little_socrates's Tiny Wings (iPhone) review

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The best portable game in years.

Let's get this out of the way; even if you completely disagree about whether or not Tiny Wings is a good game, it costs a dollar on the App Store, so you probably ought to at least try it. And if you're anything like me, all the other games on your phone will seem more and more insignificant the more time you get to spend with this little gem.


In Tiny Wings, you control a small bird who pulls in his small wings to slide down hills at high speed, then lets them open again to experience the sensation of flight. Successful slides are marked as "great slides" and grant you point bonuses and getting three great slides in a row enters you into "fever mode," where all points you earn double. You earn points as you move forward, as you perform great slides, each time you reach the sky ("cloud touches") and as you collect golden coins. There are also blue "speed coins" that give you a nice boost.
The colorful visual style changes colors from island to island. 
The colorful visual style changes colors from island to island. 

Levels of the game are represented as different "islands;" each island has the same rough template, but changes layout and geography each day. The game ends when night falls; each time you jump from one island to the next, you move farther away from the point of sunset, buying you more time to earn points. When night falls, the game tallies up your points and gives you a breakdown of the number of cloud touches, time spent in fever mode, and other similar information before offering you the opportunity to either return to the main menu or play again.

That is, in general, the basic gameplay of Tiny Wings. Of course, the game is not just a high-score leaderboard (though it does come with Game Center support.) The game focuses on a series of Achievement-like "objectives" that appear in sets of three. These can be as simple as "reach Island 7" or as complicated as one of the more frustrating final objectives, "Make 20 cloud touches (without being in fever mode!)" After completing each set, you unlock a new "nest", which serves as a bonus multiplier while you play; these go from the initial x10 multiplier to the x30 multiplier in increments of 2 (x10, x12, x14, etc.) Until the last set of challenges, every set is completely reasonable, while getting the last set of challenges completed is a satisfying challenge that never feels unfair.

The reason this game survives is the intelligence of its design. All of the islands you fly through (well, I've only reached Island 9 so far, so I can't speak for Island 10) are very intelligently built, and are all very fun to play in all their configurations. Unlike the somewhat similar Unpleasant Horse, the game zooms out more the higher you get in the air, making it easier to plan your course as you move through the levels. The game uses a very nice one-touch interface, simply touching to pull in the bird's wings so that it can slide down a hill more easily or dive towards the earth to gain more momentum.

As for the aesthetic of the game, the visual style, while simple, is very nicely colorful and jumps off an iPhone screen nicely. The frame rate only skips when the phone receives messages, but not enough to affect gameplay. While you can play your own music while playing this game and there are no hoops to jump through, the music in the game is a wonderful marimba and piano track, using elements of what makes the WIi Sports and Banjo Kazooie themes so memorable while sounding incredibly unique. The bird makes cute sound effects when going into fever mode or jumping from island to island, but if you're listening to your own music, you'll probably turn these off.

The last thing I have to note about this game is that it launched with a handful of bugs. You couldn't play your own music, and while the game could handle receiving phone calls (pausing the game, and when you return, showing a "get ready!" prompt with an OK button,) text messages and Facebook notifications would crash the game and delete your current run. However, the developer was very quick to patch the game, adding the "get ready!" prompt for text messages and notifications, the ability to play your own music, reducing the already-unnoticable load times, and adding another set of challenges. I bring this up to note that if you're worried about this game working on your iPad 2 or other upcoming IOS hardware, the developer has shown a level of diligence usually rare in the mobile market.

Tiny Wings is eminently enjoyable; its design, aesthetic, and quality of high-score information is unmatched in the mobile market, and the length of an average game is only somewhere between 3-7 minutes, making it possible to pick up and play during a commercial break or continue playing for hours on end. I couldn't recommend this game more highly,.

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