I thought it would be a ‘laugh’; japes and jokes to be had. I wanted to be part of that conversation. I wanted to tweet about it, basically. At no point did I expect an experience of any substance. At no point did I think ‘Swing Copters will be fun’.
Swing Copters is the latest game by Dong Nguyen, the creator of Flappy Birds. I downloaded it for nefarious reasons and ended up enjoying it very much. You can call me crazy and I expect you will, but Swing Copters has a lot in common with some of the very best mobile games. It has a lot in common with some of the best games period.
Here are some of the reasons why I actually really quite like Swing Copters.
The first thing is its difficulty.
Make no mistake: Swing Copters is difficult. Swing Copters is deliberately difficult. I think that’s the first thing people noticed about the game. It is not accessible.
The word ‘deliberate’ is key. There are a number of subtle changes that could have made Swing Copters easier. The gaps you need to hover through could have been bigger, the controls could have been more forgiving. Its notorious curving arc could have been slower, tighter. Dong Nguyen could have gotten rid of those goddamn mallets that swing back and forth.
But he didn’t. Swing Copters is clearly difficult by design.
It took me 30 minutes with Swing Copters to actually manage to get a score of 1. ONE.
One. Single. Point.
This is because Swing Copters, to begin with, is an incredibly disorientating experience. It doesn’t control like you’d expect it to. For those who haven’t played, the idea is to swing from side to side in arcs. Each time the screen is tapped the Copter switches direction in a loose arc. Sounds simple on paper, but in practice it’s brutally unforgiving. Swing Copters has a lot in common with torture games like Dark Souls or Trials in that progress has to be earned.
The learning curve is steep, but that curve exists. That’s the saving grace here: it definitely exists. Progress in Swing Copters comes with experience and practice, it comes from actually learning a skill, from dissociating yourself from how you think a game like this should control, and embracing how it actually controls. You can feel yourself getting better at Swing Copters; you can tangibly grasp your own progress and own it. That’s what’s so rewarding about it.
In Swing Copters progress is earned in single digits. Getting to ‘1’ was an incredible achievement. I celebrated getting to ‘2’. I almost lost my mind when I score my first ‘6’. In video game land, where progress is measured by the thousands and millions, that sort of restraint is refreshing.
And then there’s the ‘flow’ of Swing Copters. It’s unmistakeable. Once you’ve developed some semblance of control there’s a real performance to it. You can dart in wide arcs towards slimline gaps, or you can tap-tap-tap in short bursts. It mirrors the falling leaf style of snowboarding. There’s a baseline joy in simply controlling Swing Copters. I’ve always maintain that the best games are fun on a moment-to-moment basis – that’s just my own personal preference – and I think Swing Copters absolutely nails that sticky, rewarding, harsh-but-fair control system to the point where I find it difficult to stop playing, even if I’m constantly and consistently failing.
Swing Copters is rudimentary. Swing Copters is rough around the edges. If I were a developer I'd look at a game like Swing Copters and I'd most likely feel very angry indeed. But Swing Copters does one thing and it does it extremely well, I think that's undeniable. Personally, I can't stop playing it.