Flappy Bird (Mobile) [Review]

Game Info

  • Genre: Endless Runner
  • Platform: iOS / Android
  • Developer: Dong Nguyen
  • Publisher: .GEARS Studio
  • Release Date: May 24, 2013
  • Tested In: Android

Take note that this is what made me learn that the written review MUST NOT wait for the video. I was making a video for this, with the voice-overs and footage already done, but the editing took longer than expected and kept getting hung up by happenings in daily life. I’ve posted this now, even though it’s a month late, since I didn’t want to waste the work put into writing this. Perhaps it’s also good that the fad has passed by so that the game can be assessed more objectively.

When a casual game becomes trendy, there are those who get in the hype and those who turn a cold shoulder. However, this may not be like the baby toys dismissed as child’s play. Getting a high score in this could give either petty bragging rights or a broken hand from punching a wall.

Flappy Bird was released for the iOS way back in May 2013, so it’s not really a new game (as of this review). Later on, it became the most downloaded game in the App Store for January 2014.

NOTE: The game has since been removed from app stores, so this review has been posted more for the sake of posterity to show that this game did exist and was a thing for a time.

A timeline of the game and its developer’s ascent and subsequent descent can be seen in this link.

Presentation

The presentation consists of a background and theme not unlike Super Mario, right down to the pipes that your flappy bird must pass through. In fact, the resemblance is so uncanny that some may think it’s actually plagiarism, although that’s quite an accusation.

With this game earning so much through ad revenue, this may even be outright copyright infringement. However, it’s not likely that the developer ripped the game art, but merely paying homage to a retro classic like what many other indie titles do.

The bird itself sports an appearance reminiscent of various other 8-bit monsters and even Tamagotchi, the Japanese virtual pets that used to be popular in the late 90’s. It also changes color with each game, switching from yellow to red or blue to keep things interesting.

However, it’s not like you’ll have time to think about it though once you start tapping the screen. It must be said that there have been many other games out there that borrow from Super Mario’s visual and gameplay elements (like Super Mario Bros. Crossover).

Gameplay

It’s a take on the endless runner with a 90-degree twist as it’s not merely forward momentum that you have to contend with. While you can fall to your doom in other endless runners, gravity plays a bigger role in your demise here as you are a bird that must flap its wings in a timely manner to pass through tubes.

It’s simple enough; you tap the screen to have the bird flap its wings once. If you stop tapping, it loses altitude and continues to do so until either you tap again or it hits something. There’s a counter on top of the screen to show how many gaps you’ve cleared, and the objective is to clear as many as possible.

If you reach a certain number, you may get a medal for it. It feels a little bit like a rhythm game in that you have to time your taps to pass through each gap, and you get punished severely if you tap either too slowly or too quickly. You have to keep tapping the screen in order to keep the bird up, but not too much that it’ll bump into a pipe or fall to the ground.

This game’s take on gravity is central to this game’s addictiveness and frustration, being brutal in simulating 9.8m/s2 right on your phone or tablet. It’s also the reason why this game turns normally civil people into reddening heaps of rage as the bird can plummet to the earth at terrifying speed if kept unchecked for even a brief moment.

It’s not a bad game per se, but it’s obnoxious. The sound of the bird hitting a pipe or the ground is like a slap to the face. The bird falls to the ground without any change of expression; the poor thing never saw it coming. You then stare at the replay button that seems to mock you for your failure. Flappy Bird is like most other endless runners; it’s driven by the optimism of achieving a goal and the dread of inevitability.

You can set a high score, then pass your mobile device to someone to witness a sliver of their true character. At least with other games like Angry Birds, there is no sense of urgency in the gameplay, but this one demands zen-like focus. Hipsters may mock, but this is for neither the feeble-minded or the limp-wristed.

Final Score

Flappy Bird
6 out of 10
Pros
  • Inspired yet simplistic game design
  • Simple and responsive controls
  • Sound effects deepen impact
  • Very easy to learn
  • Surprisingly challenging due to brutal simulation of gravity and need for precise timing
Cons
  • Not much else other than core gameplay
  • Deceptively frustrating
  • Visuals look too much like Super Mario
  • Original app no longer available
Summary

I see why it got so popular, but it can also bring the worst out of people. Perhaps it's not that different from League of Legends or StarCraft II in that regard. At least it's not from people whining about game balance, but merely on how deceptively brutal the game is.


The reason why I rate this a 6 out of 10 is the elegance of its design. I do wish Nguyen the best of luck in his future endeavors as it seems that he has a gift for creative expression through game development. The only reason why I don't know if I like or hate the game is that while I appreciate its good points, it's just not my type of game. I don't hate it though as I did find myself trying to beat my personal best, so the engagement was there.


Too bad that Flappy Bird has tons of haters due to being too mainstream for its own good since such inspired game design deserves more appreciation than the hipster-posturing that it had to put up with. Flappy Bird demonstrates the power of accessibility and simplicity in games to attract an audience.


Sadly, the developer didn't have the heart to keep at it with what is undeniably his greatest success yet. This may sound weird to most people, but it takes a certain bit of courage to quit amid such success for one's peace of mind.


You may read about my review system [here].


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