Pile Up! First Impressions: Maximum Efficiency

Clack 'em, stack 'em biomes.
Edited by Kristi Jimenez

The fatal Pile Up! accident started, as most do, with cutting costs. Limited spacing options made it hard to supply heat to a new tower block. Placing the engine in a more empty area would sacrifice points and create more sad citizens with red icons, but I could nudge it on top of the roof of a new high-rise instead.

I hesitated, glancing at the explosion hazard warning on the tile. The tile was close to getting an upgrade, and all I would have to do is be a little more careful. I balanced the combustion engine on top of the new building, feeling pleased with myself when the surrounding resident icons flashed green for “Happy.”

Suddenly, a warning beep sounded, followed by a small boom. A chunk of the building slid into the surrounding ocean, the mood meter filling with gray icons. Gray, as I would learn, meant “Dead.”

Related: Alder Forge First Impressions: Trails Worth Taking

Pile Up! is the closest I’ll ever get to having Real Estate Broker brain. The game combines the tension of Jenga with traditional city-builder optimization paths, presenting you with just enough information to become absorbed with making the pretty numbers go up. Pile Up! has honed its gameplay to a sharp, satirical edge, effortlessly abstracting more complex systems into deceptively simple gameplay loops.

Absolutely Stacked

Pile Up! impressions: the square base the city will be built on, surrounded by sea and rock. Rust and piping dots the exterior.
Screenshot via Remoob.

You start on a single square platform in the middle of the sea that you can build on. Buildings can be apartments that increase your population. They can also be structures that provide necessary resources like heat, water, or electricity, or even amenities like theaters that add extra modifiers.

The number of required tiles left until the next set hovers in the bottom right of the screen. Placing the tile set you’re provided progresses you to the next one. Each stack of tiles become more complex with time. Clicking a tile and hovering over the board previews where it can be placed and what it will add to your city.

Detailed statistics are hidden in the user interface, deliberately obfuscated to drive Pile Up!’s chill design. Overview information can be toggled on and viewed in the bottom left corner: the overall mood of the population, what resources your city will produce on the next turn, and how long your city has been in progress.

As your population grows, you’ll need to tend to their needs and meet various goals. If you do, you’ll be rewarded with scraps, currency that can be used to unlock more building types on the city blueprint. Advanced structures mean increased risk, however. Leakages, electrocution, and yes, combustion. But it’s all too easy to forget that when you’re placing a tile, telling yourself that just one more will get you to the next threshold.

Just like people, building tiles also have needs, represented by colored icons—red for heat, blue for water, yellow for electricity, green for nature, and so on. So you’ll carefully place resource tiles—ones that could possibly explode—to successfully fulfill a building’s needs.

Too Close To Home

Pile Up! impressions: the player hovers a tile over the city before placing it, showing a white preview box and that it will add 12 population.
Screenshot via Remoob.

Pile Up!’s craftily deployed tunnel vision might seem overblown at first, but we are subject to decisions just like it at every level. My grad school efficiency came with an outdoor, all-metal central staircase that had scorching railings in the summer and the makings of a slip-and-side deathtrap in winter. Property management decided it made more sense to wait for the whole thing to rust than to replace the material.

Chasing numbers, whether it’s tenants or income, tempts you to gloss over those details—small to you, but urgent to the people that live there. Scale up that mindset, and you get megalithic, wildly impractical experiments like the LINE—a city that ostensibly provides everything in a single horizontal structure, practicality be damned.

To truly tower over the genre landscape, Pile Up! needs to take care some of its dents. The mouse-based camera controls are functional but fussy, and in a way I can’t really spin as an artistic choice. It’s possible to soft-lock the tutorial and have to start over from scratch, as I discovered in my first playthrough. Thankfully, the development roadmap signals lots of improvements to come.

So Far, Things Are Looking Up

Pile Up! impressions: zoom-in of the city tower at dusk, hazard icons dotting the view. The mood meter and current set of tiles are displayed.
Screenshot via Remoob.

Pile Up! uses space constraints and the well-worn dopamine generator of tile placement optimization to lull you into urban complacency, followed by the dawning horror of what you’ve done. Tutorial hiccups and camera control struggles temporarily set back an otherwise thoughtfully presented early access period.

For more first impression pieces, stay tuned to Press SPACE to Jump!

share this article
Taylor Hicklen
Taylor Hicklen

Taylor is Press SPACE to Jump's community lead. He likes midrange JRPGs, fighting games, and Dicey Dungeons. Bonus points if there are good fonts. To contact him about your game or other professional inquiries, you can email him at pstjtaylor@proton.me.

Articles: 48