So, Flappy Bird. So much has been already written on the saga of this simple mobile game. The sudden popularity, money and fame, the dramatic disappearance and subsequent reappearance. A mere footnote on the great tome of gaming history, but an interesting footnote nevertheless. You only really need one good mechanic to make a good game, and this is the point Flappy Bird drove home. That endless second leap of a double jump has something deeply satisfying, yet surprisingly intense about it. Countless of imitators have risen in Flappy Bird’s wake, remaking and remixing the concept even further. Notable examples in my mind are FlapMMO and Delirious Bird, both of which introduce interesting new elements to the recipe. However, one Flappy Bird clone caught my attention and refused to leave my psyche for days. I present to you, Maverick Bird. Leave it to the VVVVVV and Super Hexagon mastermind Terry Cavanagh to take the challenging yet ultimately benign original and make it into a psychedelic neon nightmare.
Maverick Bird plays pretty much like you’d expect. You are a bird, you flap, you dodge obstacles, you die. Every passed obstacle is a point, and the aim is to beat your high score. An additional dive move is at your disposal, which gives you a greater degree of control over your movement. This extra maneuverability is required, because those simple green pipes and gently rolling background have been replaced with jagged neon pylons and aggressively pulsating colors. Thumping electronic soundtrack causes the whole game world to twitch and bounce, creating a frightening illusion of gnashing, broken teeth in the mouth of some technicolor cyberpunk giant.
That small addition of a dive move makes the game even more challenging and addictive than its predecessor. The increased mobility works to heighten the feeling of disappointment when you fail, because you really could’ve dodged that wall if you just had tried harder. It also provides encouragement to try again, and to become better in the game. By providing that small choice to the player, to flap or to dive, creates a game of quick decisions and fast reflexes out of what was originally a simple, monotonic timing exercise. The enhanced speed of the game also works for it’s favor. In Maverick Bird, you are actually flying through the level, while in Flappy Bird you, well, flap. Both games are frustratingly difficult, but the source of frustration in Maverick Bird is your own inability to adapt, not the unsatisfying feel of the gameplay.
Just like Super Hexagon, Maverick Bird gets under your skin. The merciless soundtrack and the rough graphics keep you tense and uneasy. If Super Hexagon is an uncaring drill, endlessly boring and tearing its way trough your skull, Maverick Bird is a roller coaster straight to hell. A psychotic neon-lit joyride where the cognitive thought screams on the passenger seat and the pure reflex cackles behind the wheel, every moment skirting with disaster, every moment coming closer to the inevitable crash and burn. The sudden shock of failure will make you blink, see that you didn’t break your high score, and off you go again, throwing yourself back to the grinder. It is very hard to stop hurting yourself, when the pain feels so good.
Maverick Bird might be just a 10 minute flash game distraction, but damn if it isn’t a fine one at that. If you are looking to get your brain stomped on by Terry Cavanagh once again, give Maverick Bird a try.