What if your Tamagotchi pet asked how your day was? That to me is basically what Bird Alone, the latest game from George Batchelor, is.
All of Batchelor's games have a few things in common. They all star an animal (a pug, a deer, a parrot), are conversationally driven, and are relatively solemn. In fact, Batchelor even bills his games as such in his Twitter bio: "sad animal games." His latest, the iOS bird befriending-sim Bird Alone, is no exception.
Bird Alone feels like a natural progression for Batchelor's previous work. Hot Date, a speed dating game with a pug, imagines a short, ridiculous conversation. Far From Noise puts you in the opposite scenario: a long conversation from the driver seat of a car teetering on the edge of a cliff. There, a deer calmly talks to you while you weigh your regrets and satisfactions in life, not knowing if this is the end or not. Bird Alone is constructed differently than both: It's designed specifically with the accessibility of mobile in mind. It's a game you play every day, just to check in with your bird friend for a quick chat. Over time, your bond with the bird will theoretically grow.
Bird Alone isn't solely all Batchelor. The poetry in the game is penned by poet Daisy Fernandez; the audio design composed by Eli Rainsberry; the original concept art is by Allissa Chan. It all clicks together perfectly. The ambient audio, the open-ended poetry, the illustrated art style.
It's immediately a bit more chipper than Far From Noise: It's just you and this mysterious parrot—a bird who's tired of being alone all the time. I named them Anchovy, after my favorite bird villager from Animal Crossing. Last night, Anchovy asked me to draw what made me happy, so I drew a cup of coffee. This morning, I helped Anchovy complete a poem they partially wrote. All the interactions with Bird Alone are simple in scope like this; on the main screen, the most interaction you have is the visual depth that comes with moving your phone around, causing the leaves on screen to slightly move in turn. Meanwhile, the parrot just hops around a single branch, occasionally squawking at you to go away and come back later.
To that end, Bird Alone is a refreshingly unbingeable game. There are no free-to-play timers barring progress, nor any microtransactions to cheat your way to the next interaction. If you loiter on the screen after your short activity for the day, the parrot will merely chirp random nothings at you, but that's it. Bird Alone is a game that's supposed to stick with you for weeks (or maybe even months) on end, and I can easily see myself playing it daily for some time.
That casual play nature is by design. In an interview with KeenGamer, Batchelor says that he designed Bird Alone "more like a wellness app than a game." With just two brief experiences with it so far, this wellness element is readily apparent. My fleeting conversations with Anchovy have hinged on my mood. I said I had a bad day when we first met last night, so Anchovy gave me words of encouragement. Anchovy is a digital pet that doesn't feel like a siphon for players to obsess over in one way or another; this is no Neko Atsume collect-a-thon, nor a raising simulation. It is, truly, a wellness app masquerading as a charming video game.
It reminds me immediately of Kind Words, the anonymous letter writing game that released last year. In Kind Words, players swap letters with complete strangers. I found myself shocked at how open people were about their own personal struggles, but it's a very moving game, nonetheless. Bird Alone is like that, but there's no scary audience. It's just you and a cute bird instead.
The writing itself is casual and never heavy-handed nor cloying. It narrowly sidesteps the "too online" stylings that I've seen hold back a lot of modern indie games—though it still over punctuates sentences from time to time. Instead, Bird Alone finds strength in the naturalistic way the bird speaks. The bird's a bit self-deprecating, but still friendly. They remind me of how I present myself, honestly. I've always been told that I write like I talk: casually, as if I've never been in a business meeting in my life. I've always seen it as a failing—not smart enough to be a capital-C critic, nor silly enough to be a talking head on podcasts for white dudes. I have always resided somewhere in the middle of everything. I make jokes about myself, as a result, on the regular; but I also just want to chill out.
It's that familiar shakiness where Batchelor's games, to me, have always found their footing. Deep but not nauseatingly so. Relatable, but not at the cost of getting serious. Despite only "two days" of time with Bird Alone so far, it is shaping up to be more of that. It's available now on iOS for $2.99.