Angry Birds has become something of a phenomenon in the rapidly-growing world of smartphone gaming. After swiftly rising to the top of Apple’s app chart in 20 different countries, official reports now reveal that over 50 million people worldwide have played the physics-based puzzler. That figure is set to grow even further with the introduction of the pig-bashing game to the PlayStation Store. The downloadable Angry Birds PlayStation Mini PS3 and your PSP for the sum of $3.99.
The back-story to Angry Birds involves a mob of greedy pigs who look quite evil with their perfectly round, green heads. They live up to their sinister appearance by stealing some eggs from a group of poor, flightless birds, who then spring into action to chase the thieves. The cartoon stills that introduce the game paint the scene nicely before you set off through 190+ levels of physics-based puzzles, which task you with controlling the speed and trajectory of a catapult in order to launch these livid birds across the screen toward their arch enemies. The aim of the game is to try and send these birds smashing through structures/fortresses that the pigs have built to protect themselves on the far right hand side of the screen. Kill the pinching porkers and you unlock the next level.
Gameplay couldn’t be simpler. After choosing the trajectory of the catapult with the left thumbstick and then pressing ‘X’ at the appropriate moment, your first bird flies across the screen and lands, hopefully, on one of the structures housing a pig, or directly on the head of one of the thieving grunters. Before you send the next bird shooting into the air, you see a dotted line showing the path where the last bird was thrown, so you can then use it as a marker for your next shot. It’s a simple, yet addictive mechanic that requires a lot of skill and a bit of luck to get each assault spot on every time, but it’s a lot of fun trying to work out how best to tackle some challenging levels.
As you progress through the levels things get tougher as the pigs knock up more elaborately constructed fortresses made from a variety of materials, like wood, glass and stone. Many structures combine these materials to make seemingly impenetrable fortresses, so part of the fun is working out how to smash them to pieces with a limited amount of birds. The game is heavily based around physics, so when you smash into a structure it topples, cracks, and breaks up. You constantly have to adapt your tactics depending on the way each structure falls.
You might, for example, explode a TNT crate and create a domino effect on surrounding structures, which could in fact block the pigs, rather than make them vulnerable to attack. Or, you may just kill all the pigs with one carefully placed shot. By far the biggest influence on the gameplay, however, is the various abilities that you unlock as you progress. At the start of each level, you only get to toss a handful of birds toward the pigs and they’ll be presented to you in a strict order that you have to launch them in.
Among the skills on offer there are exploding birds that split into three creating a cluster bomb effect, and birds that have a speed boost allowing them to break through heavy structures. There’s also a black bird that doubles as a timed bomb, and a white bird that drops explosive eggs. You'll quickly learn their various strengths and weaknesses and can then use them accordingly to work out how to topple the structures and kill the pigs, perhaps using a blue clutter bomb bird to smash glass walls before sending a yellow bird kamikazi-ing through a stone column.
Though Angry Birds can be a game of trial and error, part of the appeal is studying the structures and the positions of the pigs and then working out the sweet spot to get to them. If you do choose to play on the big screen of the PS3 rather than the PSP version, there’s also fun to be had out of getting other people involved and working out together how to solve some of the trickier challenges. This is something unique to this version of Angry Birds -- we've had of fun playing it together.
Angry Birds also rewards you quite well for your efforts via a points system and a star rating that you gain at the end of each level. You get points for killing pigs and for smashing structures, but you also get bonus points if you have any birds left after killing the last pig, so it pays to kill the pigs in the least amount of turns. Based on your performance, you’re then awarded a star rating, so there’s always an incentive to go back to try and beat your personal best. Nonetheless, the main draw of playing Angry Birds, the thing that keeps you coming back again and again, is the challenge of beating some very tricky levels and the glow of satisfaction you get from doing so.
The visual style of Angry Birds is basic; this is essentially a port from the smartphone version, more or less what one should expect from a PlayStation Minis title. As soon as you start playing though, the graphics don't even factor into overall enjoyment because there's so much variety in the level design. You can't fail but be drawn into it. Quite simply, Angry Birds is difficult to put down once you start. This pick-up-and-play appeal means it’s also perfect for short bursts of play on the PSP.
We see why Angry Birds has become so popular. The simple control scheme makes it a perfect pick-up-and-play title, while the clever puzzles and level design as well as the amusing art-style and surreal birds vs. pigs scenario ensures that there’s plenty of challenge, amusement and fun to be had out of the many levels.
Despite the $3.99 price tag -- making it the most expensive version of Angry Birds released -- it’s still worth every penny if you’ve not yet played it. Looking forward, the potential for the franchise is huge, with an incredible amount of people already having played one of the many versions and rumours of a movie spin-off in the works. Having already churned out similar content on a long list of hand-held devices, however, there’s still an Xbox 360, Wii, Windows and a Nintendo DS version to port over before we see Angry Birds 2. We'll be waiting.
|Angry Birds Review by Steven Williamson|
-The Final Word-
For $3.99, how can you afford not to find out why over 50 million people have downloaded Angry Birds?