I usually do my best to avoid viral game trends. I haven’t grown a Farmville; I’ve never drawn something with friends; and I’ve never played Candy Crush Saga, because I’ve gone 25 years without becoming addicted to crack and I don’t see any reason to start now. But I confess I was curious when the deceptively simple game Flappy Bird catapulted to the top of the app charts and frustrated my friends to straitjacket-wearing levels of insanity. How could someone play for 30 hours and only have one point? (For the record, my highest score is 41. Make of that what you will.)
If you’ve managed to avoid Flappy Bird, the premise is simple: you are a simple cartoon bird, trying to fly through the gaps between Mario-style pipes. You press the screen to fly up, and let go to fly down—it’s identical to another avian-themed bestseller, Tiny Wings. The simplicity of the gameplay, compounded by its merciless difficulty, made for just the right combination to take the world by storm. News outlets covered the fad, trying to analyze why it was so viral. Game guides and how-to videos sprang into existence, followed almost immediately by mocking parodies of the same. Then, without warning, its developer shut everything down. Claiming that the attention was ruining his life, he pulled Flappy Bird from the App store; those who had already downloaded it could still keep playing, but the newly curious were out of luck—or so it seemed.
It’s not surprising in the least that Flappy Bird’s success spawned a slew of knockoffs; however, with the departure of the original, these replacements now have a decent chance of becoming the successor to Flappy Bird’s brief time on the throne. So in the interest of science, I played all of the Flappy Bird clones sitting in the Top 20 Free Games chart in the iOS App Store, so you don’t have to. My iPhone may never be the same again. The games were judged on their visual resemblance to Flappy Bird, gameplay resemblance to Flappy Bird, and finally on the overall quality of the game by its own merit.
Developer: Balloon Island
Ranking in App Store: #2
Visuals: A downright ballsy rip-off of the original’s menu design, layout, scoring system, and sound effects.
Gameplay: Surprisingly, Flappy Fall uses a different game mechanic entirely. Instead of guiding a bird through pipes horizontally, you try to catch as many falling birds as you can in your 8-bit stylized little nest. So it’s a rip-off of every other “catch falling objects” game in existence.
Overall Score: 3/5. The game works just fine, but it missed the vital pacing that made Flappy Bird so addictive.
Flappy Wings – FREE
Developer: Green Chili Games UG
Ranking in App Store: #3
Visuals: Slightly more colourful than Flappy Bird, which mainly means it’s just stealing from Super Mario World with even less shame. The little bird character comes in a range of colours, you fly through pillars instead of pipes, and the menus aren’t quite direct copies of the original interface.
Gameplay: Identical to Flappy Bird, with an added coin collection goal and optional hats you can buy with said currency. However, for some reason, your bird character will occasionally make a little fart sound and drop a cartoon poo. Why does this happen? Who thought this was a good idea? What does it accomplish? Is it the key to winning the game? Your guess is as good as mine.
Overall Score: 2/5. It works as advertised, but loses points due to its unnecessary, blatant-cash-grab micro transactions and that weird foray into surprise scatology.
Developer: redBit games
Ranking in App Store: #13
Visuals: Well, it’s about a fish in the ocean instead of a bird, but it’s still pretty obvious where redBit got its inspiration.
Gameplay: Identical to Flappy Bird, just with a fish. Which makes no sense, because objects in water do not have the same gravitational issues as objects attempting to fly. Points deducted for ignoring the laws of physics.
Overall Score: 3.5/5. It’s functional, but the app immediately bombards you with requests for push notifications and ratings and other redBit apps; it’s a very obtrusive level of advertising.
Developer: Kevin Nardi
Ranking in App Store: #15
Visuals: Certainly inspired by Flappy Bird, but with thinner pipes and a decisively dumber-looking bird. Because, if the hilarious name hasn’t tipped you off, this is a parody.
Gameplay: Identical to the original, though slightly easier because the pipes are thinner. Because did you realize that “Flappy” rhymes with “Crappy”? And Flappy Bird’s omnipresence makes it ripe for satire?
Overall Score: 1/5, because unfunny scatological “parodies” can take our spoof films, but they cannot take our iPhones.
Developer: Ha Quang Tu
Ranking in App Store: #18
Visuals: Impressively rips off the original, almost to the point of being an identical copy.
Gameplay: On paper it’s the same as Flappy Bird, but in practice it’s an unplayable mess. Instead of tapping the screen, you need to hold down in order to make the bird fly upwards. Plus, the game takes a few moments to register your touch, which makes aiming and accuracy nearly impossible.
Overall Score: 0/5. No one could play this for more than 30 seconds. It’s not frustrating enough to become an addiction; it evokes no emotions because it’s just plain broken.
Developer: 1Button SARL
Ranking in App Store: #19
Visuals: Refreshingly different. There’s nary an 8-bit pipe in sight, and the design is instead pleasantly stark and simple. The little bird is a cute, boxy little guy with a downright adorable bike-horn squawk.
Gameplay: You tap the screen to make the bird rise up, and you need to fly through gaps between obstacles, but that’s where the similarities end. Instead of flying in a horizontal straight line, your bird flies around a circular ring, so the player must keep adapting the flight trajectory as the pull of gravity shifts from tap to tap. You’re scored based on how many times you have successfully completed one revolution around the ring—that’s one point for navigating four gates. And the gate openings constantly shift their positions.
Overall Score: 5/5. This game is the genuine article; it took Flappy Bird’s basic premise and made it 10 times better. It’s exemplary of the easy-to-learn, tough-to-master mechanics that make a game addictive, and the fail-restart cycle is much faster than Flappy Bird, so you can keep trying again and again (and again). After 20 minutes of playing, I still only have two points. Seriously, give this game a try; it’s genuinely challenging, appealingly minimalistic, and has adorable sound effects.