Review: Angry Birds Go
When you have a rather average karting game, you can work to make it a better game, or you can graft on a financially punishing in-app purchase mode to take as much money as possible from the users. Rovio's Angry Birds franchise reaches the karting space with Angry Birds Go, and unfortunately they've gone with the 'take as much money as possible' approach to the latest game from the rather cross Avians.
In Angry Birds Go, you are tasked with steering a freewheeling kart down a race track to carry out the goals of each racing level. That might be to win the race, get on the podium, smash-up a set amount of fruit on the track, or beat an opponent in a number of head to head duels. You can steer your kart with a tilt based steering system or on-screen direction buttons), and you have an optional boost button. Acceleration comes from being on a hill, there are no engines in play here, just gravity pulling you down (well, this is an Angry Birds game, gravity has to do something).
The controls, what little there are, can be a little bit oversensitive. The karts have a tendency to oversteer (drive loosely, for our American NASCAR readers), and you'll need to be very gentle on the control inputs. It would have been nice to have a sensitivity slider to correct for this.
There also seems to be a bit of shoe-horning going on to make the game fit in the Angry Birds franchise. So you'll start by being launched from a catapult, some levels will have blocks for you to crash into for extra points, and of course many of your opponents will be the bad piggies. Lots of cartoon styled colours are on show, as are the jaunty themes we've come to expect from Rovio in these games.
By taking a level-based approach, you can build up these small races to dealing with a 'big bad' for each stage. Pass enough of these stages and other levels open up, allowing you to progress in the game. However, after a week of play, I've only encountered two race tracks (albeit with a diversion in them to give four routes in total). There's no thrill of exploring or discovering a new track, there's no rush as you try to find the best racing line, and you are constantly rolling down the same bit of turf, wondering if the upgrades to your kart to make it go faster or be more aerodynamic are actually having an effect.
Angry Birds Go commits many sins, but the fact that 'being boring' is not the worst issue in this game is shocking.
Let me illustrate this by moving on to one of the more contentious points about Angry Birds Go that was discussed at length before Rovio released the title - the cost of the freemium items. From the coverage, you might have thought that the title would be unplayable unless you actually purchased items. I thought that much of the reports were tinted with a touch of tall poppy syndrome and an urge to slam freemium as a model, as opposed to looking closely at the implementation on an app-by-app basis.
Now I've looked closely at the game, Rovio has simply over-extended the model. I've no issues with Rovio's approach to improving your kart. Getting a bit more speed or improved handling through levelling up from currency earned in the races is a time honoured approach and used over multiple driving games. By giving you the option to buy the gold coins using IAP you have the choice of a fair grind to beef up the cart, or pay to shortcut this process and have enough currency to buy all the upgrades.
That's fine, and if Rovio had stopped there I would have been happy to defend Rovio's strategy (because I'm sure Steve has something to say on this issue). But they didn't stop there, and like almost every other detailed review, I'm going to slam them. Hard.
Every time you race, your bird gets tired, and loses a counter. If you have no counters, then you cannot race until the counter bar is filled up again (to a maximum of five counters). It can take over twenty minutes before you start earning counters back.
You might recognise this model from a number of games, notably Candy Crush Saga, but there's a subtle twist. In Candy Crush Saga, if you successfully pass the level you do not lose one of the five lives. In Angry Birds Go, no matter what happens in the race, you don't earn back one of the counters. You will be forced to wait for the timer to count out and slowly refill the bar.... or pay ten gems (the game's second currency) to refill the counter. These are not popular collectibles while racing, so expect to use the IAP to buy them. Prices start at 100 for £2.29 - which works out at 23p to refill the meter. Given you can run five races in about eight minutes that's a burn rate of £3.45 per hour.
I'm sure that Rovio would point out that you can change the Angry Bird driving the Kart to one that is full rested, but that doesn't sidestep the main issue. Angry Birds Go is just too greedy. It wouldn't surprise me if they actually lose more money because of this poor implementation than the income they would gain if they had left the IAP's to the gold coins for the kart upgrades.
What worries me is if Rovio has a spreadsheet that shows that this IAP model, with aggressive timers and limited lives, is actually more profitable.
So Angry Birds Go has a poor rewards system, polluted with IAP. It has a limited number of tracks for you to race on, and you'll need to repeat racing on them so often to get coins to upgrade your cart that you'll grow tired of the continued grind far faster than you should in a game of this genre. With poor collision detection, a lack of control over your acceleration (not even a brake pedal to help get round some corners), and tired circuit design, Angry Birds Go might look the part graphically, but it's a gaming experience that is not fun to play, that is cynical, and after building up huge levels of respect in the mobile gaming community, does real damage to the Rovio brand name.
Angry Birds Go is more than a disappointment, it's a game where its very existence damages the parent company. There are far better games, there are far fairer IAP experiences, and there's no way I'm recommending this.
Reviewed by Ewan Spence at