Everybody's Playing Slither.io

Gobbling up the competition, one brightly-colored dot at a time

slither.io screenshot

If you have an iPhone and a love for games, there's a very good chance you've already played Slither.io. It topped the charts on the App Store, and it held that #1 spot for almost the entirety of its first month of release.

In other words, Slither.io would have been a hard game to miss.

A massively multiplayer experience supporting hundreds of players at once, Slither.io is a game about eating up the competition. It's about destroying your enemies to grow your own body larger, while also avoiding the clever maneuvers of everyone else so that you can stay alive as long as you possibly can.

Competitive multiplayer games have been all the rage on the App Store in recent years, from Supercell's sublime strategy offering Clash Royale to last year's 5-minute MOBA Call of Champions. And Slither.io? It's both accessible and engaging enough to stand toe-to-toe with the best of them. 

Similarities With Agar.io

It has a lot in common with Agar.io, a similar game aimed at a similarly competitive audience. There are a number of considerable differences between the two, not the least of which is the time Agar.io has had to grow its audience. Agar.io was on the App Store nearly a year longer than Slither.io, and amassed an incredible following in that time. It's one of only 22 games to have received more than 2 billion views on YouTube. In 2016 it was prominently featured on the fourth season of House of Cards, where it's "bigger circles eat smaller circles to get bigger" gameplay offered a quaint parallel with President Underwood's rise to power. 

Much to our delight, however, Slither.io isn't a clone of Agar.io - it's a competitor. Both games are massively multiplayer experiences that are available on mobile phones and browsers. Both are about gobbling up competitors to get larger. Both even have a ".io" suffix. But move past these surface-level similarities, and you'll discover that Slither.io and Agar.io are two very different beasts.

Is Slither.io Snake: The MMO?

While you'll slither in the body of a snake (or a worm -- you decide what it is!) and there are some thematic similarities, Slither.io has very little in common with Snake (the first memorable mobile phone game that came preloaded on Nokia phones in the late 1990's). Instead, the gameplay in Slither.io feels like a massively multiplayer version of the light cycles from Disney's TRON.

In case you don't remember them from the video game or the film, here's the quick breakdown: TRON's light cycles placed contestants atop futuristic motorcycles that would leave a trail of light behind them. The object of the game was to try and trick your opponent to crash headfirst into your light trail, thereby eliminating them from play. In a nutshell, this is also the gameplay of Slither.io. Instead of a light trail you'll try to coax players into the tail of your snake, but the idea is very much the same.

What sets Slither.io apart, however, is the size of the snake you're controlling. The playing field is littered with colored dots that you can gobble up to increase your size, and should another snake die, their body will explode into a thousand points of light that you can use to grow your own snake rather quickly (should you be able to gather their tattered remains faster than the other players).

The other major difference is that players don't move at right angles, instead making natural motions like a snake. You can even cross over your own tail here, which leads to interesting strategic options, like circling around a smaller player until they run out of room and crash into your ever-closing circle. You can also boost to get a quick burst of speed, but doing so means you'll sacrifice some of your length, so players will want to think twice before taking advantage of a speedy step forward. 

Slither.io is a game of making your snake bigger at the expense of other snakes. If you're crafty, you can be the tiniest player at the beginning and take out the biggest competitor on the board. Unlike Agar.io where size dictates the pecking order, Slither.io is the true equalizer. Play smart, and you'll be the biggest snake on the block.

Growing Pains

Despite the game's massive appeal, Slither.io has launched on the App Store in a fairly no-frills package. There are no ongoing leaderboards or personal high scores to follow; no skins to purchase or groups to chat in. Beyond the gameplay, Slither.io is a very barebones experience - though that may be changing soon.

"New features will be coming — and many of them!," according to a recent developer post on Medium. "We plan on rolling out additional features on a regular basis to keep the gameplay fresh."

According to the same post, the game received more than 2 million downloads on mobile devices in its first week alone, despite a total lack of paid promotion. It's the sort of success that most developers dream of -- but it's also the sort of success that can also lead to nightmares when it comes to product support.

Because Slither.io is a multiplayer game that supports hundreds of players per session, having servers that can adequately support player demand is vital to the game's operation. But those unexpected millions of players put the team behind Slither.io at something of a disadvantage, resulting in the #1 complaint among players: lag. 

In response to this issue, the team quickly rolled out new servers all over the world, as well as introduced a low-res mode for the desktop browser version of the game that would prove less taxing on their framework. In short, the team know what's up, and they're listening. 

Desktop or Mobile?

Like it's competitor Agar.io, Slither.io can be downloaded to your phone or quickly booted up in your desktop browser. And, at the time of this writing, there's a clear lack of feature parity between the two versions. While the mobile version is kept slim in terms of options, the desktop version let's you pick from an assortment of skins. And in the "high quality" graphics mode, things look considerably nicer on a bigger screen. 

When it comes to features, the desktop version of Slither.io clearly trumps the mobile app right now. But in terms of controls, your mileage may vary. On a laptop, whether using the trackpad or arrow keys, we found controlling the snake to be far less comfortable than on a touchscreen device.

As much as one might like the idea of turning your snake into an American flag, we'll take good controls over silly skins any day of the week.

You Should Really Be Playing Slither.io

Phenomenon isn't a word to be thrown around lightly, but in terms of quirky competitive games on your phone, Slither.io certainly fits the bill. With millions of downloads, a lengthy stint at the top of the free apps chart, and hundreds of players to compete against in every match, Slither.io has all the makings of a long-term hit.

You never really "win" at Slither.io, but you never really lose either - and it's that very ambiguity that will keep you coming back again and again.