My sense is that waltzing into the App Store with a bird-themed title is only an invitation to be overlooked anymore; iOS gamers have grown wary of new devs trying to hitch a ride on the Angry Birds phenomenon. However, if anyone passes up Estelion’s Fat Birds Build a Bridge (Out Now, $0.99) for that reason, it’ll be a crying shame. Contrary to all the expectations you might have when you look at the screenshots, this one really does deserve to be the Angry Birds of bridge builders.
We gave an overview of Fat Birds’ engineering-heavy gameplay in last week’s preview. The game’s beauty lies in how it wraps casual accessibility around what is essentially a “serious game” that teaches valuable engineering skills. At the very least, Fat Birds has much the same worth as those toothpick bridge projects you might remember from grade school. In fact, my brain had to reach back that far before I saw much success once the game got serious. You can wing it for the first few stages while you get used to the game’s dynamic node interface, but by the fifth or sixth level Fat Birds asks you to seriously up your game. While the static tutorial gives a sufficient overview of the controls, the game screams for a live tutorial to give the complete newbie some basic engineering tips.
Once I remembered that the triangle is the all-hallowed god of truss stability, Fat Birds exploded into a very satisfying physics puzzle experience. Everything has to be taken seriously, from the birds’ relative weights and sizes to little wall or ceiling outcroppings — every detail presents some threat or opportunity. The game tests the full range of your creativity, with solutions running the gamut from suspension bridges to designs that approach ye olde rope bridge, and you can even get away with incomplete bridges as long as the birds can finish with their meager leaps. While each level feels designed with a perfect solution in mind, it’s clear that there are additional paths to success. Efficiency as measured by the number of remaining planks determines your level rating, but unless you’re going for the Game Center leaderboard you’re limited only by your imagination.
Fat Birds’ node system works like an absolute charm, though problems can set in if you make your board lengths too short; that’s the downside of having generous touch response areas on the nodes. It’s best to paint in broad strokes considering the limits on your lumber supply anyway, so there’s little harm done there. Fat Birds’ other controls lend themselves perfectly to the kind of iterative design strategies the player needs in a game like this: you can piece together part of the bridge, hit the “Go” button to see if it’s sturdy enough to hold the birds, and then hit the “Rewind” button to return to editing mode just as soon as your curiosity is satisfied. Faulty bridges can be dismantled piece by piece with an undo button or blown away by node.
Aside from the game’s lack of a good bridge building tutorial, the one thing you’ll have to get past in Fat Birds is the truly bizarre visual layout of the interface. As you can see in this article’s screen shots, extra display elements seem to pointlessly clutter the interface — I would even hazard a guess that the bizarre layout results from some unintended smushing on the smaller iDevices. Whatever the case may be, Fat Birds has a standout audio presentation. Once you get past the first world the music becomes pretty catchy, and every board in your bridge creeks as it’s stressed by the passing birds.
iFanzine Verdict: A standout bridge builder that’s absolutely worth your time if you’re looking for a fresh physics puzzler. Just remember, “triangles, triangles, triangles” until the game gets an update with better tutorials — and hopefully a more presentable interface layout that cuts out all the unnecessary display boxes.