Screenshot: Flappy Roayle

Flappy Royale, released today in beta on mobile and PC by game designers Orta Therox, Em Lazer-Walker, and Zach Gage, seems like a lot of things: clever, opportunistic, a joke. But it’s also fun.

Inspired by the 2013 mobile sensation Flappy Bird, Flappy Royale has you compete against 99 other poor souls to see who can survive the longest against a maze of deadly pipes. You can customize your look, and each level begins with all of the Flappys dropping in off a bus. Like in the original game, you tap the screen to make Flappy fly higher, or do nothing to watch him sink, all as part of an elaborate dance to avoid obstacles. Hit the ground, or anything else, and you’re dead.

But, unlike in the original game, you don’t die alone. In Flappy Royale, you die alongside an anonymous mass of other Flappys who are also desperately trying to cling to life. It feels more affirming. Even after the 20th straight failure without making it past the fourth pipe. Even if most or all of the other players aren’t actually real people (it’s not entirely clear). And honestly, how would you even be able to tell?

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The battle royale genre is often a dark one. Fortnite might be full of colors, costumes, and goofy dances, but that’s all in service of a zero-sum struggle over limited resources that ultimately leaves all but one of its participants dead. As a result, Fortnite and other games like it are seen by some people as a cynical way of monetizing societal angst in the face of impending environmental collapse.

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A sense of futility is pervasive in Flappy Royale as well, but it’s counter-balanced by the fact that everyone is doomed together. Or, at least, almost everyone. Some Flappys are really good at Flapping, and who knows what happens to them as they fly out of sight beyond the fifth and sixth pipes. Like Mario Royale (RIP), Flappy Royale is refreshing and entertaining despite its simplicity, in part because no one’s competing directly against each other. The sound effects are also really funny, and seeing all of the Flappys doing their best against impossible odds is heartwarming as hell.

The game’s currently available to check out on iOS, Android, and in your web browser over on itch.io.