Utopia was not built in a day.
Welcome to Utopia, population: one mayor (that’s you!), one gene-splicing mechanic, and an infinite supply of clones. Your ability to build a bustling city in space is the only hope left for the entire civilization of Earth after a sudden disaster left it, well… destroyed. Luckily, your Pixel People want nothing more than to take on whatever lifelong job you assign to them and become productive members of this fledgling society. Let’s get splicing.
Your main goal in Pixel People is to combine pairs of “genetic material” to create new identities for each blank slate clone. Although you’ll start out with only materials for “mayor” and “mechanic,” every combination creates new material that can then be combined into more advanced identities, with 150 total jobs available. Mayor plus mechanic will create engineer, which can be combined with mechanic to create mechanical engineer, and so on. This method of gameplay is very reminiscent of the Doodle God/Devil/Farm series, with two exceptions: first, the Pixel People combinations you create are mostly logical. Whereas the Doodle games have a number of “What?” moments, like combining a mole and eagle to make an owl, it makes complete sense that vet plus coroner would create taxidermist in Pixel People. Second, the world of Utopia is not limited to just its newly christened clones; you are building an entire city from scratch, and this is where the heart of the game takes place.
Your empty, isometric plot of space begins with a few buildings to get you started: the Town Hall where the mayor works, a Utopium Mine for the engineer to hole up in, and a few residences for the first of many clones to call home. New buildings are received as gifts when you create specific jobs and must be built upon receipt. Discovering new jobs and their associated buildings is half the fun, so as a fairly obvious example, the sheriff will ride into town along with the Sheriff’s Office.
Each building’s primary function is to act as a place of work for your clones, allowing them to fulfill whatever lifelong dream you’ve just programmed into them. Some workplaces will offer additional in-game benefits, like splicing hints or the ability to build additional features like roads and trees, but they all earn income as long as one person is employed there. As your city expands and more workplaces become available, well-planned placement of your people—such as filling up locations with higher income multipliers—adds a strategic element to an otherwise straightforward builder.
That income everyone’s working so hard for is essential to the town’s growth. Your Utopians earn coins every second while they are working (as long as the building has recently been “activated” by tapping on it), and these coins are spent on residences—every new clone needs a spot in a house—and land expansion. Building in space is not cheap, and every building, decoration, or tree you create requires between one and four blocks of land in order to stay afloat. Even with 30 blocks of land to start, you’ll soon be shelling out significant coinage to maintain growth.
Since Pixel People is a freemium game, there is a premium currency—Utopium—available as well. Utopium is primarily used to speed up the wait time on clone arrival or building construction, but is also used to purchase special items like high-quality residences (which only take up one land block but house six clones) and trees (which frequently reward stashes of coins). It can also be used to upgrade buildings so they are “active” longer (less time between tapping) or to purchase building-specific bonuses, like more land (in place of spending the usual coins). Although there’s a wide variety of uses for Utopium, it only rarely feels necessary to use—those high-quality residences take 24 hours to build otherwise—and is available to earn in-game in addition to separate purchase. Trees will occasionally award Utopium instead of cash, the Utopium Mine strikes Utopium once a day, and the hearts that you can collect from residences in order to earn coins or animal specimens will also sometimes dole out Utopium.
Even with all the aspects of “wait or pay” done exceptionally well, Pixel People is not flawless. Residences cannot be deleted unless they are empty, and there is no way to move Utopians to a different home. This means that you’ll be stuck with the less efficient, three-land houses you build early in the game with no way to replace them later on. This lack of deletion extends to other buildings, as well: once you’ve created a Building Firm you will be able to delete duplicate buildings, but nothing you have only one of. This means less profitable, or even empty buildings (whose employees have moved to a different office) cannot be removed to save space. This wouldn’t be as significant if land expansion costs did not increase astronomically with every purchase: level eight land expansion costs 930,000 coins; level nine costs 1,930,000; and level ten costs 4,320,000 coins. Around those levels your city is probably earning about 400 coins per second, meaning three hours of uninterrupted playtime just to buy ten more blocks of land.
Although many of the buildings that will be taking up this exclusive space offer bonus benefits, just as many serve no greater purpose. This feels like a wasted opportunity: I expected the Hotel to allow clones to arrive even if they didn’t have a residence yet, or the Radio Station to let me change the background music. Instead, these and many other buildings are simply money factories that earn gold and a place for their employees to wander around, albeit adorably.
Regardless of these small disappointments, each new job discovered and building constructed is still a wonderful surprise. The ability to collect hearts and tree bonuses, rearrange your city freely, and the need to keep your buildings “active” adds a layer of actual interaction to a genre that often places more focus on not doing anything. Even reading the in-game descriptions, news feed, and job quotes offers a fun diversion thanks to all the hilarious little notes, such as “Official statement by tech support declares all future bugs as features, grievances to be entertained only via post office.” Ultimately, Pixel People is a game you’ll spend a lot of time with: not because you have to, but because it’s given you legitimate reasons to stay in this little Utopia.