Platform: iOS (tested), Android | Available: Now
It’s time to come clean… As strange as it may sound, I actually missed the whole Flappy Bird phenomenon the first time around. I was certainly aware of the game’s immense popularity—I mean, how could you have missed it? For a few weeks—months even—it was all anyone talked about. Yet for some reason I never got around to playing it myself until well after the craze had died down. That isn’t to say I’m still oblivious to the secret behind the game’s success. I’ve since tried Flappy Bird, become infuriated with it, sworn off it for ever, only to load it back up moments later for another try.
On paper Flappy Bird should never have worked. It should have been just another bad mobile game lost in a sea of bad mobile games. After all it features a frustrating control system, a brutally unfair difficulty curve, and design elements—namely green pipes—ripped straight out of classic Mario platformers. Even the name ‘Flappy Bird‘ reeks of a cheap attempt to cash-in on the success of mobile gaming behemoth Angry Birds. Somehow though, all of these cringe-worthy elements came together to make Flappy Bird more than the sum of it parts, elevating it to the status of a so bad it’s good cultural sensation. This ‘x’ factor combined with the game’s innate ability to get players hooked made Flappy Bird a worldwide success, making its lone creator $50,000 a day in the process.
Go Go Gadget Copter
Which brings us to Swing Copters, the second game from Vietnam-based independent developer Dong Ngyuen. The question on everyone’s mind though is whether he can manage to bottle lightning for a second time or if Swing Copters will only serve to demonstrate the fickle, unpredictable nature of the mobile game market. At first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking Swing Copters was nothing more than a quick follow up to capitalize on the success of last year’s hit. On the surface it features a similar retro pixel art style and a worryingly familiar core gameplay concept. The premise is simple. Instead of navigating through obstacles on a horizontal axis, Swing Copters sees you controlling what appears to be a flying potato with an Inspector Gadget style ‘helmet copter’ through a vertical maze. As expected it’s brutally hard and points are harder to earn than Olympic medals. That certainly sounds like ‘vertical Flappy Bird‘ to me.
Dig a little deeper however and you’ll discover a surprising amount of depth and challenge awaiting you. For starters you’re no longer just responsible for one directional input—flapping your wings to fight gravity. Now you must steer both left and right. That might sound easy but your character quickly builds up momentum as they swing from side to side making accurate flight extremely tough. Quick successive taps can keep your avatar flying reasonably straight, but a hard swing across the screen can be hard to recover from. Hit boxes are unforgiving too and you only need to graze an obstacle by so much as a pixel and you’re finished. To top it off you also have to watch out for the swinging hammers which line your narrow path. Navigating gaps is hard enough as is, but the movement of the hammers means you also have to predict where they’ll be in advance. This demands a level of mental gymnastics that will put some players off.
Take a Deep Breath
But therein lies the game’s drawcard. Its special sauce, if you will. At first you’ll struggle to even get 1 point. I wish I was joking. But as you spend time with Swing Copters you’ll gradually master its quirky handling that you once thought beyond your grasp. You’ll be elated when you achieve a high score of 5, then 11, then 24. At this point success is no longer based on skill and mastery so much as nerve. You’ve memorized the intricacies of the hammer swing. You’ve mastered the back and forth sway of your pixelated pilot. It’s only when you get excited about breaking your high score, or when you succumb to some distraction—like the need to take a breath—that you’ll choke, crashing for the thousandth time.
Above: Score a bronze medal (20 points or more) to unlock different avatars
Like its predecessor, Swing Copters doesn’t have pretty graphics, hours of fresh content, or a compelling story. Nevertheless there’s an unexpected, elegant simplicity here that makes Swing Copters worthy of your attention. In many ways it’s reminiscent of classic arcade games like Pac-Man or even early mobile gaming pioneer Snake. Like these games Swing Copters is based on an incredibly basic core mechanic that, once mastered, is a matter of blocking out distractions to achieve an almost zen-like state. Oh and did we mention it’s free? Swing Copters won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but you’d be doing yourself a disservice to dismiss it as ‘just another crappy mobile game’.
- Perfect for quick play sessions
- Overcoming the extreme challenge can be very rewarding
- It’s free!
- Will be too frustrating for some
- Controls are initially hard to grasp
- Presentation is a little lacking