After launching in December 2009, "Angry Birds" took off and became a cultural phenomenon that produced a cottage industry of stuffed animals, clothing and spinoffs and reached 1 billion downloads as of this year. Finland-based Rovio today (Nov. 8) released the most recent of those spinoffs, "Angry Birds: Star Wars," which combines all the addictive gameplay of the original with the classic storyline of the "Star Wars" saga. Although more recent games such as "Draw Something," "Words with Friends" and "Letterpress" have taken over the market and pushed "Angry Birds" to the background, this iteration aims to bring it back to the top. Is "Angry Birds: Star Wars" a hit, or is it a weak attempt to prop up an aging franchise?
It all starts a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away....
"Angry Birds: Star Wars" Story
Click to EnlargeConverted into piglike "Star Wars" enemies such as Storm Troopers and Tusken Raiders, the pigs serve the same purpose as in the original "Angry Birds": They are to be destroyed. The birds have new identities, too: Red Bird as Luke Skywalker and Black Bird as Obi Wan Kenobi star, among others. If you follow the "Star Wars" series, the plot will make sense: Defeat the various enemies of the Force. But these evil piggies know how to stay out of reach, therefore staying alive. Fortunately, the birds have a whole new batch of abilities, depending on which character you use. Combine good aim with your bird's ability to knock out the enemy, and you advance to the next level.
Click to EnlargeWith a whole new galaxy to conquer and all new abilities and challenges, there's no way you'll get bored with "Angry Birds: Star Wars." The first part of the story plays out on Tatooine, where players must complete a series of levels to advance in the game. Your first bird is Red Bird, or Luke Skywalker, and your goal is to destroy the Tusken Raider piggies. Then you play as Obi Wan Kenobi, who can use the Force to amplify his hit midair. You'll also attempt to fight off the Storm Troopers, who can use their Blaster Rifles to shoot you right out of the air.
The gameplay starts out easy, we'd say even easier than the classic "Angry Birds," but soon escalates. Storm Troopers send out more shots from their rifles, and the foes grow in number. More perks of the game appear, too: Dynamite on one level let us blow up four Storm Troopers at once.
After several levels, Luke gains his own power: Tap the screen right before making landfall and he uses his lightsaber to slash the competition. Plus, you can use the lightsaber to deflect lasers from the Blaster Rifles so you don't get hit in midair. And once you get past even more levels, the birds turn into Jedis, who can obviously use the Force on their side. On the final set of levels on Tatooine, we, as Han Solo, had to destroy the Storm Troopers using our own Blaster Rifle.
Click to EnlargeOnce you make it to space, you have to adjust your aim to go with the gravity, which is a bit tricky to get used to. But once you do, it's almost easier than the levels on the ground. Orbits meet with other orbits, so this is where strategy is key: If you figure out which way to send your birds, you can cross into multiple orbits and kill two piggies with one stone.
Gameplay differed from level to level. In some levels, there are special tools like the Millennium Falcon to help you eliminate those pigs once and for all. At times we became exasperated when it seemed like we just wouldn't be able to beat a level, but then a little Storm Trooper piggie made a face and snorted at us, and it was "game on" again. Our only concern: The challenges that frustrated us may be too difficult for younger children. They may just give up.
We appreciate the slingshot estimator, which shows approximately where your Angry Bird will land depending on which angle you launch him from. And the pinch-to-zoom element is helpful: We could zoom out to see the whole scene to evaluate the challenge as an entirety, or zoom in to see exactly what we needed to do to take out one particular piggie.
Click to EnlargeIn the game's introduction, TIE fighters zoomed across the screen, complete with accurate sound effects, to give us a preview of the graphics to follow. They didn't disappoint. Although "Angry Birds" is not meant to rival game console titles like other smartphone games, the visuals were fun and engaging. Plus, they didn't bore us: Each level's graphics were a bit different, whether it was the background scenery or the arrangement of piggies. For example, the slick, single motion of Red Bird/Luke's lightsaber slashing through the boxes blocking the pigs or the animations of a pig sleeping (oh, are we boring you, pig?) when we just couldn't get to him to squash him furthered the gameplay, and made every step fun.
We were instantly greeted with the "Star Wars" theme music, tweaked a bit to go along with the "Angry Birds" motif, which continued throughout the game. Each time we defeated a level, the "Star Wars" music cued up again, amping us up to play another round. Each time you fail a level, a Darth Vader piggy laughs/snorts in your face, which made us want to smash the little piggies to smithereens.
We loved the sound effects throughout: The birds made little "oomph" noises as they fell after making impact. Darth Vader cackles his little piggy laugh, and the background music for each scenario enhanced the story.
Click to EnlargeThis "Star Wars" refresh is the spark the franchise that was slowly burning out needed. Rovio keeps what made the game so popular in the first place, the simplicity and the fun challenges, and added a new storyline with memorable characters, cool abilities and a revamp on the bad piggy. We were truly impressed with the number and variety of levels, and the graphics and sound effects made the experience more enjoyable than anything we've played in a while. Although "Angry Birds: Star Wars" may be a bit too tough for younger children, for the majority of the game's audience, the game is a blast.