Over the past few years, the massive success of Angry Birds has demonstrated that you can make a lot of money from simple but addictive games. Hoping to cash in on the Birds popularity is Line Birds.
The easiest way to describe Line Birds is that as a horizontal scrolling version of Doodle Jump. What do you mean "you've never played Doodle Jump"? *Sigh* OK, I'll explain a bit more.
You control a cute little bird sitting at the left edge of the screen. You have to help him avoid "stalactites" and "stalagmites" which hang down from the ceiling by moving him up and down between gaps. Along the way additional hazards (such as planes) also need to be avoided, whilst corn can be collected to give your bird a special power. The object of the game is simply to fly for as long as you can without hitting anything because bumping into any object automatically ends the game.
Graphics-wise, Line Birds is simplistic, but in a good way. It is deliberately designed to look hand drawn and cartoon-like, giving the impression that you are actually "playing" a child's drawing. The background looks like a piece of old-fashioned graph paper, the "stalagmites/tites" are simply thick lines hanging from the ceiling or rising from the floor and enemy objects are pencilled in black. The only real concession to colour is your bird which is cute, colourful and looks like a reject from Angry Birds. Simple though the graphical style is, it works very well. The crisp, clean interface makes the game visually attractive; the stark, minimalist approach a welcome contrast to the brash busyness of most games.
Sound, on the other hand, is slightly odd. Effects are seriously limited (a brief bump, for example when you hit something) and so the game is a bit lacking in atmosphere. Ambient sound is non-existent so with the music turned off, much of the game is played in complete silence. By default the music is turned off and this is a good thing. It's not that the music is bad (in fact it's actually quite good), I'm just not entirely sure that it belongs in this game. It's a grand, orchestral sounding piece full of swelling instruments and sounds like it belongs in a game like Super Smash Bros Brawl rather than this simple little title. Since it plays throughout every game, it soon becomes repetitive and you would be well-advised to switch it off.
Controls are limited and simple to learn, but frustratingly difficult to master. Holding your finger on the screen causes your bird to flap his wings (gaining height to avoid obstacles at the bottom of the screen); take your finger off the screen and the bird will cease flapping and slowly drift downwards (helping you avoid hazards from above). Although simple to learn, these controls are not at all easy to master. You have to apply precisely the right amount of pressure to get through some of the narrower gaps, and this is not at all easy to judge. Hold your finger to the screen for just a fraction of a second too long or take it off a smidgeon too early and you are doomed. There's little room for error in this game. With practice, you start to develop a feel for the controls, but it's not an intuitive game and that leads to issues with the gameplay.
The thing with computer games is that there is a fine line between "fun" and frustrating. It needs to be difficult enough to offer a challenge for both casual and seasoned gamers, whilst remaining fun enough to encourage repeated play. Gameplay has a certain indefinable quality which is very difficult to get right. Line Bird's spiritual predecessor Doodle Jump got that balance right being both frustrating and addictive; Line Birds falls fowl (sorry) of it.
It is quite fun to play, but the erratic difficulty level makes it hard to really enjoy. I quickly find myself getting very annoyed with it, and there are times when the difficulty level feels very unfair, stacking up obstacles in such a way that it seems almost impossible to avoid them. There's nothing worse than a game that feels unfair; failure due to player incompetence is one thing, failure due to inherently unreasonable gameplay is quite another.
As such, Line Birds suffers from short term and long-term playablity issues. It's meant to be a pick up and play title, suitable for a few moments of fun here and there. Sadly, the finicky controls and challenging in-game physics means that you actually have to have quite a few games before you start to feel even vaguely in control.
Even if you do get the hang of the controls and physics, the gameplay quickly becomes dull and repetitive. There is very little difference between levels, no real graphical variety and the frustrating difficulty level means that unless you have the patience of a saint, you will quickly consign this to the "rarely played" section of your iPhone.
Still, it's got to be worth 69p, hasn't it? Well, no actually. 69p might not be much, but there are many other, better games than this available for the same price. Orbital, for example, is 69p. This was one of the first games I downloaded onto my phone well over two years ago and I still spend hours playing it now. Line Birds, on the other hand, is one I fire up occasionally, soon remember how frustrating it is and move on to something else.
© Copyright SWSt 2012