Angry Birds 2 combines the series’ classic gameplay some grand new features, and the very worst that in-app purchases have to offer. If you can ignore the latter, the first two might win you over.
Rovio Entertainment has actually released more than a dozen games in the “slingshot birds at badly behaving piggies” series, but most sequels have carried particular themes (Star Wars, seasons, Transformers) or distinct gameplay (shooters, side-scrollers, RPGs, match-3).
Angry Birds 2 launched yesterday, free with in-app purchases, for iOS and Android devices. I tested it on an iPhone 5s, where it performed smoothly. On a lark, I tried running it on an iPad 2, where it crashed repeatedly.
What you’ll like
Get angry in beautiful environments
This chapter of Angry Birds contributes more to the look and animation of the series than any other. The sets include deep 3D environments, with loving attention to little details (the leaves on the plants, the look and feel of the building materials around the pigs). Each setting varies from the next, with levels that float with balloons, fill a city, and occupy bucolic country spaces.
It adds movement and weather effects, which make each scene look dramatically different from the next — a great touch.
Angry Birds 2 also draws birds and boss mobs extremely well, with each demonstrating some pretty wonderful graphically-illustrated personality before, during and after flight. You’ll never mistake one of your birds for another.
Sounds that make you smile
The soundtrack includes exclamations by your birds and their piggy foes, reactions to your throws and the resulting destruction, and some seriously goofy music. It gets mildly annoying with the volume on high, but turned to a normal level, it provides a burbling, cheerful accompaniment to your game, one guaranteed to give you a chuckle now and then.
The sounds not only punctuate what you’re doing, they also provide clues — especially if you’re playing on a small-screen mobile device — about pigs you may have left behind, or mechanics you should take into account.
Your birds’ distinct abilities
Each type of bird in Angry Birds 2 performs very different stunts. Red can knock over buildings with his sound waves; Blue splits into multiples that work especially well against ice; Matilda drops egg bombs; the new Silver does a diving loop-de-loop; Chuck’s powers take down wood; and so on.
You can choose which bird you throw at the structures the pigs have created, and each has a different impact on those buildings. Choosing the wrong bird can end your lives early; choosing and aiming the right ones correctly can make nearly all your throws one-hit Strikes that move you to the next scene.
What you won’t like
Freemium makes Angry Birds fans angry
Remember back in the good old days, when the original Angry Birds debuted, and you could just buy a game and play it as long as you liked? Picture those days as a wine goblet full of pigs exploded with a Matilda bomb. Angry Birds 2 brings every single tactic you hate from freemium games and combines them all in a single title.
Energy bar? Yep. Five lives that you either wait a half hour or pay real money to renew? Check. Mid-level “oops, I ran out of birds” moments that can only be fixed with a shockingly high number of gems (but no worries, you can buy more with cash!) or a 30-second video to watch? All here.
What’s more, you’re more likely to see these strategies on your screen, because each level of Angry Birds 2 includes a succession of structures to break down. If you fail on the last building, you’ll have to do the whole series over again.
Hey, let’s connect on Facebook. No, really. Are you sure? How about now?
Going online with Angry Birds 2 allows you to compete in the Arena, a daily high-score competition where you get as far as you can with a limited number of birds. You can play twice, once for free, and once by watching a video.
It’s a cute idea, but its insistence that you go online, especially connecting on Facebook, borders on harassment. It cajoles, offers you rewards, nags, even insists that you connect to your Facebook account. At one point, an apparent bug made it unplayable in the 10th tutorial level until the Facebook authorization window was repeatedly summoned and dismissed.
Combine that with the other freemium features and you’ve got the most annoying Angry Birds ever created.
Imbalanced spells give you all or nothing control of the board
Back in the ’80s, an arcade game called Road Blaster gave your cars powerups that you could use to zoom through the levels. They were all fun if you caught them, but you really wanted the nuke, because it would turn every other car or tree or pedestrian or obstacle into a glowing shadow of itself that you could then drive through with a “whoosh whoosh” sound. It was an instant-win button.
Every single one of the Angry Birds 2 spells pushes that button. Whether it’s dropping a flotilla of rubber ducks from space, inflating every pig on screen like a balloon, or turning buildings into towers of fragile ice, they all pretty much guarantee a cleared stage.
You won’t have unlimited spells, but other than the fun of watching the graphical effects the first time through, they add little. The fun of Angry Birds is figuring out your strategy and using your aiming prowess to clear a stage; with these spells, you don’t even have to aim. It’s the “F*** it, I can’t clear this” cheat code of the game, and I found them disappointing.
Angry Birds 2 offers some really nice strategic gameplay through careful selection and aiming of your favorite bird assaults. Combined with the gorgeous new backgrounds and settings, that should make this the best Angry Birds yet, even if it doesn’t really innovative.
But Angry Birds 2 is nearly a textbook case of how freemium features and online connection can ruin a casual game. On the one hand, I’m sure Rovio will make much more from Angry Birds 2 than from previous, non-freemium installments. On the other, I wonder whether they could have matched that income by slapping a higher, one-time price on the app, and avoiding the irritation of their millions of customers.
I found the in-app purchases intrusive and destructive of the gameplay flow. If you don’t mind that sort of thing, add 10 points to this review score. If you’re highly irritated by freemium features you can’t avoid, then my only advice is to avoid Angry Birds 2 and opt for one of the earlier games in the series.
Angry Birds is out now for iOS and Android devices. GamesBeat downloaded a code from the iOS store.