By Will Whitehurst / April 1st, 2014
|Release Date||May 24, 2013|
|Age Rating||4+ (Apple), E (ESRB)|
There are two types of smartphone owners: those that have Flappy Bird, and those who would have downloaded it before developer Dong Nguyen yanked it off of every App Store—that is, before falling back on his word. Earlier last month, he promised to include a “take a break” warning when he does eventually return the game to phones and tablets everywhere. And just as well, as the one thing that makes this iOS and Android title so addictive to many is the fact that it never, ever, ever, EVER ends. Unfortunately, that’s also its downfall, and for any gamer that knows how to actually control something, Flappy Bird outstays its welcome fast.
Story? Who needs one for a game like this? Nguyen did mention in an interview with Rolling Stone that this game was merely meant for relaxation, but I take it there’s a bird who has to save the princess by flying through groups of pipes. Oh, wait, those pipes do look fairly familiar. It’s pretty obvious that the pipes, the generic city background and maybe even the eponymous Flappy Bird himself were all “borrowed” from a 16-bit Mario title. The update received mere days before the game’s takedown has a night background and different colored birds, but did little to change the game itself. Indeed, the backgrounds and birds are as randomly generated as the pipes, meaning that you have no idea whether your bird is the original yellow, a basic blue, or a revolting red that—guess what?—makes him look just like a Cheep Cheep.
With three colors and two backgrounds, there are six, count ’em, six possible color combinations in Flappy Bird. That’s more than the custom armor combinations in some NES RPGs! And, while the graphics are obviously swiped, to its credit, the game looks fairly clean and runs smoothly. I mean, all you have on the screen is the bird, the pipes, the background and the number of pipes you’ve flown through, so there’s a certain simplicity to this whole endeavor. Adding to that, the only sounds in this game are whooshes and a “da-ding” sound made when the bird passes through the pipes, and, once again, the latter sounds like a higher-pitched version of the coin sound in a Mario game. The only thing missing is some music. I recommend either your favorite Bowser theme if you want to go Mario, the theme music to Crazy Bus, or anything off of the Lou Reed and Metallica collaboration Lulu. Any lengthy songs that can cause a sense of dread over time will work fine, in other words.
But behind the bare-bones nature of Flappy Bird lies a downright brutal amount of fake difficulty. True, the pipes are as randomly-generated as the stages in a roguelike, and can sneak up on you without warning. Even so, unlike Dark Souls or almost anything published by Atlus—that is, games that are legitimately difficult in the sense that players are forced to adapt to new and more punishing levels and enemies—Flappy Bird is way too simple to be called difficult. The only thing this bird does is fly through sets of pipes, one on each vertical side of the screen. If he hits a pipe even remotely, it’s Game Over. If he crashes down, it’s Game Over. If you fly through 10 pipes, you get a bronze medal. 20 gets you silver, 30 gets you gold, 40 gets you platinum. The pipe placement is randomized, meaning no two playthroughs of Flappy Bird are alike. Seems simple enough.
The problem is that this bird flies with the grace of a sack of cement. He soars high with each tap on the screen, yet falls back down just as easily. This will initially infuriate the living hell out of anyone who plays this game. However, someone who aims for the highest score will probably spend hours upon hours with Flappy Bird, mastering a rhythm and, eventually, getting a medal, only to get an even lower score the next time around. Of course, mastering this rhythm takes practice, but the awful controls don’t do the game any favors. In spite of the fact that there is only one level, your enemies are the pipes, and the only way to defeat them is to fly through them, the game does have an addictive quality in its extremely broken nature. Yet, its technical flaws are too overwhelming to not notice, and it certainly seems like no one with a bunch of spare time on their hands could ever try and master it…
In spite of it being taken down from every mobile App Store almost two months ago, Flappy Bird is still viral to this day, with its numerous clones still making waves on App Stores everywhere. And yet, I bring with that statement the following analogy: If the App Store were a state fair, Flappy Bird would be like the deep-fried Twinkie of the bunch. It’s satisfying for a bit, and too popular to resist, but it rides off of the success of something else, lasts for a short while, and may very well be harmful in large quantities. By the time one is done with it, they realize just how much of a pointless waste of time it truly is. Oh, and it definitely should not add $10,000 to the cost of a phone on eBay when it can be experienced for free.
Review copy was downloaded by reviewer, well before the game’s takedown on February 8, 2014.
While the über-popular Flappy Bird never really took flight as a game, casual gamers everywhere should fret not! Nguyen’s outfit Gears has better games on the App Store than this one, such as Shuriken Block, which actually has some good old-fashioned challenge and no plagiarism to speak of. Stay tuned for a review of that one!
Also, for those who still own Flappy Bird, here’s some very helpful advice on how to beat it:
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