growing your airline from a rickety local venture into a globe-spanning monopoly.

Some airports cost more than others and capital cities act as transport hubs, with more people and cargo to pick up. Your airline is an executive one, only ferrying passengers in ones and twos. Larger aircraft seat more, but don't expect to be ferrying hundreds at once. There's just enough room for all the members of a rock band, but the roadies will have to fly Ryanair.

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It'll take a while to buy one of these.

It's the same idea for cargo, too. In fact the only distinction between it and the game's human passengers is what each plane is designed to carry. Some planes are freight only, while some cater for a mix of cargo. There's a skill to working out which planes are best to fly which routes, but mostly it's a case of ensuring your aircraft are regularly frequenting the busier locations. Get stuck in Minsk on a quiet Thursday afternoon when everyone's gone ice-skating and you'll have to pay to move somewhere else.

Running an airline isn't cheap, it turns out. As well as buying planes (through Bux) and airports (through Coins), you have to factor in that every time you take off you'll be charged for it. This is, of course, usually offset by the fact you're charging your customers/clients for their luxury transport. Longer distances will logically earn you more money, but you'll have to factor in how far your plane can travel without having the additional cost of stopping to refuel.

Each passenger, designed in Tiny Tower's trademark pixel art style, is listed by the price of their ticket, encouraging you to ferry those who are offering you the most in return. Erin Rivera wants to go to Warsaw for 194 coins? No problem. But it might be better to ferry that wheelchair to Manchester (112 coins) and drop Edwin Hunter off at London on route (another 130 in the bank). Multiple cargo drops at the same location score a bonus, and it's in this pseudo-management that Pocket Planes really becomes more than the sum of its parts.

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You can start your airline in any region of the world.

The problem with Pocket Planes is that it takes so long to do anything. I'm currently at a level where I have the ability to buy several new airports, but I can't afford them. I log on a couple of times a day to move my planes around, marshalling my forces around the map like a general pushing his troops around a theatre of war. I try to maximise the money I make from the time I spend on it, but it regularly comes to the point where all of your planes are in the air on long-haul flights. At this point there's nothing more to do than wait.

Pocket Planes is, like Tiny Tower, a freemium game. You can buy bundles of in-game cash through in-app purchases. I haven't indulged in this so far, and never did in Tiny Tower. It took me a while to reach my goal of 100 skyscraper floors, but the game moved along at a decent pace as I slowly got there. Pocket Planes feels slower, and thus happier to ask you to pay real money to speed things up.

The game is worth persevering with, however, if only for the satisfaction of having another little world of commerce growing in your pocket day by day. And there are other distractions to keep you occupied: plane parts to find and combine, fictional status updates from passengers to read, global events to take part in (you can team up with friends to seek rewards from a party total). Most of all, Pocket Planes is barely off the ground. It requires patience, to be sure, but rewards enough to indulge in for the long haul. Just bring a magazine, too.

App of the Day highlights interesting games we're playing on the Android, iPad, iPhone and Windows Phone 7 mobile platforms, including post-release updates. If you want to see a particular app featured, drop us a line or suggest it in the comments.

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