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Review: Angry Birds 2 – long-awaited sequel goes freemium

Angry Birds is a multi-billion dollar franchise. It’s spawned a dozen spin-off games, an endless array of merchandise and there’s even a film in the works. For the long-awaited true sequel to 2009’s biggest App Store hit, developers Rovio thought quietly to themselves, how can we make even more money?

Price: Free (+ optional IAPs)
Size: 86.3 MB
Version: 2.0.1
Developer: Rovio Entertainment Ltd.

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It’s understandable. Rovio had to lay off staff in 2014 after Angry Birds fever finally started to decline, and ‘freemium’ is the go-to pricing policy for mobile games these days. Even so, the extent to which the game fleeces players for cash just doesn’t fly. The birds aren’t the only ones who are angry.

Let’s take a step back. The basic gameplay hasn’t changed much over six years – part of the reason the original game was so successful was its winning combination of simple touchscreen controls and satisfyingly destructive physics action. It’s a formula that suits the mobile gaming platform down to a tee.


When will the pigs learn that ice and explosive crates aren’t good building materials

As before, Angry Birds 2 pits a foolhardy flock of furious feathered friends against a pesky party of pernicious porcine pilferers. Birds versus pigs, if you will. The pigs hide in hastily-assembled Jenga-esque fortresses, while the birds – angry because their eggs have been stolen, duh – fire themselves recklessly from slingshots in an attempt to destroy the pigs and reclaim their young.

The first 20 levels or so practically play themselves as you’re eased into the game. You won’t need a degree in structural engineering or a diploma in pig wrangling to succeed, but luckily even the easy levels are very satisfying to play. The difficulty soon ramps up after everything is unlocked, and to its credit the game is huge: 240 distinct levels spread over nine themed overworlds.


Super-tough ‘boss piggies’ arrive by airship, as all great villains do

Though the core game hasn’t changed much since the original, there are a few new features of note: each level now spans several ‘rooms,’ with quasi-random placement of pigs and towers to mix up repeat plays; you can now unlock (or buy) wildly overpowered ‘spells’ to help obliterate tough levels; occasional boss fights crop up to add some much-needed action swagger to proceedings; there’s an arena mode with ‘daily challenges’ that pit you in global high-score contests; and you can now select which order to fire your birds, adding a small but noticeable element of strategy.

Loop-the-looping new character Silver joins the old favorites, and each bird has a unique skill-set to master. There’s also some new interactive scenery: debris-spitting plants, exploding rocket ships, magical portals and giant fans. There’s a lot going on, and its mostly good fun.


The angry bird catches the wormhole

The production values are phenomenal for a handheld game, with stunning artwork and slick animations throughout. The level of detail is incredible: every character reacts and emotes to events, planks of wood and beat-up piggies fly towards the screen after an explosion. No part of the game has been neglected, with everything from the level select map to the final score screen oozing charm. The music and audio effects are equally well suited to the overall style. Angry Birds 2 looks and sounds great.

Now for our main concern: the game is marred by relentless, disruptive marketing ploys. Rovio employs every freemium trick in the book: ludicrously expensive in-game currency, “optional” video ads to earn extra turns, the inevitable acquaintance-aggravating Facebook invite system. We’re not against in-app purchases, but in this instance the freemium model has been implemented so aggressively and so poorly that it almost ruins the game completely.


Woo, 3 gems! Only 57 more needed for one extra life! (Seriously.)

The worst offense is a Candy Crush-style lives system that at times grinds the game to a complete halt. Previous Angry Birds games have encouraged repeated retries until you finally beat that tricky level. Here, fail five times and you’ll have to wait 30 real-life minutes to earn back just one extra life. Or you can buy more lives using the convoluted, exploitative gems system. A pack of gems big enough to refill all your lives costs $4.99. That’s criminal, especially in a game targeted (primarily) at kids.

Angry Birds 2 will prove divisive with fans. On the one hand, the franchise’s first proper sequel improves on its predecessor in a lot of ways and is one of the most polished mobile games we’ve seen. At its core, this is a really good game. Unfortunately, though, the move to freemium just isn’t a good fit for the franchise. Players will enjoy flipping angry birds at thieving pigs as much as ever, but it does feel a little like Rovio is flipping the bird right back at the fans.

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