Review: Angry Birds: Star Wars 2 (Xbox Live)
It's another Angry Birds game! It's Star Wars! Again! What could go wrong? Quite a bit actually. Rovio's cash cow is starting to bulge at the edges, with a grab for cash, poor level design, and forcing me to admit Jar-Jar Binks is good for something. That's not a smart combination for the latest Xbox Live title on Windows Phone.
Version Reviewed: 188.8.131.52
Reviewing a title such as ABSW2, to go with the (almost) acronym, is a tough one. After all, everyone knows the mechanics of the Angry Birds games, so there's no need to do any sort of detailed explanation about birds, pigs, stars, destructible blocks, or the basic game mechanics.
No, this is the sort of review where the subtle differences can be talked about, what makes this different from other titles... and the realisation that it's merely tweaks at the edge of the main game. Angry Birds fans are going to have downloaded this already, and everyone else will already know if they want to take part in their latest adventure.
Yes, there's the Star Wars imagery as well, but I think that's less about finding a new reason to release a themed game - it's more about the ancillary income that Rovio can earn through merchandising. It also means that this second Star Wars title has to deal with 'The Phantom Menace' issue, a film that is rightly derided as 'a really bad idea'.
To be fair though, you can take some pleasure in destroying the architecture and buildings of Naboo to your heart's content, which might make up for the two hours you once spent watching the film (I sincerely doubt it - Ed).
So there are two parts of ABSW2 to talk about. The first, as I've already started, is the fan servicing that's going on. The second is the extra gaming features Rovio have added.
ABSW2 is dripping in Star Wars 'stuff', from the vocal talents of Ian McDiarmid as the Emperor, to locations, constructions, and characters. Lots of characters. Just as in the first ABSW game, the birds switch away from the simple 'Red' and 'Blue' names, and take on the roles of characters from the films. The extra 'Force' powers that the birds have as Jedi Birds are also present, from the option to wield a lightsabre, to the 'Force push' to knock walls down from a distance.
Unfortunately, Rovio have gone a bit overboard with the powers in some of the 30 characters, and used correctly they can wipe out every pig in a level in one throw. Perhaps that's part of the fun, puzzling out how to do a level in one with a smart-bird super weapon, but I always prefer Angry Birds when it's a multiple bird throw puzzle to strip a level away and get to the pigs. And damn them for making Jar-Jar Binks' grappling hook tongue so useful!
So the short term level-based challenge is diminished by too-powerful birds and level design that feels a touch pedestrian. Perhaps the challenge is in collecting all those characters to play?
Perhaps. But, unfortunately, in open play through all the solo levels, you're going to gather enough credits to get around a quarter of the characters. If you want more, your choice is to go through an insane amount of grinding, or to buy enough credits through the freemium in-app purchase system - thankfully the Telepods (scannable toys that can be brought into the game world) are not available on Windows Phone 8 (they are in the Android and iOS versions), which will save parents some extra money.
Perhaps it's right that a game that leverages the idea of 'the dark side of The Force' has a background of trying to take a few coins out of your wallet as you play along, but it does dampen the purity that has been seen in other Angry Birds titles.
Oh, and in a break from tradition, you can play as the pigs. Unlike the Bad Piggies game (which I hope is Windows Phone-bound in the near future), here you can have the Dark Side troops in your catapult as you attack the structures on the level. It's a nice touch in the marketing, but to be fair it doesn't actually change the gameplay beyond giving you another character to buy or hire (yes, the Freemium boosts can sometimes be temporary - gah).
Naturally the stirring John Williams soundtrack and the plethora of familiar sound effects from the Star Wars universe in the title. There's no doubt that, listening to this, you know it's from the space opera franchise. Couple that with the usual squawks of the birds and grunts of the pigs, and you have a good sonic landscape which sounds familiar, albeit slightly over-used.
Angry Birds Star Wars 2 is a tough one to judge. It's almost the same cookie cutter mould of an Angry Birds game, but it's put together with such panache and love that you can't help but love it.
On the other hand, it's incredibly blatant about the freemium elements (and it's not even a true freemium game, as the full game is a 79p/99 cent download), and the level building skill previously on show in Angry Birds is not there. The game is far too easy to play (my 8 year old nephew completed the whole thing in three hours - Ed), and Rovio's focus (along with licencee/partner Disney) is no longer on the best game possible - it's on the best revenue opportunities...
And it is 'The Phantom Menace'.
Reviewed by Ewan Spence at