The first bird I saw when I opened Toripon was a little green parakeet riding a Roomba vacuum. I crouched down to get a closer look, and the tiny bird zoomed past me and into the kitchen, its head swiveling as if it was getting a closer look at me. I turned the camera again to follow it and was both alarmed and delighted by what I had found: a round bird — purple and grey — waddling around the kitchen table holding a knife.
But the bird was not threatening; it was just hobbling around, doing laps around the small kitchen setup. Ironically, it was also not the first time I’d walked into an apartment with an animal wielding a weapon. Years ago as a dog walker, I entered an apartment and the dog was carrying around a steak knife as if it were a dog toy.
These two birds are unlike any I’ve seen as an amateur birder of sorts. These are not the House or American Tree Sparrows I see flitting around my backyard. However often I see birds doing amusing things just outside my apartment windows, I’ve never seen a bird holding a knife. Just a dog.
You’ll find all sorts of these little moments in Toripon, a bird photography game out on itch.io — it’s pay-what-you-choose from developer Victoria Smith, with additional programming by Zachary Williams, music by Akari Mizusaki, bird sounds by Mattias Lahound, and emoji by Dimitry Miroluibov.
Toripon is something akin to Pokémon Snap, the beloved Pokémon photography game that was released in 1999 for Nintendo 64. Instead of snapping Pokémon, it’s birds — almost 50 different types. The birds are spread out throughout a colorful, pixelated apartment. (You can turn pixelation off if you find it hard to see; I did at times.) Sometimes the birds are just hanging out doing bird things, like floating around in a bathtub. Other times, there’s a whole flock of them frantically pecking away at a keyboard, much like I do all day.
Once you’ve snapped a photo, it gets automatically posted to the game’s in-world social media system, Branch. This is where you’ll rack up likes and comments on your photos from a cast of Toripon’s social media characters, each of which will send along messages of encouragement about your photos, stuff like “cute borb.” It’s a very pure form of social media — a world in which no one is annoyed by the sheer amount of animal photos posted to my feed. From Branch, you’re able to share photos to Twitter, too. We can all agree that the world kind of sucks right now, and sometimes you need to look at cute animals.
The apartment space in Toripon isn’t large; it’s easy to walk from one side of the place to another in minutes. Even after I’d seen the apartments and the birds multiple times, I still felt like exploring — after all, after combing the place over I’m still missing quite a few birds from my collection. I’ve found that the rarer birds, like the blue duck I found in my bathtub, pop up at random, so there’s definitely an incentive to hopping back into the game just to check things out.
Toripon feels like a little space with a lot of secrets, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that the secrets are very, very cute.