Angry Birds doesn’t look like much, sitting there in the app store. Sure, it takes up s prominent spot in the stores lists, but honestly, it’s just an icon of a big, fat, angry looking red bird. I’ll be honest when I say that I didn’t even really give it a second look until about a month ago when my wife pulled it down onto my phone. That happy event has led me to say clearly to anyone who will listen that I honestly think that Angry Birds is one of the best games that I have ever played. Not iPhone games, not mobile games, but any game, period.
I say this because, when looked at objectively, Angry Birds does a number of things that a video game should do in order to be successful:
Drawing on Past Games Without Being Derivative
The first thing that I thought about after playing Angry Birds was that it reminded me a lot of a game originally launched in 1980 for the Apple II: Artillery. The premise was pretty simple: aim your cannon and try to hit the guy at the other end of the field, taking into account a number of factors including terrain and wind. It wasn’t a particularly complicated, but there was a lot of fun to be had in the learning aspects of the game, what works and what doesn’t. And also the feeling that when you did hit that target, it was your skill and your choices that made it happen, not some random dice roll or other external factor.
While Angry Birds is a variant on the old classic, the basic foundation is still there: judge power and angle in your shot as you try to kill them pigs. Success in Angry Birds feels very much like success in Artillery. It’s an “I did this myself” kind of accomplishment.
Understanding Your Audience
One of the biggest mistakes that i find iPhone developers make is that they create their games without really knowing their audience and most importantly their audience’s play habits.
It’s been pretty much commonly accepted that an iPhone game should be playable in very short bursts, one developer I know even going so far as to say that iPhone games should be games you can play on the toilet, equal in length to say, a chapter of a book or an article in a paper or magazine.
Angry Birds does a great job of creating bite sized gameplay that can be enjoyed in a minute or less if you only take one kick at the can on a particular level, but that can also be enjoyed in large chunks without feeling repetitive.
Easy to learn, Difficult to Master
Anyone can play Angry Birds and be successful at it, by which I mean, complete the levels before frustration forces the player to throw the iPhone out of a moving car. The game’s players are given ample opportunity to succeed and while failure does happen occasionally, it’s just a matter of trying again.
Mastering the game, however, takes a little bit more work and by encouraging players to get through the game ranking at three stars for each level, it provides a clear goal for the more dedicated gamer to aspire to and adds a great deal of replayability.
Angry Birds really could have been any kind of game, and the most logical skin to put on it may have been military, cannon-shooting or some kind of sci-fi wrapping. by choosing instead to go with the far less explicit slingshot and birds, the developers opened the game up not only for kids and a younger audience, but also for a more casual audience that may not have picked up a war or sci-fi game.
It’s easy to forget as gamers, or at least as people who might put that label on themselves, that the iPhone market is much broader than your typical platform. In order for a game to be a widespread hit, it’s going to have to find a way to appeal to everyone, mom, dad, grandma, my little sister, that guy on the bus... everyone. Angry Birds does this very well.
Oh yeah, and then there’s this thing called fun. It should go without saying, but sadly it doesn’t in the modern day of video game development: A game, in order to be successful, has to be fun. You can follow the development rules all you like but at the end of the day, if your game isn’t fun, people just aren’t going to play it. Angry Birds? It’s a fun game, for all of the reasons listed above and more. I defy you to play this game for more than 20 minutes and tell me that you didn’t have at least a little bit of fun.
All in all, it’s a solid game, and if the iPhone games market is going to continue to grow and to bring new gamers into the space, then developers could do worse than to sit down with Angry Birds and learn the lessons it may have to teach.