Billed as the first ever “picnic defense” game, Must. Eat. Birds. runs with that quirky premise and offers one of the more amusing and aesthetically pleasing titles on the App Store. Naturally, colorful characters and flashy menus alone don’t make for a great game – luckily, the arcade-style pull-and-fling gameplay mostly delivers, creating an original and entertaining option for iPhone owners.
Your objective in Must. Eat. Birds. is simple: protect your delicious desserts from a small army of parachuting birds. To do so, you must fling Nomsters – furry, orange, ball-shaped creatures crazed facial expressions – using a makeshift catapult comprised of two forks and a band. Allowing four birds to reach the bottom of the game screen results in a loss, so you’ll be tempted to keep the Nomsters launching at a regular clip, but don’t be wasteful: chomping 25 consecutive birds without a miss triggers the “Maximum Bake” mode, which amps up both the flow of birds and your score multiplier, and is essential for beating some of the later missions.
Flinging the monsters into the sky is incredibly simple and intuitive: you simply touch the Nomster located between the forks, drag it down (while moving to the left or right to aim the shot), and release your finger to launch it in the intended direction. Instructions are given prior to the game’s first mission, but no other touch or tilt controls are used within the actual game, so it’s rather easy for nearly anyone to jump in and get started. Nomsters can be launched directly towards birds or bounced off the sides of the game screen, and they can even be combined (by shooting one into another) to create one larger Nomster that grants you more points for each bird it eats.
Though developed by an English studio, Must. Eat. Birds. adopts an aggressive faux-Japanese aesthetic that emphasizes cute creatures, colorful background images, and large blocks of Japanese text covered up with English translations. This approach could have easily come across as cloying and forced, but the mixture of fantastically sharp drawings and catchy Asian-influenced tunes instead feels endearing, and it’s hard to think of many hand-drawn 2D iPhone titles that look better than this.
Each of the nine missions in Must. Eat. Birds. follows one of two approaches, either asking you to reach a certain score, or giving you a limited number of Nomsters with which to eat a set amount of birds. Nine stages doesn’t seem like a lot, especially with each level typically lasting just a few minutes, but the slim number of missions also means the difficulty level ramps up fairly quickly, with the final three stages being particularly challenging. Beyond the standard missions are four challenge stages where you shoot for a high score, and the game also grants players Awards for meeting certain objectives (like completing a level without losing a dessert).
Aside from the rapid difficulty jump, which can certainly cause some consternation, my other complaints come with a couple of input/recognition issues, both primarily noticed within the Maximum Bake mode. When activated, I noticed that the launching mechanism seemed less consistent than usual, with some Nomsters launched with much less intensity than intended. Also, and thankfully very rarely, I sometimes noticed a Nomster cross the path of a bird without eating it, which was undoubtedly annoying. I didn’t seem to note these problems when Maximum Bake wasn’t triggered, so hopefully it’s something Mediatonic can address with a patch.
Minor technical flaws aside, Must. Eat. Birds. is a very strong iPhone effort that will easily win over most players with its over-the-top presentation and simple, creature-flicking gameplay. Though not bursting with content, the current $0.99 price point is a steal for a game with such high production values, and makes it a perfect impulse purchase for anyone seeking a new on-the-go distraction.