When the Mac App Store opened on Snow Leopard, the very first thing I downloaded was Angry Birds. I didn’t own an iPhone, but I heard about the game all the time and was excited to see what all the fuss was about. Since then, my life has been filled up with a few more iDevices, and I own Angry Birds on all of them.
When I heard that a new Star Wars themed Angry Birds was being developed, I was prepared to throw some more cash at Rovio. How did the latest release turn out?
News broke recently that George Lucas was selling Lucasfilm (and, consequently, the Star Wars franchise) to Disney for a hefty sum of cash. Disney doesn’t really do science fiction well (I’m looking at you, John Carter), so fans like myself were not particularly pleased to hear this. However, one thing will not change about Star Wars, regardless of who owns it: licensing it out for toys, costumes, lunch boxes, and a whole slew of other stuff. Thus, Star Wars Angry Birds.
The premise of Star Wars video games are always hit and miss, and sometimes just flat out strange (e.g. Lego Star Wars?). Infusing Angry Birds with Star Wars actually works rather well, if only because, like the rest of the Angry Birds franchise, it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
If you’ve played Angry Birds before, learning how to play this version won’t require any time. For the uninitiated, the premise is simple: You use a slingshot to fling birds in order to kill a bunch of pigs. You need to kill all of them on each level to advance, and scoring is dependent on how many of your birds you use, as well as how much damage you inflict on the environment in which the pigs are hiding.
Luckily, No Jar Jar
Just as in previous versions, you have a few different types of birds at your disposal, and each represents a character in the movies. You start on Tatooine, and not the young Anakin Skywalker Tatooine – this is Episode IV. Like other versions of Angry Birds, the story is loosely told with simple pictures rather than video, but the designers essentially just draw up scenes from A New Hope to get you started.
The most basic “bird” is a red Luke Skywalker. After getting launched, a tap of the mouse activates his light saber and helps him inflict extra damage just before impact. The Obi Wan can use the force in a similar manner. Han Solo can fire his blaster in bursts of three. R2D2 can shock nearby pigs (who, fittingly, are various Empire bad guys, like Stormtroopers and officers). C3PO is probably the most disappointing of the characters, as he can only disintegrate into smaller pieces, but at least he does so without his trademark whining from the films. A generic rebel pilot takes the place of previous versions small blue birds, capable of splitting off into three. Lastly, Chewbacca is the big, heavy bowling ball version that can inflict higher levels of damage.
The sounds are a creative blend of Angry Birds’ iconic cheerful battle cries and smug snorting, all with a touch of Star Wars. The R2D2 bird screams as he flies in a remarkably accurate way, and even the Han bird comes across as arrogant as he shoots his blaster. The cut scenes, while simplistic, are full of entertaining references that Star Wars fans will certainly appreciate.
Easier, Yet More Complex
Angry Birds Star Wars uses the same ranking system for each level. Depending on your score, you get either one, two or three stars. You typically are given enough birds to solve each level, but I found that getting three stars required a bit more effort than I have been used to in previous versions. There were very few levels that I could not complete in the first couple of tries, but I enjoyed the challenge of getting three stars more in this version.
The destruction that you deal with your birds is more satisfying here. Rather than basing most of the levels on wood structures, the building materials explode and crumble more often.
Angry Birds Star Wars requires a bit more chess-like planning. You will find yourself attacking each level more aware of what types of birds you have, and considering how to use the environment to your advantage. Some of the Stormtrooper pigs have blasters of their own which fire periodically. If your flying bird gets hit, it will get rendered powerless, and sometimes get flung back at you. However, you can use the enemies’ weapons against them; if you can nudge a pig and change his firing angle, he can do your work for you by killing other pigs. Blasts also bounce off metal, so you may need to bounce Han’s shots in order to get around corners.
Since this is Star Wars, you will be spending some time in space. If you have played Angry Birds Space, then you will be familiar with the altered physics of these levels. Asteroids are surrounded with gravity that you can use to your advantage. There is nothing radically new in these levels, but all the new characters will be at your disposal.
What adds to the complexity of the game is not just the more detailed levels but also the way you use some of the birds. For instance, Han Solo and Obi Wan birds can use their blaster and force powers omni-directionally. You need to click in whatever direction relative to their position you want the blast or force to go. Consequently, I found using the trackpad on my MacBook Pro to be a tad frustrating, as timing and accuracy are important. Using a mouse, however, solved the problem. Ultimately, this might be a game that is best on touch devices if you don’t own a mouse.
Angry Birds has never had performance issues, but it is worth noting that I heard my fans spin up a little faster than usual with this version.
Rovio has developed a reputation for making quality games, and Angry Birds Star Wars only strengthens that reputation. While some may complain that slapping a theme like Star Wars onto an aging game is a sign of laziness, it is important to recognize how much Angry Birds has evolved with this release. The birds aren’t just redrawn to resemble cartoonish versions of the films’ main characters, but they have new abilities that add new dimensions to the gameplay.
It’s clear that a great deal of time went into perfecting the details. The backgrounds are great representations of scenes from the films, and Rovio got clever with how the pigs portray various roles for the Empire. If you’ve been waiting to jump on the Angry Birds bandwagon, it turns out this is the version you’re looking for, not how matter how addicted (or not) you are to the Star Wars franchise.