Once upon a time there was a small Finnish game development company called Rovio. It wasn’t particularly famous, nowhere near the likes of EA Games, but then Angry Birds happened. The original title took the iOS App Store by storm before eventually landing on Android. Since those early days the brand has become one of the most recognizable brands in the world. There’s clothing, toys and even short animated shows as well as numerous movie tie-in games like Angry Birds Rio and Star Wars. What was once the popular darling of the App Store is now a digital behemoth.

When it finally came time for Angry Birds to get its first true sequel, I was excited. I was hoping this would have the same, addictive qualities of the original but with upgraded graphics, levels and characters. It has the latter, but sadly, it doesn’t have the unlimited playability of the first title which made it so incredibly popular.

If there was any need for further evidence that ‘freemium‘ titles are ruining the mobile app world, Angry Birds 2 is it. Sadly, they’re lucrative for developers and so they’re not likely to go away any time soon.

Perhaps the only thing that’s stayed the same since the first Angry Birds is the concept. Mean, green pigs have stolen some eggs. Your mission is to fling birds in to structures made of wood, ice and rock in order to destroy the swine. We’ll leave the debate on the nonsensical nature of a narrative — whereby you kill almost all the birds you launch in an attempt to retrieve eggs which you’ll never, ever get hold of — for another time.

Everything else is new, and designed to make it feel fresher, more modern and more optimized for high resolution screens. And in that regard, Angry Birds 2 is beautiful.

The level selection grids have been replaced by a new path-style progress interface, the same as the kind found in games like Plants vs. Zombies 2 and Cut the Rope 2. What’s more, the levels themselves are far more graphically rich than previous versions of the game. What was once a 2D game with 2-3 basic layers is now one with multiple layers. In addition to the extra layers which add depth to each scene, there are now beautiful weather animations. There’s rain, fog and lightning. Even the animations of flinging the birds forwards is more refined. What I really enjoyed was the way pigs, blocks and debris actually fly towards the screen if you hit them hard enough.

Along with the refreshed graphics is a newly developed gameplay. You begin each level with a select number of cards. Each card has a specific bird, and you can select which bird to use next based on obstacles you face. What’s more, each level has multiple stages. And if you try that same level again, there’s no guarantee it’s going to be exactly the same the second time. While the general structure may look the same, there could be changes in the number of pigs and the exact make-up of structures.

You can win extra cards by earning enough points to get all the way across the progress bar in the top right corner. To get the most points you have to destroy as many of the planks, stones, ice and pigs as you can. You can also earn bonus points for finishing a stage ‘below par’ by wiping out the entire stage with just one or two birds. At the end of each level you’ll be awarded a total number of points which translate to a 1, 2 or 3 star rating.

Once you’ve progressed far enough, you unlock ‘spells’ which let you do things like shower an entire stage with golden ducks, set fire to pigs or turn all the blocks to ice. Needless to say, they’ve all been designed to make completing levels and racking up huge scores a little easier. But you only have a finite number of them which can replenish by spending some of your precious gems.

There’s an entirely new social element added too. Connect with Facebook to compare your level scores with your friends, or unlock the ‘Arena’ where you can compete in endless levels to win feathers and ranking points.

The sad part of Angry Birds 2 is that for all of the improvements made (which really are fantastic) Rovio has ruined it by restricting how much you can play in one go. Much of the joy in the original was the frustration of failing a level over, and over again. Destroying all but one tiny green pig hiding under a wooden plank, time after time until you eventually get past the level and feel like a champion. Angry Birds 2 gives you five lives, and you lose one every time you fail a level. Lose all five and you have the choice between buying more with your purple gems, or waiting for hours until they’ve replenished. If you’re out of gems, you can buy more with your own hard-earned cash. Yippee! #sarcasm

Sure, there’s lots of awesome graphics with some great animation. But the essence of it has gone. What made it amazing, has vanished. Angry Birds 2 is just a Jar Jar Binks away from being to Angry Birds what Phantom Menace was to the original Star Wars movies. Sure it’s pretty, and will entertain, but it’s no longer a game you can play over and over again to achieve perfect scores. To me, that element was what made the original so addictive.

You can download Angry Birds 2 from the Google Play Store for free and it’s compatible with any device running Android 4.0 or later.

 

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