Flappy Bird iOS Review: 18 Million Players Can't Be Wrong, Right?

Flappy Bird iOS Review: 18 Million Players Can't Be Wrong, Right?

Need an excuse to fling your expensive piece of consumer electronics at the nearest wall? Enter Flappy Bird.

Flappy Bird. Suddenly, everyone was talking about it. But why? I had no idea. I had to find out.

It transpires that this free, ad-supported mobile game's rocketing to the top of the App Store charts was more than likely at least partially fuelled by this expletive-laden exploration from popular YouTube personality and part-time foghorn PewDiePie. And if a video demonstrating the game's simplistic gameplay and infuriating difficulty level is enough to get people to download it in sufficient quantities to get it to the top of the charts, there must be something interesting about it, right?

Well, uh, no. Flappy Bird is -- how to put this delicately -- rubbish.

It couldn't be simpler. It's a "one-touch" game, meaning you only have one control to worry about -- tapping the screen to make the titular bird do the thing he is most known for. You must use this single control to avoid crashing into some possible copyright-infringing green pipes that look mysteriously like sprite rips from a Nintendo game.

And that's it.

Yes, really; that's it. There's no progression beyond beating your past high score (or checking your standing on the global Game Center leaderboards which, as usual, are topped by people who have clearly used unscrupulous methods to artificially inflate their scores); there's no in-game currency to earn and buy powerups; there's no challenges or missions; no achievements; hell, there isn't even a difficulty curve -- the game just keeps coming for as long as you have patience, its green pipes spread out at equidistant intervals for all eternity. You'll never reach the end, you'll never "beat" Flappy Bird, and there's little incentive to even keep trying.

And so why is it so popular? Why does Apple's Game Center report that there are supposedly somewhere in the region of 18 million people playing this game?

Simple answer: it's addictive. Or, perhaps, to be more accurate, it's compulsive. It's one of those games where you try, you fail, you automatically press the "retry" button to give it another go. You try, you fail, you retry, you fail, you retry, you fail -- and before you know it your dinner is burned beyond recognition, the junk mail is piling up on your doorstep, the cat has finally perfected its Persuadertron technology and it looks as if the Rapture might be kicking off outside.

An exaggeration, perhaps -- I tired of the game after roughly three minutes -- but it is easy to see how people could find this simplistic, poorly presented game somehow compelling. It taps into those same sort of primal urges to do better that deliberately simple but difficult games like Super Hexagon manipulate -- the difference between Flappy Bird and Super Hexagon being that Terry Cavanagh's classic features a much better sense of pacing and gradation of difficulty, whereas Flappy Bird is just the same thing over and over and over again.

A certain addictive or compulsive quality isn't sufficient to make a genuinely good game, sadly; Flappy Bird is addictive and compulsive in the same way that popping bubble wrap is addictive and compulsive. It may be immediately satisfying to waste your time with it in the short term, but when you look back on how your day went, you'll find yourself wishing you'd used those hours for something more productive or stimulating.

Do yourself a favor and don't even start down that pipe-laden road; there are far too many brilliant games out there going unplayed to ever justify wasting your time with Flappy Bird.

The Nitty Gritty

  • Visuals: At least it's consistent, in that it looks like a Super NES game. Possibly because its graphics may well have been ripped from a Super NES game.
  • Music and Sound: There's no music, and sound effects are minimal, unless you count your own profanities as sound effects.
  • Interface: The controls at least respond consistently, and no loading breaks means you can always immediately restart without any fuss. But why would you want to?
  • Lasting Appeal: This is a game that is as long as you have patience and/or nothing better to do. In my case, it was a matter of minutes.

Half a star for at least having the decency to not have any microtransactions; half a star for its undeniably addictive nature. The remaining four stars are off playing something better.


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