Last winter, the mobile gaming scene was taken by storm with the breakout hit Flappy Bird. The unbelievably frustrating game featured a bird flying through a series of gates made of Super-Mario style pipes. The controls were simple: tap anywhere on the screen to make the bird flap his wings once, counteracting gravity just a bit. By keeping the flaps and gravity perfectly balanced, steering the bird became possible. But only just. The game was incredible simple, yet incredibly difficult, which of course equals incredibly addicting. One wrong move and you lost. After every crushing defeat, you’d promise yourself to play “just one more game,” but somehow you’d end up playing another. And another. However frustrating, the game was actually really fun, and it was possible to get the hang of it. However, at the peak of its glory, the creator, Dong Nguyen, pulled the plug. The game was removed from app stores (which remained flooded with counterfeits), supposedly because the creator felt bad that he had caused so much global frustration and addiction.
However, Dong Nguyen has done it again. With his new vertical game, Swing Copters, you navigate a player upward, this time controlling his movements left and right. The same style applies: move through a series of gates and don’t crash. However, the addition of swinging hammers and the upward direction actually make Swing Copters more difficult than Flappy Bird ever was.
Starting the game is confusing. You tap the screen to start, and your character immediately flies to the right and crashes. What on earth happened? You try again, with the same result. After 5-10 times, you realize that you’re supposed tap the screen to reverse the character’s horizontal direction. No, you don’t have to tap a certain half of the screen, and no, you don’t have to tilt the device. The lack of gravity really makes Swing Copters more difficult. Even though you’re still only controlling one dimension, you are now controlling both directions in that dimension. It’s a subtle difference, but now instead of only having to think about up, you have to think about left and right. The game is also hard because of your character’s sideways momentum. The longer you travel in one direction, the faster you go. This means you have to constantly switch directions in order to stay in control.
When Swing Copters was first released, the space between the ground and the first gate was about the same as the space between the first gate and the second. Since the app’s release, there has been an update, giving you way more space before the first gate (see image 4). This makes the game easier, because it gives you time to “stabilize” your motion before encountering the first gate. Before the update, my high score was 2; within a few minutes of getting the update, my high score was 10. However, don’t think the game is easy now. It’s still really, really difficult.
Overall, Swing Copters is a fun game. I’m going to try not to play it too much though, since it is very addictive. I really hope Dong Nguyen can come to grips with his app this time, and understand that sometimes we as humans like to be frustrated. After all, what would life be like without challenges? Imagine Edison with no light bulb to invent. Henry Ford with no automobile. Okay, so maybe those aren’t fair comparisons. Still, I hope Swing Copters is here to stay. ••
Special Note: You may have heard about the now-confirmed Apple event coming up on Tuesday, September 9. Rest assured, Staring at Phones will have full coverage of the event. Be sure to check back here next week to see all my predictions, then again the day of the event for a special follow-up. Hope to see you then!