Sawbuck Gamer

Pocket Planes

Friendly Skies

In Pocket Planes, expansion is its own reward.

By Russ Fischer • June 25, 2012

Sawbuck Gamer is our daily review of a free or cheap ($10 or less) game.

The shrinky-dink airline tycoon game Pocket Planes puts players in control of a nascent air travel company. But it’s really a spreadsheet game that sports cute 8-bit-style varnish. Through inventory screens, a map, plane data readouts and even shots of planes in transit, it offers a pretty dense airline simulation. (Dense for a cell phone game, at least.) Players buy, upgrade, and even scrap planes; open and develop airports in new cities across the globe; and manage itineraries for thousands of little digital travelers.

There’s a minor learning curve, as the game gives few hints about how best to manage layovers and route through multiple cities for maximum profit. Pocket Planes presents a lot of data, which leads to the desire for more. Why isn’t there a better visualization of what plane upgrades are best to buy, or what passenger management pattern will earn the most money?

The number-crunching is slow at first, as the game’s dual currencies—gold and “bux”—are initially in short supply. Thanks to the “freemium” model that developer NimbleBit employed in its previous success story, Tiny Tower, you can purchase bux with real-world cash. There’s no real need to pay, although the trade-off for free play is time. You want planes to traverse the globe? Gotta put in the hours, captain.

After a few hours, Pocket Planes feels like the fever dream of an unsophisticated capitalist. Resisting the urge to increase your gold and bux stashes proves difficult. Doing so means answering an insistent call to expand, expand, EXPAND! There’s an inexorable march of profit, with no end in sight, and “more” is the only thing to be “won.” The game doesn’t factor in competition, so the world is just waiting to be mapped out by the one and only airline that has the perseverance to keep planes in the air day after day after day…

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1,754 Responses to “Friendly Skies”

  1. Limeade Youth says:

    Needs more Filipino Vampires.

  2. HobbesMkii says:

    My brother just got an iPhone and has since become obsessed with this game. Whenever I see him, he’s playing it. I imagine he plays right through work.

  3. Gus Mastrapa says:

    Just like Tiny Tower I had to uninstall this game to keep from hurting myself.

    • RussFischer says:

      I got tired of Tiny Tower really fast. This is more engaging, simply by virtue of there being more stuff to manage, but I know I’ll stop abruptly despite the engagement level it tries to achieve. After that cycle of doing the same six actions over and over, I’ll burn out. 

      • Gus Mastrapa says:

        The game does get a little more interesting when you open up those Class 2 planes and you really start thinking more about layovers. It’s the >1 minute problem that kills me. I never feel like I’m done.

    • kateburning says:

      I had to get someone else to uninstall it for me. I had gotten to the point where there were no new stores to add, but I just kept building empty levels because I was used to it.

  4. Raging Bear says:

    It’s a shame you can’t name your company. Just this very morning the phrase “Raging Bearlines” came into my head from absolutely nowhere.

    There’s nothing for it. I’m just going to have to really found an airline just to make this happen.

    • Merve says:

      Or you could found a virtual airline instead: Airline Tycoon 2

      Wow, tycoon games have really taken a nosedive since RollerCoaster Tycoon, haven’t they? (No pun intended.)

      • Raging Bear says:

        But now the question is: will Airline Tycoon 2 also let me have a bear cabin crew who will savagely maul unruly passengers into submission, yet still look adorable in their neckerchiefs?

  5. The_Misanthrope says:

    I am just going to use this space to make the complaint the AndroidOS doesn’t get nearly as much game/app love as the iPad/iPhone.  And the further complaint that the Kindle Fire market unnecessarily keeps many of the AndroidOS apps from Fire users for no discernible reason.  And I really wish that the available-for-every-other-iteration-of-Kindle game Jigsaw Words had a Kindle Fire version because it is too much fun.

    (Yes, I know about sideloading.  No, I don’t have an Android phone so that’s not an option.  So unless you have another suggestion or a place where I can download these walled-off files without the Android Market/Google Play insisting that I have an account, I don’t want to hear it.)

    Thanks for your time.

    • Fixda Fernback says:

      There are other places where you can access the .apk files, so you’re in luck! You should be able to get a file explorer off of the Amazon Marketplace, I use ES File Explorer. Just search “file explorer” in the app store on your Kindle, you’ll need one of these for opening the files once they’re on your Fire. Then, Google “.apk android” or something to that effect, narrowing it down based on what you want (i.e., “games android .apk”). is one legal site for procuring apps, they often offer apps for free and still give money to the developers. If you’re into less legal means, .apk’s for literally any app are pretty easy to find with a bit of googling, and downloading or torrenting. I was actually able to get GTA III up and running well (and looking pretty damn good) on my Kindle Fire via this method. 

      • The_Misanthrope says:

        Thanks, I had tried Getjar before and I couldn’t get it to work right, but I did it just now and it worked fine: downloaded the Kongregate Arcade app. So some of this might just be me. I also have Astro File Manager, which works really well.

        Really, my idee fixe these days is getting something–ANYTHING–to run on ScummVM. I’ve been messing around with it, downloading the free files off of the ScummVM site, but nothing has worked so far.