On the one hand, Tiny Tower is like so many countless iPhone games before it. Lure you in with a free game, then charge you real money as you tap, tap, tap away at a menial and pointless task.
On the other hand, Tiny Tower is freaking amazing.
In the game, you take control of a tower block, and by raising revenue seek to add more and more levels to said tower, until it's not tiny at all. It's an Enormous Tower.
You can do this by adding residential apartments, which charge tenants rent, and which also provide the employees who work in the businesses you can also fill the building with. Which make even more money.
Setting aside the fact these "residents" are in fact "slaves", forced to work where you assign them regardless of their wishes (and always only in your building), Tiny Tower stands out from the crowd for two reasons.
The first is that it's adorable. The pixel art on show is great, each character cute and easily identifiable, the little stores full of character and individuality. So when you're stuck in the grind of stocking shelves and transporting visitors using the lift, you're doing so with a smile on your face.
The second is that it gets the balance between free and paid play just right. Tiny Tower is free to download and free to play; however, the more you play and the bigger your tower gets, the longer time it takes for each floor to be built. You also need to stock the shelves of each store when it runs out of items, and again, this takes real-world time.
If you want, you can spend real money to speed things up. That's fine. If you don't, though, nothing bad will happen. Your residents won't go on strike, or leave the building, or die. Your stores won't go broke without your constant attention. They just sit there, in the dark, waiting patiently for you to return, regardless of whether it's been an hour or a week since your last play.
It's like they're saying, "Hey, it's cool, you can pay, but you don't have to, we're happy either way just sitting here being cute". And I'm happy just sitting here watching them.
Tiny Tower [iTunes App Store]