Australians talk up their dangerous wildlife something fierce. And sure, Oz is home to some of the deadliest creatures on the planet. But let me tell you a secret. Deadly they may be, but most Australian animals aren’t particularly aggressive. The death adder is among the most venomous snakes out there. But unless you actually tread on one, they prefer to keep their distance. Funnel-web and redback spiders can deliver painful and potentially lethal bites. But they’re not going to actively seek you out or hunt you down. If you look where you’re walking, you’re usually pretty safe, even in the outback.
I say that most Aussie animals aren’t aggressive. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the magpies. Australian magpies look like the ones in Europe and America. But they’re a whole different breed. They’re bigger than our magpies. Wikipedia describes them as ‘robust’, though honestly they’re closer to ‘brutish’. And they have beady little golden eyes that seethe with hatred. You’ll probably hear them before you see them. They’re warblers and, at dawn each day, they’ll sit outside the window and serenade you with their haunting, chattery song. Although they emanate malice 24/7, most of the time they’re relatively well-behaved. Except for three months a year, during ‘swooping season’.
It’s a nice word, ‘swooping’. It evokes the Wright brothers, or Superman soaring through the clouds. But there’s nothing nice about being swooped by a magpie. Between August and November, magpies get angrily territorial. If you get within ~100 meters of their nests, they will attack. And boy do they go hard. In the UK we joke about seagulls stealing our chips. Seagulls are nothing. Magpies fly directly into the back of your head and skewer you with their pointy beaks. They peck at your ears. They rake you with their claws. And they don’t quit. You will leave their territory, or they will fight you to the bitter end. They particularly hate cyclists. But anything is fair game, from pedestrians, to motorbikes, to lorries.
Nor is swooping a rare occurrence. Though I only make periodic trips to Australia to visit relatives, I have been swooped several times. And this wasn’t in the outback. It was while I was popping out to buy milk. It’s terrifying. Honestly, forget Amnesia and the Resident Evil remakes. This is survival horror. And boy it’d make a good game.
In such a game, it might be easy to picture yourself as a person; perhaps a cyclist trying to flee from strike range, or a pedestrian dodging, ducking and diving for cover. That could work, I’m sure it could. But that’s not the game I’m envisaging. In my game, you are become magpie, destroyer of worlds. This is not a gentle physical comedy. There will be no cutesy, goosey, untitled mischief. Nix the piano track, amp up screaming electric guitars, and go full throttle on the distortion peddle. This is Hotline Miami meets Luftrausers, with a side-order of Mortal Kombat. Blood-soaked, Tarantino-esque hyperviolence. Arcade carnage. There will be gore; feathers; claws slicing carotid arteries as you bank and swoop and chain together kill upon kill upon kill.
Things start simple. Just pedestrians. Swoop close, press the A button and rend them in twain like the fruit in fruit ninja. As the score ramps up, so does the difficulty. Cyclists are swift. But the magpie is swifter. And if you time it right, you can guillotine them with your beak. Here comes pest control. They’ve got nets and ladders, but they’re mortal like the rest. Loop, swoop, and don’t drop that combo. As day gives way to dusk, bring on the military. Bullets fill the screen like a danmaku shooter, but the claw is mightier than the gun. Tanks roll through. Dive for the engines. BOOM! Apache helicopters? Slice the propellers and watch them plummet.
I’m not yet sure how it ends. Maybe you fly into space and down a military satellite. Maybe you swoop at god herself. I do know this: At dawn, the armies of man retreat. As the sun rises over the eucalyptus trees, your final score appears on the screen. And all you can hear is the warbling of the magpies, heralding a new day.
(Disclaimer: If travelling in any country, please follow local safety guidelines and treat all wild animals with caution and respect, including magpies.)