Man has dreamed of flight since the beginning of time, to spread wings and soar above, touching the heavens, gliding over all of creation. That dream of flight came one step closer in 1903 when the Wright brothers flew over the dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. It put us closer to the birds, but we’ve yet to achieve that majestic, natural flight, to touch the tips of the clouds with our bare hands.
We can, though, play a game on our phones about a dumb bird that can barely fly and has to dodge what looks like pipes ripped straight out of Super Mario.
Yep, that’s Flappy Bird. It’s kind of like Jetpack Joyride except you can see everything the game has to offer in about two seconds. Dopey looking bird, pipes, infinity. Tap the bird to make him flutter upwards a bit, and navigate it through the endless onslaught of pipes. The background doesn’t change, there’s no power-ups of any kind. Nothing but the sound of Flappy Bird’s wings beating and the “ding!” of successfully dodging pipes. To say it’s minimalist is an understatement.
Even the controls are super minimalist, tapping the screen causes Flappy to go up at the same height every time, you can’t put any finesse on it– he won’t fly up a little higher if you hold down longer, or just pop up a tiny bit if you tap fast. Just the same hop every time.
The approaching pipes don’t have any set design either, the game just throws them at you at random and expects you to get dodging. Most games have a learning curve, but Flappy Bird has a learning wall. I’d be willing to bet at least 90% of people who play the game died without scoring a point on their first try. The randomness of the layout totally throws you for a loop sometimes and makes it so you can almost never play with any sort of consistency, either. One game you’ll score a 30, then the next you will bite it at the second pipe! It’s nuts!
So, why is Flappy Bird so popular (#1 in the App Store at the time of this writing)? Well it does do one thing I’ve never seen a game do so quickly and with such consistency. When you die, it’s like somebody injected some fiery white hot rage directly into your face. I’m serious, I’ve never had a game take me from a 1 to a 10 on the rage-o-meter so fast, and I think in combination with the simplicity, lies the charm. It’s a simple game anybody can play, that will make you laugh when it throws you or your friends into stupid angry fits. I think that’s what launched Flappy into its #1 spot. That and freaking Pewdiepie played it, I guess. I’ll bet he yelled a lot while playing it too.
Yeah, the game is lazy, overly simplistic, and derivative– seriously, those pipes could be anything, but for some reason they are pipes from Mario?– but I’d be lying if I told you it was worthless. Hell, I’ve played it three or four times just while writing this. It appeals to our basest desire to see that little number get bigger doing something that looks like it should be easy but isn’t. You think every “next turn” is going to be the one where you break your last best score.
Even in its simplicity it drops the ball on a couple of the most basic things too. The hit detection is really sloppy– sometimes I’ll lose and it didn’t look like Flappy was anywhere near the pipe! It might just be that it has extremely unforgiving hit detection and I suck, but it doesn’t feel fair, which I suppose is a major contributor to the near instant rage spiral Flappy Bird playing causes. Another issue is the darn ads. Yeah, I get that the game is free and the developer has to make money somehow, but it really sucks to be in the zone dodging pipes and then get distracted when a Clash of Clans ad drops down from the top of the screen. Thanks game!
Basically, if Flappy Bird had in-app purchases you could use it as a textbook example of literally everything wrong with mobile gaming, derivative gameplay taken from old Flash games, graphics that look like sprite rips from Nintendo games, and having a bird as a protagonist. It would also make millions of dollars and for some reason I keep playing it. Send help!
Flappy Bird is available on both the iTunes App Store and Google Play from Dot Gears.