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Review: Angry Birds Action! – pinball-style movie tie-in

A new perspective for the franchise as the Angry Birds go flightless

Price: Free (+optional IAP)
Version: 2.0.3
Size: 378 MB
Platform: iPhone & iPad
Developer: Rovio Entertainment

Latest in a long line of spin-offs, Angry Birds Action delivers a bold new look for the series. Though it still centers around firing birds out of a slingshot, this time our feathered friends run rather than fly, and have undergone a makeover to match the design of the Angry Birds movie. That’s right: this is a game based on a movie based on a game. It just goes to illustrate the insane reach of this franchise.


Ready, aim, fire!

How does this game compare to the standard Angry Birds formula? Superficially, it’s quite different: the side-on 2D viewpoint of old has made way for a flashy top-down 3D perspective. An angry bird’s-eye view. Instead of flinging birds through the air to topple precarious stacks of pigs, you’re now launching birds on foot to rescue eggs, destroy boxes and collect sweets. Pull to aim, release to fire, and watch as the birds shoot around the level, bouncing off the walls like a hyperactive child. With its rectangular play field, bouncy bumpers and themed obstacles, the game is somewhat reminiscent of pinball or mini golf.

Despite the new look, many familiar hallmarks are still here: destructible blocks of ice, wood and stone obstruct your path, and the slingshot mechanic is still heavily reliant on an affinity for angles and trajectories. There aren’t many pigs in sight these days though. Throw in a few fans, cannons and swings to mix up the gameplay and you’ve got a pretty fun formula. It’s a good pick-up-and-play game: simple to learn, simple to master.


This chubby little guy will explode on impact

Progressing through the levels graduallys unlock new characters and powerups. Each bird has a unique skill, while the powerups employ the powerful forces of ice, ghosts and, er, beachballs to blast through stages with ease. There’s 90 levels here, and after a while they do get pretty tough. But at times it feels like a kind of artificial toughness designed to encourage powerup use, which in turn eventually fuels gem purchases (more on that later).

Smashing things up is as satisfying as ever, but it’s not especially complex and once the novelty wears off there’s a slight lack of depth here, with nothing particularly compelling about the gameplay to keep you coming back. Perhaps that’s why the game has been so enthusiastically bloated with other stuff.


Occasional slow-mo close-ups are a cool touch

There are a lot of sideshows and miscellany here, and though some of the extras are interesting they do somewhat dilute the game as an experience. Amongst the menus you’ll find a system for scanning real-world Angry Birds merchandise to unlock additional content – if you see the movie, scanning the end creditswill reveal an alternate ending as well as a few bonus levels. It’s a neat gimmick, but taken in combination with the included ToonsTV videos (an entire section of the app dedicated to Rovio’s cartoon studio) it’s hard to escape the feeling that Angry Birds Action is one big marketing opportunity.

The game also suffers from some of the same freemium hangups that blighted Angry Birds 2. Throughout the game you collect stars, energy, gems, powerups, and some kind of unexplained gold substance. Some of these can be replenished with real money but only one of them affects the gameplay in any way. Theoretically, freemium is not a terrible system – developers have to make money somehow – but without an unlimited wallet you’d better get used to relatively short play sessions.


It’ll cost if you want to play for an extended session

Rovio is becoming increasingly adept at padding a relatively thin game concept with a slick coat of paint and several layers of filler. With the cruft stripped away, the husk that remains is a still a decent game – but nothing particularly groundbreaking or novel. It’s not fair to be too harsh on the series, and it’s far too polished to be considered bad, but overall it feels like the developers had their priorities wrong.