Tiny Wings HD for iPad review
Tiny Wings has come to the iPad, and brought a raft of new features and modes with it. We review the updated Tiny Wings HD (also known as Tiny Wings 2)
Let’s hear it for the little guy. Everyone loves a good underdog story, and 2011’s Tiny Wings was one of the best. Developed by a self-taught and publicity-shy German named Andreas, this lovely side-scroller left bigger-budget but less joyous games in the dust, topping the app charts and shifting 5.6 million downloads. It’s the second most famous bird-themed iPhone app, but not by much.
Of course, you can’t play the underdog card forever: not after your characters have been turned into plush toys. And Tiny Wings version 2, which we’re looking at here, will be treated – big studio backing or no big studio backing - as the games industry juggernaut it is. Expectations are high.
Perhaps the biggest news this time around is that Tiny Wings has come to iPad, and Tiny Wings HD is the version we’re going to look at in this review. However, version 2 of Tiny Wings iPhone has all of the features discussed here except for local multiplayer, and is a free update for owners of the original. Or a tiny 69p if you didn’t shell out last time. (It’s not a universal app, however, so you’ll need to buy separate copies of Tiny Wings for iPhone and iPad.)
Tiny Wings HD: basic gameplay
The gameplay is now divided into three modes: Day Trip (the standard game), Flight School (a four-bird race with three computer players) and Hill Party (a wonderful local two-player version of the game, which is worth the price of admission on its own).
The basic gameplay in Day Trip hasn’t changed, except that it looks even more beautiful on the iPad’s larger screen.
For those who haven’t played it before, Tiny Wings is a side-scrolling game based on a single control. Touch the screen and your cute little bird character furls her stunted wings and speeds downwards at a rapid lick. Raise your finger, and she flaps them and soars briefly (if you’ve gained sufficient momentum).
Racing against the sun (when it sets your bird goes to sleep and the game is over) you have to press and release at the right moments to navigate a series of hilly, undulating islands as quickly as possible, achieving ‘flight’ as much as you can. There are coins to collect along the way, and blue ‘speed coins’ that give you a quick boost.
It’s all wonderfully simple, but the basic mechanism is so exquisitely well crafted that you’d keep coming back again and again for the pure pleasure of swooping across the gorgeous landscape: a chemical swirl of vibrant colours that varies from island to island (and indeed from day to day, since the islands are procedurally generated on a daily basis).
The overall aesthetic is uniformly heartwarming, from the crayony backdrops to the charming music and cheery chirps and tweets.
But even more longevity is added by a series of objectives of increasing difficulty. Tick off your three starting requirements – collect a certain number of coins, reach a certain island and so on – and you’ll unlock a gaudy new nest for your bird to sit on, and three more objectives.
There’s a real sense of achievement when you get to a new nest, and some of the objectives later on, such as having to play the game upside down, are both inventive and fiendishly difficult.
Tiny Wings HD: Four-player game
A new feature in the version 2 update of Tiny Wings, shared by the iPad and iPhone versions, is Flight School. You now control one of four baby birds, racing across an island to reach the main character, who turns out to be a mother bird. The first three to arrive are rewarded with fish of decreasing sizes, while the last-placed finisher is tossed an unappetizing-looking snail.
There are currently 15 courses (each one a single island), and you need to come at least third to unlock the next course along. The game remembers your record time on each course, and shows your highest placing with a bright fish icon.
The gameplay mechanisms here are largely the same as on the basic Tiny Wings HD game, with a few additions. Some of the curved dips in the ground are filled with water, which slows you down so much that you may well end up restarting; there are also flowers here and there that you can bounce off. And there are some ground shapes – odd long flats and stepped dips – that will take some getting used to, and don’t appear in the standard game even with the update.
Flight School is a nice new option, and there is something cheery about the sight of four chubby birds diving off the start line together. But it can be a little frustrating; our 'tiny whinge', if you will (thanks to Rob Beattie for the pun), is that there’s really no way to catch the leaders once they get a sizeable lead, or if you come a cropper with a single badly judged plummet at the wrong time.
A lot of people mock the unrealistic ‘rubber-band AI’ of games like Mario Kart, where the back markers get special items and suspiciously nippy acceleration to give them a chance of catching up, but it does have its advantages.
Tiny Wings HD Flight School: Bouncing off the new flowers to avoid the new water hazards
Tiny Wings HD: Two-player game
Finally, though, we come to the star of the show, which is only available on the iPad version, Tiny Wings HD. In Hill Party, superbly, the iPad’s screen is divided horizontally, and you and a pal play each other in a one-on-one race.
This mode in turn follows most of the rules and conventions of Flight School: the water hollows, the strange new curves, the flowers. But it’s far, far more fun. Probably the most enjoyable multiplayer iPad game we’ve played.
The green Tiny Wings HD player is patiently waiting for his egg-timer handicap to run out
Part of this, of course, is down to the agreeable matey silliness of sitting knee-to-knee with your opponent and duelling with baby birds. But there’s also an excellent handicap system that gives everyone a chance.
You can either set the handicap yourself (brilliantly, this takes the form of a little egg timer that rings when the handicapped player is allowed to start) or use the automatic system, whereby the game will propose a handicap after each game. Every loser wins, eventually.
Wonderful, charming, inventive, simple, beautiful, fun: pick an adjective. We were happy enough to see Tiny Wings transferred to the iPad’s larger screen, but the new head-to-head two-player mode is a fantastic bonus. The best side-scroller, the best multiplayer, the best graphics, the best audio - Tiny Wings HD is currently the defining game on iPad.