Angry Birds Rio
Platform: iPhone (reviewed)/iPad/iPod Touch
Publisher: Rovio Mobile
Developer: Rovio Mobile
Release Date: 23rd March 2011
Price: $1.19AU, .99c US Buy Now
Hi, my name is Michael, and I’m here because I’m a recovering addict.
Yes, like many of you, I was once addicted to Angry Birds on the iPhone. I’ve been 26 days clean, until… well, I’m not proud of it, but a couple days ago, Angry Birds Rio came out, and I had a relapse. I was up to step nine of the program – apologising to all the games I’d neglected while playing Angry Birds – but now, I’m back at square one.
Aaanyway, enough of that analogy. Initially I was a little sceptical about this bizarre crossover, but if you’re an Angry Birds fan/recovering addict – and I know that you are – there is very little about this pseudo-sequel that you won’t like.
“Perfect” is a strong word, and one that reviewers should be hesitant to use. But the classic Angry Birds on iPhone is as close to perfect as any app can get. It’s simple to understand and play, yet can pose a real challenge if you intend to master it. It’s clinically addictive, and the length of a play session is variable, playable during a five minute wait at the dentist, or a four-hour session before bed, disregarding an early start the next morning. It has a cute and simple art style, and a catchy theme song. Slap on an almost too-cheap price tag and it’s everything app developers should strive for.
But I don’t need to tell you how good it is. You’ve played it. Everyone has. And if you haven’t, don’t tell anyone, get yourself to the nearest iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch and play it now, before someone finds out.
Angry Birds Rio may basically just be an ad for Fox’s upcoming film Rio, but how good is it as a game?
The story is almost irrelevant in games like this. No one is here to experience a well-told plot; a simple context for why birds are knocking down structures will suffice. In AB Rio, the story is where Fox Studios gets their money’s worth, by replacing the old “pigs stole our eggs” with what I assume is part of the film’s plot. In the first episode, the birds are launching themselves at parrots trapped in cages, in elaborate piles of crates in a storeroom. In the second, the aim is to squash monkeys in the jungle. I don’t quite get the logic, but who cares?! Story isn’t why I’m here.
The important thing is how well this maintains the addictive nature of the original iPhone classic, and what it adds to the formula. And I’m pleased to report that the near-perfect gameplay synonymous with the Angry Birds brand is left intact, and even expanded upon.
With AB Rio, we are given two episodes containing thirty levels each, with slots for additional episodes promised during the year. The first is due in May, with another every two months or so after that. Hopefully they will be free updates for the software, but honestly, if they charge for them, I’ll still buy them.
While you may be trying to rescue parrots instead of squashing pigs, this has no effect on gameplay whatsoever. You are still given a limited range of birds to fire upon a structure of wood, glass and cardboard and are aiming to destroy targets either by a direct hit or by knocking debris onto them. You progress to the next level when all targets are destroyed, but perfectionists won’t be finished with each level until you reach a three-star rating on them all. This is achieved by destroying as much as you can, and using as few birds as possible. And this is where the game becomes a real time-sink. Apart from a few of the later ones, on most levels it’s easy to finish the basics, but a challenge to get the three stars.
But none of this is new. AB Rio adds a few extra elements to the mix, but nothing that drastically changes the formula. Unfortunately, there are no new birds, which would be the most impactful addition the game could make, creating new strategies and subsequently new types of levels to test them out. And with the Rio license comes a range of bird characters who could be potential weapons. This possibility is hinted at only in the final level, when the film’s two main characters are available to use, but they’re fairly ineffective anyway. I would have loved to have seen more of this, and more use for them.
There are new elements in the structures that will shake up your strategies; life rings and mushrooms will bounce your birds or debris around, allowing you to cause more damage from below. Generally they aren’t very useful, but they are used in interesting ways in some levels, to change the direction of your birds to hit otherwise unreachable targets.
Some elements are now tethered together, so a structure may not collapse the way you anticipated, and chains, strong but thin, can hold things up until a direct hit breaks them. In the second episode, destroying the monkeys can require new strategies, as they can cling to the underside of surfaces or vertical edges in ways the rotund little piggies never could.
There are also now special objects to hit, such as fruit and flowers which net you extra points for the level. The decision of whether to focus on the targets and gain the “fewer birds” bonus, or aim for the optional targets for extra points, is an interesting new trade-off that will be decided according to each level.
The most formula-changing new gameplay feature is the end of episode boss, a cockatoo I assume is the bad guy from the film (a quick wiki search tells me yes, he is. And he’s voiced by Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords. Sweet!) As he flies around, you need to constantly readjust your aim to ensure a hit, using the lines representing your previous attacks as a guide. It’s an interesting variation on the classic gameplay, and it’s a shame it’s only used once.
Perhaps the most noteworthy upgrade over the original game is in the visual presentation. To say that the art style of vanilla Angry Birds wasn’t up to scratch is a dirty lie, but when compared to that of AB Rio, it is almost true. Almost.
The art department is clearly where Fox’s presumably large budget went. Colours are more dynamic, as opposed to the flat textures of the original game. The elements of the structures now look more like wood, crates and cardboard boxes they represent, and despite being a 2D game, backgrounds have a tinge of three-dimensionality to them, as they zoom in and out as you scroll across the environment. The design of the caged birds expertly combines the bright parroty colours of the film with the shape and personality of the birds in the game. And my personal favourite, the monkeys, are much more animated than the comparatively-boring pigs of old, as they yell and jump around while waiting for your move, and panic as the structure topples over.
The interface has also had a facelift, with your score post-level delivered with exciting animations, or failure accompanied by a cute, distraught bird in a cage that makes you feel bad for not saving them all. All up, it’s an improvement on something that we didn’t think needed improving.
Sound is probably the least developed area of the Angry Birds franchise. The theme song is fantastically catchy and recognisable, but there is little else audio-wise. Apart from the happy little riff on completion of a level, there is no music in-game. The sounds are kind of entertaining, as the birds will squawk, and the monkeys will chatter, but really, there’s not much of anything. Sound could have been improved in this version of the game, but it’s such a minor issue that most players probably won’t even notice.
That said, the salsa-fied version of the main theme will have you bopping on the train or wherever you are, if you leave the menu open long enough to hear it.
Giving us more of the same is the smartest move Rovio could have done with Angry Birds Rio. After all, the simple gameplay lends itself to millions of different puzzles and levels. Each of the Seasons packages only change the appearance of the characters and settings, leaving the core mechanics untouched, but each finds new things to do with those mechanics. AB Rio does the same, with a major graphical overhaul and some minor new additions.
Unfortunately, these new gameplay elements don’t add a whole lot to the game, and their potential seems untapped. Perhaps in the later episodes these will be explored in more depth, but for now, that slight disappointment is more than made up for by the sheer fun of the gameplay.
Angry Birds Rio loses points for essentially being just an ad for an upcoming film, but it gains the points back for being so damn good. And besides, if a mere iPhone app can attract the attention of the huge Hollywood machine, the video game industry may have taken another step in the direction of complete social acceptance.