Flappy Bird Review – A Plague of Pipes and Pigeons

By now, if you’re active on social media, you’ve likely heard of Flappy Bird, the latest mobile-gaming craze sweeping across everything like Angry Birds in its heyday. I’ve decided, against all of my better senses, to throw myself headlong into writing a review of this deceptively simple yet infuriatingly difficult game, share what I think about it’s place in the world of gaming, and offer my own take on the sweeping insanity that is … Flappy Bird.

There’s nothing to really say about things like gameplay, controls, or the like; Flappy Bird is as simple as they come in these regards. The player (barely) controls the haphazard flight of the title character by tapping the screen to cause li’l Flappy to, well, flap. That’s it — the other possibility is to allow the small sprite-drawn bird to fall, which quickly becomes a dive. The object of the game is to navigate between pairs of Super Mario Brothers-esque pipes reaching in towards each other, with a single point being awarded for passing the midpoint of each set of pipes. To date, my personal best is 19 points – an achievement that led me to not only capture the moment in a screenshot, but to offer up my initial review of the game in the brevity of Twitter:flappy tweet2

That’s an informal review, of course, but the fact is that, for the most part, I stand by the emotional response it holds. The first thing I thought when I started playing Flappy Bird was “This shit is NES level difficult.” It’s entirely unforgiving and remarkably easy to lose at any moment, but somehow it’s so addicting that I keep on going back to it. But why do I — and so many others on my Twitter timeline — keep going back? What sorcerous hold does Flappy Bird have that it keeps us entwined in its devilish clutches, trying over and over to guide this fat, pixelated bird inexorably to his doom at between jutting pipes that make no sense?

It’s simple. It’s easy. It’s quick. All of the winning pieces in a mobile game, but without the requisite coddling that so often seeps through these small distractions. It has every piece of what we expect, but without holding our hands through or really even giving us a chance; there’s that hope, though, and the sheer simplicity of it begs us to keep trying, whispers sweetly to us that it can’t be that hard, that if we just tapped a half-heartbeat sooner or later than we had that we’d break through and soar on to scores unlike any of our friends have achieved. It lies to us, deceives us, tells us that we can somehow win, though no conditions for success even actually exist.

This poor yellow bird doesn't know it, but he's already defeated, lying on the ground near the pipe into which he is about to crash. There's no other possible outcome, yet he strives on. Flap on, little bird. Flap on.

This poor yellow bird doesn’t know it, but he’s already defeated, lying on the ground near the pipe into which he is about to crash. There’s no other possible outcome, yet he strives on. Flap on, little bird. Flap on.

It’s not hard to see why this has become the timekiller du jour among so many people. The recipe is nearly perfect; there’s not even the complexity of collecting anything to purchase power-ups, no thought has to go into any particular attempt. The different backgrounds and sprite colors offer an apparent mix (Red Flappy is my best flyer; Yellow Flappy is terrible at what he does). Discarding all of this for simple, easy to grasp yet difficult to master gameplay is the lifeblood of a mobile game, and I expect I’ll be flapping on for the foreseeable future when I have some time to kill and nothing else to do.

Final Breakdown

[+Simple gameplay and controls] [+Unobtrusive sound] [+Free (and not-terribly-obnoxious supporting ads)] [+Addicting and fun] [-Relentless difficulty without learning curve]

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