There’s no denying that Angry Birds is a huge success. Just look at how many talk show hosts like to drop references to the game in order to appear trendy and reflective of the cultural zeitgeist. The news that it recently became the biggest selling game on the PlayStation Network, despite being the most expensive version of a title available on almost every modern phone worldwide, solidifies the fact that Angry Birds is a cultural phenomenon. enjoyed by gamers and non-gamers alike.
Naturally, this means it sucks, right?
Angry Birds backlash has swept the gamer community like a tidal wave. You can get a decent example of some of the hatred (with, admittedly, some spirited defense of the game) in the comment section of this Destructoid article on the PSN sales. As you can see, while some people attempt to present genuine criticism of the game, there are yet more who simply respond with blind, unjustified hatred. I’m willing to bet that a lot of people don’t even know why they hate Angry Birds, as evidenced by the sheer lack of thought that’s gone into some of the posts slamming it. The message seems to be that it is popular and it is not like a “normal” videogame, therefore something is wrong with it. As one commenter put it, the success of Angry Birds is enough to make one “lost faith” in humanity. Yes, Angry Birds is humanity’s lowest ebb.
Because of course, the Stalin’s Great Purge and the Rape of Nanking were nothing compared to Angry Birds selling a few million copies.
Now, some people do have a semblance of constructive criticism concerning the game. The most popular is that Angry Birds is essentially a re-skin of the Flash game Crush the Castle. No, Angry Birds is not an original concept and nobody’s wrong in pointing that out. However, does that mean Angry Birds is a bad game and unworthy of its accolades? Of course not. Crush the Castle was, itself, a twist on the “artillery” genre of games, a genre that stretches back as far as 1976. Games that use judgement and practice to line up angled shots against a distant enemy are nothing new. It started with a game that was simply called Artillery, it evolved to include well-known products such as Worms and Scorched Earth, and eventually elements of environmental destruction were included to create titles like Crush the Castle and Castle Clout. That Angry Birds “copied” this idea doesn’t really say much at all.
The truth is, Angry Birds did it in a way that resonates with the public, on an emerging mobile platform that found a fresh new audience. Yes, Angry Birds’ gameplay is inspired by an earlier online game, which was itself inspired by decades of artillery titles, but that doesn’t invalidate the design of Angry Birds’ puzzles, the appeal of its visual style and premise, and the success that was ultimately earned.
The developers at Rovio took existing gameplay, presented it in a unique style, and sold it to people who would never have looked twice at Crush the Castle or the games from which it had been derived. Are they bad people for that? Is the game terrible for that? Does it really not deserve to be a hit? Seriously, if this is the best argument people have against Angry Birds, that it “copied” another game, then we might as well shut down the entire videogame industry. Let’s not pretend that, outside of Rovio, this industry is full of creative, inventive individuals who have never lifted the concept from another game and made it their own before.
I find that, when examined, the “Crush the Castle” argument really doesn’t hold water. Rovio did nothing that hasn’t been done by nearly every developer on the planet. It took an idea, made it personal, and then sold it. That Angry Birds became a huge mega success is the only crime, here. That’s the sense I get from people who hate it — it’s popular, therefore it sucks. Just look at the people who mindlessly dump on Call of Duty without backing up their opinion if you want to see how blatant it is.
Of course, Rovio has not done itself any favors when it comes to public image. The studio has, lately, made itself sound very smug. It’s laughed at Nintendo for selling “$49 pieces of plastic” and criticized Microsoft’s business methods, despite the fact that both Nintendo and Microsoft are still very successful in their own ways. The studio very famously stated that consoles are dying, now that mobile gaming is becoming popular. Statements like these really do inspire backlash, and I don’t blame people for disliking the company. Yes, Angry Birds was a success, but so far it’s Rovio’s only success, and the studio is now acting like it somehow knows everything about the industry and is some sort of market prophet.
This overconfident smugness based on the success of one not-too-original game and its many, many ports has certainly helped earn some ire. As much as I defend and support mobile gaming, I find it very hard to stick up for egotistical behavior from mobile developers (not just Rovio) who suddenly believe that they’re masters of the market because they had one breakthrough success.
However, Rovio’s attitude does not a bad game make, and Angry Birds is a good game. It’s quirky, it’s simple, and it’s perfectly suited to the mobile platform from which is arose. People who say they don’t “get” the success of Angry Birds must not be thinking straight, because it’s very obvious — it’s a simple game suited to a simple platform, with a silly, random, humorous premise that most people can appreciate. Is it really so difficult to grasp how it became successful? More to the point … do you really think it’s a shit game, or have you just seen a picture of it on the Colbert Report and decided it was shit because everybody’s playing it?
Makes me wonder how many of you would shit all over Okami if it had sold more than five copies.