Tiny Empire ($2.99) by Mother Gaia Studio is a physics-based puzzle game that has you defending a kingdom from pesky green orcs and other nasty creatures. If you want weren’t happy with how Angry Birds 2 went freemium, and wish you had a game that combined the concepts of Angry Birds and Fragger into one, then Tiny Empire was built for you.
I remember when the original Angry Birds came out several years ago, it was all the rage among iOS gaming, and the fact that it was a paid game certainly helped out too. From that point on, many other games spawned that were similar in gameplay, making the slingshot-style physics-based puzzle genre popular among casual gamers. I was also a fan of the first Angry Birds for a short while, but it helped make me realize how fun these types of games can be when done right.
I tried Angry Birds 2 for a while but couldn’t get past the fact that it went from a great paid game series to a freemium title, so when I saw Tiny Empire on the App Store, I was intrigued. This is a fully paid game, with no in-app purchases or timers. Honestly, it seems that these types of games are a rare sight to see these days, so I certainly welcome it.
Tiny Empire sports the retro 16-bit look and feel that I’m completely adoring right now. Since I grew up with consoles like the Sega Genesis, the pixelated appearance makes me feel right at home. Despite the old-school appearance, Tiny Empire looks fantastic for a modern game due to the bright and vivid colors, textures, and detailed character sprites. Animations in Tiny Empire are smooth and fluid, and the chiptune soundtrack is delightful, even reminding me a bit of Fantasy Life on the Nintendo 3DS. The sound effects as you blast away monsters or soldiers is also a fun treat.
In Tiny Empire, players will come across a world map of the kingdom, and traverse through it in chronological order in terms of levels. At the moment, there are 80 stages to go through, so you get a good amount of content for the price. Up to three stars can be earned based on your performance, which unlock items in the shop. To get access to the next set of levels, you just have to clear the previous ones with at least one star. A new mechanic is introduced with each group of stages, so things are kept fresh, interesting, and most importantly, challenging. Every now and then, you will also encounter rare foes like a gem goblin, so keep your eyes peeled.
The controls in Tiny Empire are simple and easy to understand, especially if you’ve played other slingshot-style puzzle games before. You’re in charge of the cannon on the stage, and you just drag your finger around the screen to aim the cannonballs, then release to fire. The trajectory shows up as a dotted line, and you can adjust the strength from weak (yellow) to strong (red). Your stash of cannonballs is shown in the top left, with special cannonballs having a different color than regular ones. Because of this, it is important to prioritize your targets so you can take advantage of powerful cannonball effects, like the explosive power of the fiery meteor.
In the beginning, you will just have orcs to deal with, but later on, the kingdom’s soldiers are out in the front lines to try and defend the castle. You’ll be aiding them with the cannon, but make sure to not obliterate the soldiers in the process. If you run out of cannonballs or soldiers before the orcs are cleared out, then you’ve failed the level and must try again. Eventually, you will gain access to power-up items to help the soldiers out, such as shields to protect them from hits.
There is a shop in Tiny Empire with a variety of helmets for the soldiers and decorations for the cannon, though they have no effect on gameplay itself. These can be purchased with the stars that you’ve earned, or you can use gems (diamonds or amethysts) to buy them. The gems are like the “premium” currency in the game, but they are easily obtainable in the game as you play, and you get mines that allow you to collect a handful of gems every couple of hours. I like this a lot because it eliminates the need for in-app purchases.
I found the game to be pretty easy in the beginning stages, but things are getting a bit trickier now that I’m getting past level 20 (I’ve only just started). The replay value is pretty high until you’ve obtained all stars, items, and achievements in Game Center, since there aren’t any leaderboards to compete in. Still, the game looks great, the music’s satisfying, and the gameplay is fun and fairly challenging for everyone.
I recommend Tiny Empire for anyone who wants a premium Angry Birds and Fragger-esque puzzle experience without the timers or in-app purchases. You can get Tiny Empire on the App Store as a universal download for $2.99.