It’s safe to say that if you have an iPhone you’ve probably played Angry Birds. A lot. But did you know there’s another game on the App Store with an avian protagonist, lovely graphics and audio, a simple yet addictive control scheme, nice physics, and an asking price of $0.99? The game in question is Tiny Wings (iTunes link) from developer Andreas Illiger.
From the beautiful opening screen you can tell this is a labour of love. The menu system is simple and approachable, accompanied by lovely musical tones as you navigate around. The in-game graphics have a very organic feel to them and the colours used are pretty too. Clearly a lot of thought has gone into Tiny Wings but obviously this would all amount to nothing if the gameplay was pants. Thankfully, after a couple of minutes of play, any worries I had about this had evaporated.
The idea of the game is to fly as far as you can over an undulating landscape before the sun sets and your character – a cute little bird with stubby wings – falls asleep. In order to get as far as possible you have to close the bird’s wings and dive down onto the landscape by holding your finger on the screen, then release your finger in time for your character to stretch his wings and catch some air.
The concept reminds me a lot of skateboarding – accelerate down a slope and lift off as you come up the other side. Your speed builds up with a few well-timed dives and before long you’ll be catching some serious air and building up your score multiplier. Get the timing wrong though and your speed drops back down, costing you time.
The game is split up into ‘islands’ and once you reach the end of one, the passage of the sun across the sky is rewound a bit, buying you some more time to complete the next island. There are score-boosting coins to collect along the way, blue spheres which give you a speed boost, and if you get enough air to touch the clouds you are rewarded with yet more lovely points. Once certain criteria are met, the player earns a permanent score multiplier in the form of a ‘nest’ upgrade, and the objectives change with each further upgrade.
Despite the simple mechanics, this game has enough depth to encourage experimentation. Do you race across each island as fast as possible, ignoring the amount of coins and boosts you pick up, just to see how far you can get? Do you go for the coins and potentially sacrifice speed and distance for a higher score? Do you combine the two approaches and time everything to get the best of both worlds? The risk/reward balance is just right.
My only niggle with this game is the procedural graphics which, it is claimed, offer a different experience every day. I was expecting something like Canabalt which generates the terrain on the fly, but whilst the textures in Tiny Wings change, the shape of the terrain does not. I guess this would be hard to implement and keep the difficulty curve even, but I think it would potentially deepen the appeal – perhaps a separate mode within the game would be the solution?
Tiny Wings has a lot of appeal whether you consider yourself a gamer or not. Individually the elements which make up the experience are beautifully executed, but combined with the excellent physics, make for a game which should keep most people occupied for quite some time. It’s got that certain something that many games lack – the result of all the elements coming together in a coherent way, tweaked, refined and polished until the whole seems slightly more than the sum of its parts.