Review: Tiny Tower

Rarely do I play games on my iPhone. Over the past four years I can think of only a handful that I’ve played for longer than a few minutes: Orbital, Frenzic, Horror Vacui, and Mage Gauntlet.1 Last week while vacationing in Colorado I decided to give Tiny Tower a try.

Tiny Tower came out over a year ago. It was picked by Apple as the 2011 iPhone Game of the Year, and it has a 4.5-star average rating based on 285,000 ratings. Needless to say, it’s incredibly popular. Chances are you’ve played it.

Anyone who has played Tiny Tower knows it requires no skill or strategy. So long as you check in on the game (or let its push notifications alert you) then you can’t help but progress. There is no goal other than to keep building. And there is very little strategy other than to give your Bitizens a place to work (preferably based on their skill sets).

More or less, Tiny Tower is a digital ant farm.

Anyone can build a gloriously tall tiny tower, it’s just a matter of how long it will take — because the only thing working against you in the game is time. The game requires you to wait a certain period of time between building a new level and opening it for business. You also have to wait for the inventory in your stores to be re-stocked. Even the elevator moves painfully slow if you’re delivering someone beyond the first few floors.

Time, however, can be “traded” for Tower Bux. Or, as we say in the real world, time is money. And the more time you spend in the game the more likely you are to earn a Tower Bux here or there.

  • Spend time manning the elevator and you’ll occasionally get tipped a Tower Bux.
  • Spend time helping a visitor find someone in the tower and they’ll give you a Tower Bux for your time.
  • After you’ve earned enough coins to build a new level you get a Tower Bux as a bonus.
  • If a store is completely stocked you sometimes get a Tower Bux bonus.

Tower Bux can be spent to speed along the game play. You can use your Tower Bux to:

  • speed up the re-stocking process;
  • buy a faster elevator;
  • advertise open apartments and get renters in sooner;
  • speed up construction of a new level; and/or
  • upgrade the amount of inventory a store can hold, allowing it to go longer before needing to be restocked.

The taller your tiny tower gets the longer new levels take to build. And though you’re earning coins faster due to a higher number of shops being open for business, Tower Bux are accumulated very slowly no matter how far you progress in the game. Thus, the longer you play, the more you feel the pain of time with no way of beating it… 2

Or you can cheat. You can use real-life money to load up on Tower Bux via an In App Purchase. $0.99 gets you 10 Tower Bux; $4.99 gets you 100; and $29.99 gets 1,000.

Early on I resolved not to buy any Tower Bux (it seemed like buying cheat codes). It took me two and a half days to organically earn 25 Tower Bux so I could buy a faster elevator. The next elevator upgrade cost 75 Tower Bux. At my current rate that’s at least a week away.

I can’t help but feel that the whole point of Tiny Tower is to bore me or frustrate me to the point of spending real dollars to buy Tower Bux in order to speed up the game play. As cute and clever as Tiny Tower may be, I prefer games with a strategy and a goal.


  1. Which one of these is not like the other?
  2. There are 40 different missions you can complete in order to earn Tower Bux as a reward. However, after a week of play I’ve built a 17-level tower and yet I still only have the proper stores to complete 1 of the 40 missions. Since you cannot chose the actual stores that get built (only the category) the missions are at the mercy of the game itself.
Publishing this site is my full-time job. If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting the site by becoming a member. There are some great perks, including access to my members-only podcast.