The first freemium game to make serious waves on any platform was Farmville, but for the i0S-lover it was We Rule. While Zynga was busy prepping, altering, and fixing their iOS game, We Rule had already won the hearts and attention of many iPhone and iPad users. Part of it was the freshness of freemium that got us all riled up, but the other part was that we were building legitimate kingdoms with streets paved with gold. Because friends could pop into your kingdom at any time to check out what you were doing, it was more important to keep up appearances than just make money farms.
However, as any serious kingdom-builder will tell you, We Rule suffered from its own problems—including glitchy servers, long loading screens, and a finicky object placement issue that eventually made the game almost unplayable. Eventually our kingdoms became ghost towns and, even if yours hasn’t, you’ll find a lot to love in our We Rule replacements!
DragonVale looks and feels like We Rule, which is awesome and a little dangerous because the four hundred hours we spent making a kingdom a year and a half ago can never be replaced. Many of us had to choose between failing out of college or letting our corn stalks whither. So here we are, a year and a few months later with a new contender for the throne. But does DragonVale have what it takes to keep freemium gamers interested?
Yes and no. Everything feels slower in DragonVale, from hatching your dragons to selecting items through menus. Fortunately, push notifications work without hiccups, so you can easily put your phone down while the game builds habitats for you. As you progress through the game, your dragons will become higher levels, which attracts more people (which makes you more money to spend on making your dragons higher levels). In a way it’s a bit like running a zoo and doesn’t absorb as much of your time as We Rule.
But who are we kidding? The game has dragons. We’d have loved it no matter what.
The Sims 3
The Sims 3 app doesn’t come boasting the same amount of creative freedom as its computer counterpart, but even reeled down a bit, it’s still one of the most immersive building games out there. First of all, you can sort through a wide variety of characters to make your protagonist. These range from mohawked men to classy women, with customizable categories from your hair down to your shoes. You can even pick your Sim’s eye color, but you’ll probably never see it.
Once you’re done creating a Slm, the next step is to fill your house with as much cool stuff as possible. No matter what EA has to say about it, this is the unofficial point of the game—to keep your Sim as happy as possible with as much cool stuff as possible. The Build Mode has tons of cool stuff to litter your house with, but that’s not all. Every wall and carpet in your home can be changed, meaning no two houses ever need to look the same. You can even go to town to find new stuff to buy, from bell peppers to a shiny new car. This is truly one of the most flexible building games of them all!
Zombie Farm takes the best parts of FarmVille and adds Zombies to them. But it’s not just a trendy rip-off with nothing to offer; it also adds all new elements that just couldn’t happen in FarmVille. In Zombie Farm, you can harvest zombies, set them up as ranch hands, and even have them go eat competing farmers. If that’s not enough to fill your zombie/farm fix, you can also create strange hybrids of pumpkin-headed zombies, and zombies with dandelion manes that give special benefits to your farm.
Hot Springs Story
Hot Springs might not be the most customizable building game on the App Store, but it’s the only one that lets you build a Japanese Hot Spring, so that’s saying something. Created by the people who made Game Dev Story, Hot Springs Story puts you in the shoes (sandals?) of a sauna manager. Your job is not just to improve your sauna, but to beat out all competition, everywhere.
As the game progresses, you’re tasked with placing each bath, each bathroom, each vending machine, and each little tree in the right places. Any missed opportunities could be the difference between a customer’s satisfaction or anger. There’s more to it, of course. You’ll also need to make smart use of advertising, promotions, and a dozen other things. Who knew running a sauna would be so stressful?
If you haven’t been able to tell by now, we love pixelated graphics. We also love free games that sport limitless building combinations, which is definitely why Tiny Tower constructed a spot in our hearts instantly. In this cutesy app you “build a tiny tower and manage the businesses and bitizens that inhabit it.” Honestly, it calls its inhabitants “Bitizens,” could anything ever be cuter than that? So how do take control of their lives and homes? Micromanaging (fitting). So where does the customization come into play?
Well, you build story after story in your tiny tower, restock items, hire bitizens for jobs, and eventually create a striving ecosystem for your little workers. You can choose the clothes all of your bitizens wear, and then, as if you’re some sort of architecture god, reorder the floors of your building with a few taps. Somehow Tiny Tower avoids being super stressful and we love imagining how different our towers could have been.