We’ve heard it from our parents. We’ve heard it from our teachers. We’ve heard it from our friends. Now, after a lifetime of hearing the ages-old question, indie outfit Hipster Whale is brave enough to ask it with a video game: why did the chicken cross the road? Fortunately for you and me, the answer in this case seems to be, “because it was a hell of a lot of fun.”
In the Australian trio’s debut title as a team, Crossy Road, the goal is titularly apparent: guide an adorable blocky bird across a treacherous, procedurally generated road, replete with cars, trains, and waterways. Each hop forward is a point earned, and death comes instantly upon splat or sploosh. If careful planning is your thing, beware: stay in one place for too long and you’ll be swept up by a majestic eagle. It’s only forward for our fearless fowl. Once more into the breach.
And while there’s a 50% chance he didn’t own an iOS device, Shakespeare may as well have written that famous line about the experience of playing Crossy Road itself. There’s no beaking around the bush: this is your new obsession waiting to happen. Developer Matthew Hall has been very open about the fact that the game’s title is a way for the team to pay homage to Dong Nguyen’s now-iconic time-waster, Flappy Bird, and its inspiration on their title. Honestly, though, I think that undersells it.
Amongst all the imitators and shameless rip-offs that have spawned in its wake, Crossy Road feels like the first game since Flappy Bird to understand what made Flappy Bird so maddeningly engaging. Indie developer Vlambeer maintains that a clone understands what a game is, but not why it is; a clone misses the mark on what makes the game it’s copying tick. With Crossy Road, Hipster Whale borrows the one-tap thesis, but reinvents it completely. Developers, pay attention: this game is a master class in how to find the fun.
While there may not be a lot here, what does exist is so juicy — a smorgasbord of vibrant, rewarding moments. From little considerations like the squish that plays proxy for haptic feedback whenever your tap, to key decisions like the game’s nostalgia-inducing voxel aesthetic, Crossy Road oozes arcade charm.
Great decisions like this extend to the game’s pitch-perfect design. Rather than dabble in points and multipliers, the game’s score is as pure an indicator as you can find of success: how many hops were you able to complete before you bit the dust (or the exhaust fumes as it were)? Bragging becomes meaningful, and Hipster Whale makes it effortless with clear focus on the share button after each round, and seamless integration of Everyplay video sharing. Meanwhile, the Game Center scores of your friends are splayed across the road; makeshift finishing lines both cheering you on as you pass, and jeering at you as you painfully miss the mark by a few hops. Just another go.
Then there’s that playful, almost self deprecating monetization. Coins can be found strewn across the road as you play, and earning 100 nets you the right to buy a new traffic-threading companion. From the mallard to the tree frog to the bearded wizard, there are 50 to collect in all, and while they can each be purchased for $0.99 cents, pressure to do so is non existent. Constant reminders of how many coins you have left until your next 100, free coin gifts at regular intervals, and unobtrusively integrated video ads that net you currency all combine to create a refreshing, engrossing free to play experience. The message throughout is clear:
Play a few more rounds.
It’ll be fun.