I was perusing the App Store, as one often does, when I noticed a new title sitting at the top of the free app chart. I decided to download it and take it for a spin as, if it is the most popular free app at the moment, it must at least be worth a look.
From that point forward, that title - Flappy Bird - irritated the hell out of me and I couldn’t stop playing it.
The basic premise of the game is simple: keep your bird aloft and guide it between a series of pipes for as long as you can. For each pipe you safely negotiate you get one point. Hitting a pipe or running aground ends the game. That’s it.
You’re probably familiar with this game format which has been very popular in helicopter flavor. Flappy Bird is just as simple and utilizes a one-finger gameplay – tap on the screen to make the bird rise and stay in the air, otherwise it is constant freefall.
So, why can’t I stop playing? I’m actually not entirely sure myself. Maybe it’s that the game is incredibly easy to pick up and play. The one-finger gameplay is easy to grasp immediately but Flappy Bird is ridiculously difficult from the get go. Making it through a few sets of pipes feels like a humongous achievement as crashing is so much easier – it’s almost as if the game starts off at the highest difficulty level and just remains that way rather than gradually becoming more challenging. After a few hours playing Flappy Bird a double-digit score would probably be all you could expect.
Then there is the ease in which you can start the next game immediately after failing your last effort. As soon as one game ends you can be into the next one in seconds making for an incredibly addictive experience. Each attempt is frustrating and you think you can do better next time, or at least prove that you’re not an idiot incapable of simply guiding a bird past some pipes.
Graphically, Flappy Bird is nothing to write home about either on the iPhone or the iPad. The visuals are reminiscent of Super Mario Bros and do not look at all good on Retina Displays. But it has a retro vibe about it that is a little kitsch or ironic maybe and suits the simple gameplay just fine. Flappy Bird is free but ad-supported, and these are probably the most annoying part of the game. The banner ads are intrusive, look terrible and are detrimental to gameplay on occasion as they sometimes block an oncoming pipe.
Despite all of its obvious and irritating flaws, Flappy Bird remains incredibly addictive and is certainly worth taking a few minutes to check out (although that few minutes may well turn into a few hours). I found that playing it was fun as well as frustrating and, if I’m being totally honest, the game fulfils its own mission entirely. It’s a simple arcade game but unique in its incredible difficulty, just as the developer’s clearly intended.
The wrap up
The good: Infuriatingly addictive and simple gameplay. Hilariously difficult.
The bad: Substandard graphics, poor placement of banner ads. Hilariously difficult (yes, this is both a pro and a con, in my opinion).
The verdict: I’m not sure if all the buzz around Flappy Bird is ironic as, by most definitions, Flappy Bird is a poor game. It’s not terrible, and is certainly playable, but it has so many flaws that its meteoric rise to the top of App Stores around the world is a mysterious one. Yet these flaws can easily be overlooked and the game enjoyed/endured depending on your outlook. Flappy Bird for iPhone and iPad is available in the App Store now for free.