Just because the world has ended and you're the only one left doesn't mean humanity is doomed. Why, with a little cash and some genetic material there's nothing you can't do... in spaaaaaaaaaaace! LambdaMu does the impossible by making the apocalypse adorable and addictive in the free iOS sim Pixel People, putting you in charge of rebuilding a starbound utopia from clones and cash. As the mayor of this newfound floating paradise, you'll be responsible both for building your town as you see fit and managing the incoming clones by splicing them with DNA you have on hand to create different types of people with different jobs. It's not playing God, it's... okay, yeah, it's totally playing God. Am I alone in expecting an inevitable expansion where all the clones go berserk, and the Mayor, played by Bruce Willis, has to escape? And along the way, he meets and falls in love with a young nurse, who is of course one of his clones, and also played by Bruce Willis? Man, that's going to be sweet.
You don't have much to your utopia other than a few floating squares of land, but that'll change soon. The tutorial will walk you through the basics, but the gist is clones periodically arrive at the Arrival Center, and when they do, you splice 'em. Tapping on a clone will give you a list of all the options you have available, and you need to pick two that turn the vial in the center of the screen pink to create a new job. Essentially, this means rebuilding society boils down to a sort of Doodle God combination mechanism... 150 combos in all. When your new job is created, you may find it comes with a building, and you get to choose where to build it. Once it's been built, you can set your people to work in their appropriate locations, where they'll generate cash for you, which is spent on buying new housing or expanding land. Land is extremely important, since the amount you have dictates how much you can build, so make a point of buying expansions whenever possible. All of this takes time, naturally, so you'll have to keep checking to make the most of your society. If you have some, rare Utopium (found randomly, granted through bonuses, or just bought via microtransactions) can be spent to instantly speed up any process. Even in space, money greases the wheels.
Apart from splicing, you'll have to do some general maintenance around town. Buildings need to be repaired periodically when the blue and yellow lightning bolt symbol appears above them, so tap to fix whenever you see it. You'll also notice hearts start to appear on your residential buildings, and whenever that happens, tap to open the building's screen, and then tap and hold on the heart til it expands to gather it. Get enough of them, and you'll earn a random surprise ranging from animals to cash and more. Your town's buildings do more than just generate moolah, too. Tap on a building to get a general overview of it, and you'll discover that certain establishments either grant you a passive bonus, like the bank doubling the output of all full buildings, or an upgrade you can buy, spending a donation of Utopium at the church for more land.
Analysis: Pixel People is one of those games that seems almost too simple on first contact, and yet you can't quite keep yourself from coming back to it again and again. The problems boil down to two shared by virtually all similar freemium games... repetition and busywork. It just doesn't offer a whole lot of depth for the player to actually take part in, but you can't really leave the game alone for long since even springing for the optional upgrade granted by the enterprise complex, which doubles the time between repairs for all buildings, everything still breaks down with annoying alacrity. This becomes more of an issue the longer you play, as the time for objectives to complete stretches out into hours, and you'll probably wish you had more to keep you busy. Not that watching your itty-bitty populace zip around and numbers pop up all over the screen isn't... perplexingly hypnotizing...
It's sort of the ultimate casual simulation, then, where its appeal comes from its gorgeous pixel style and artwork, and its vibrant sense of humour. Puns are everywhere, as are pop culture references, and the game's style and presentation are simply top notch. The amount of detail gone into rendering the architecture is amazing, and it makes you wish you could, say, tap on a building to zoom in and see what's going on inside it. The longer you play, the more you'll find yourself struggling to make the most of your space, though happily the game doesn't charge you anything to move and reorganise your city's establishments whenever you feel like it. If you find yourself tempted to pay for more Utopium, you'll be pleased to find you never feel pressured to do so, and the spending feels remarkably balanced, especially given how fast you earn cash. As a result, it's absolutely perfect, relaxing, virtual fishbowl style gaming that brings out the big guns when it comes to charm and style. There really need to be more bright, cheerful casual games out there that fit in your pocket, and even when more eventually come our way, there's no doubt that Pixel People will remain one of the brightest. Happy apocalypse, everybody!
NOTE: This game was played and reviewed on the iPad (1st Gen.). Game was available in the North American market at the time of publication, but may not be available in other territories. Please see individual app market pages for purchasing info.