Yep, that’s right. Angry Birds 2. Some five years, twelve spin-offs, and a cross-media empire later, Rovio has finally blessed us with a ‘proper’ sequel to 2009’s insanely popular avian catapult sim. Although met with open arms by many, others have been severely critical of this latest instalment as its Finnish developers edge closer to the darker side of mobile gaming.
Of course what I’m alluding to here is the use of free-to-play, a questionable business model that continues to ensnare gamers with its greedy tendrils. First they beckon punters in with the promise of no up-front costs to download and try an app. Then, just as you begin to feel comfortable, they start to squeeze, erecting all kinds of roadblocks that can only be torn down with cold hard cash.
This is something that has been going on for ages and not just in the tumultuous realm of mobile gaming. However, after a streak of successes, we never thought Angry Birds would fall victim to the F2P trap. After all, back in the day Rovio was one of the good guys, crafting what has -for many- come to be the face of mobile gaming.
In truth, the use of microtransactions in Angry Birds 2 isn’t quite as obtrusive as it could be. That said, the way in which they affect core parts of the game do not go unnoticed. One thing fans will be quick to call out is the sequel’s galvanised random element.
Let me break it down for you. Upon booting one of the dozens of levels on show you’ll be tossed a trio of cards, each one representing the many different bird types. Their finite number means that you have a certain amount of shots before conceding defeat.
As in previous games, each bird has its own unique properties. Aside from having varying weights and trajectories, they all have unique powers such as the ability to drop egg-shaped bombs or even split into three smaller projectiles. This time, swooping alongside the regular motley crew, is Silver, a new bird type that works particularly well when obliterating stone surfaces.
The rub here is that levels also happen to be randomly generated. This means that some of them are almost impossible, given how certain birds excel compared to others when targeting specific materials and environments. Fail a level and, sure enough, you’ll be given the option to continue or start the level from scratch.
Neither option is particularly palatable in this instance. With levels now clustered together in multi-stage challenges, it can be infuriating to fumble at the very last hurdle. This annoyance is compounded further by players only having a maximum of five lives, each one replenishing every half-hour. Continuing from where you originally failed isn’t exactly the tempting option, either. In order to do so you’ll need to surrender sixty pink gems which, in turn, will cough up a fresh and of cards for you to use.
These sort of obstacles are exactly what we’ve come to expect from free-to-play mobile games. What’s worse is that the pink gems don’t come cheap. My maths isn’t exactly up to scratch but you’re looking at the best part of a pound just to scrape together enough virtual jewels to exchange for a continue. A continue that, due to the game’s partly-random nature, may be a complete waste of time.
Despite all the negativity, Angry Birds 2 does have some strong redeeming qualities. At its core, it’s still one of the best ways to sink a few minutes of downtime, enhanced by retuned physics which make every perfect shot that bit more satisfying. The series’ cartoon art style has also seen a bit of a facelift, making Angry Birds 2 look just as good the new run of gorgeous Rayman titles.
Still, Rovio’s tight-fisted monetisation spoils what could have been triumphant sequel. With the Angry Birds brand not as strong as it once was, it’s a move that reeks of desperation despite the developer still being one of the biggest in the mobile game circuit. Although there are those who will no doubt benefit from this shift in business model, many – including ourselves – are left waiting for an alternative, our feathers well and truly ruffled.