This bird has wings

I’m terrible at Flappy Bird, but that’s ok – I think that’s sort of the point. Nobody is actually “good” at Flappy Bird. Some people are just less terrible than others. I’m still near the bottom of the pile, but like everyone, I’m just trying to get better.

This isn’t the first time that Flappy Bird has sounded like a metaphor for life, and it probably won’t be the last. But I suppose that’s what happens when something is simultaneously so simple yet so frustrating.

Flappy Bird

For those not in the know quite yet, Flappy Bird is the latest game to take the mobile market by storm. It’s a free download – and not, I should stress, “free-to-play” – that tasks players to guide a bird between an endless series of gaps in an attempt to get the highest score possible. Every set of pipes you pass earns you another point. It’s as simple as that.

And yet this might be the most controller-throwingly frustrating game to ever appear on the App Store.

Every tap on the screen gives your little birdie the courage it needs to flap its wings one more time. With every flap, the bird shoots upwards… and then quickly comes back down. It’s as if your finger was providing instructions for the bird to jump on an invisible trampoline. Now imagine guiding someone through a series of narrow passageways while forcing them to jump on a trampoline.

That, in a nutshell, is Flappy Bird.

In my travels this week (both on the internet and in meatspace) I’ve only been able to find two kinds of people: those who hate Flappy Bird, and those who hate it but can’t stop playing it because they won’t let this @#$%ing game beat them. Clearly, I’ve aligned myself more with the latter.

It might be frustrating (and easy to hate), but Flappy Bird manages to succeed at that classic Tetris design principle that has informed so many great video games that came after it – make it easy enough that anyone can figure it out on their own in seconds, yet challenging enough that it would take years of practice to master. In terms of game design, it’s brilliant in its simplicity.

Maybe that’s why everybody you’ve ever met is playing it. It might just be that my personal experience is tainted because of my role as a game critic, but it seems as though Flappy Bird has permeated the public consciousness faster than any other game in recent memory. It even became the topic of conversation at a ‘wine & cheese’ function my wife attended late last week, and her work couldn’t be further from the video game world that you and I live in.

The speed at which Flappy Bird has taken flight is even crazier when you realize that the game launched back in May 2013, languishing in obscurity until just a few weeks back.

While the game is available on both iOS and Android, this is one of the rare occasions where we’re going to state a preference and suggest you play it on Android if you can. For some reason, the iOS version is lacking in a few of the Android builds nicer features. The Android version has sharper graphics, which is the real reason to mention this (as the game looks downright fuzzy on an iPhone 5S), as well as different bird colors, an additional background, and redrawn pipes. I’d be surprised if we didn’t see all of this come to iOS in a future update, but at the time of this writing Android gamers are going to have a slightly nicer experience.

Flappy Bird is simultaneously everything that’s right and wrong about video games. You’ll play it, you’ll obsess over it, but you’ll never really like it. Still, as the first real hit for Vietnam based .GEARS (pronounced dotGEARS), it’s a hell of an icebreaker. They have a few other games out already as well (I’m personally partial to Smashing Kitty), and considering how long it took for anyone to notice Flappy Bird, I’d say it’s only a matter of time until .GEARS finds themselves back at the top of the charts.