In so many ways this review could be summarised by one three word phrase: ‘It’s Angry Birds’. Such is the cultural ubiquity of Rovio’s fowl-flinging franchise that most people will know whether a purchase is in order from the box art alone. In a short few years the series has exploded into a full-blown merchandise onslaught, from T-shirts and pencil erasers to rumours of a television show and theme park. Heads of state are quizzed on their Angry Birds prowess, a drop in company productivity is blamed on the game and, on receipt of a smartphone, the inevitable first question asked is ‘Have you got Angry Birds?’ This leads to another, more pertinent question: why buy Angry Birds as a full-priced, disc-based game for consoles?
Immediately identifiable from the front cover is that this version of Angry Birds has a few more feathers in its cap. The ‘Better With Kinect’ and PlayStation Move taglines reveal that the hand of motion control still guides a good amount of family friendly titles, especially given the franchise’s heritage on touchscreen phones. The menus are gesture-appropriate concoctions, allowing you to swipe away to your heart’s content although the same can’t be said when it comes to controlling your fowl bombardment. Playing the game with Kinect is a different spin on things but the finicky controls make it a curiosity rather than the de facto method of play. Like some sort of wizard scarecrow, you pull back the slingshot with one hand before your other hand lets loose your avian shot, soaring gracefully in an arc of certain destruction. Or rather, you try and do that but end up pinging the bird at an awkward angle into the floor or setting off their special attacks at precisely the wrong moment thanks to poor gesture recognition. You’ll try the Kinect/Move modes out once and soon give up - Angry Birds isn’t meant for zany physical fun, it’s a perfect time-waster that you want to dip in and out of without jumping through the tiring hoops of calibration. Pulling back the slingshot with an airy gesture feels half as tactile as physically dragging on a touchscreen, although the controller does make an acceptable substitute (and the method of control you’ll likely stick with).
For any people still unaware of Angry Birds’ infectious gameplay hook, here’s a quick and simple run-through. Each level presents you with a selection of green pigs, strategically placed among constructions built from a selection of materials. Sometimes the level will have a discernable shape - such as a house or train - while other times it approaches a more puzzle-like mentality; a Rube Goldberg-style chain-reaction that merely needs the first push. The objective is to get rid of the pigs, either through a direct hit or by falling debris. Wood, glass, stone and other assorted materials comprise the structures in question, all reactive to a very satisfying physics engine. The birds which act as projectiles, fired from a comedy slingshot, all have different ‘skills’ and strengths - the yellow bird can easily break through wood while the blue birds are able to diverge into three separate shots, penetrating glass with ease. Other birds are introduced through the campaign - birds that can explode, drop egg-bombs or expand among many more.
Angry Birds Trilogy has the most content of any Angry Birds release, simply down to its inclusion of Angry Birds Classic, Angry Birds Seasons and Angry Birds Rio. Classic, the first title to be released, introduces the basic mechanics of the game in levels of ever-increasing difficulty. Seasons applies these same mechanics but adds environments themed around yearly holidays and seasons - Halloween, cherry blossoms and more. Rio, tied to the CGI-animated film of the same name, changes the enemies from pigs to caged birds requiring freedom and has an art style evoking the children’s film. It’s also the first definitive sign of Rovio’s multimedia approach to licensing and leads, like it or not, to later tie-ins with Green Day and (is that a million fans crying out at the same time?) Angry Birds Star Wars. These later titles aren’t included with the pack - a shame as, despite the hundreds of levels on disc,Angry Birds Trilogy still feels embarrassingly overpriced.
In the slingshot-propelled leap to HD, the game looks fantastic - crisp, bright levels and a distinctive art design make it easy to see why the main appeal lies with children. Despite the original game having been upgraded on the iPhone to make use of the Retina Display, seeing full-HD on a huge 47-inch screen remains impressive. Introductory ‘cutscenes’ - what were once static images on the original iOS and Android versions - have been fully animated, offering die-hard fans a glimpse of their favourite franchise with higher production values. It’s just a glimpse though; there’s not much else new to tempt completionists back. However, like the boomerang bird that just keeps coming back, we have to return to the biggest problem with Angry Birds Trilogy: the extortionate price tag. Retailing north of £25 is just too much for a game that’s been seen on other platforms for pennies, or even entirely free. What should probably have been released as individual XBLA titles - at least then allowing buyers to pick and choose their favourite flavour of Angry Birds - is instead bundled together. For kids the price won’t matter - it is the definitive version after all - but their parents in control of funds will balk at a game that’s almost as expensive as a triple-A, top-tier blockbuster.
With a mix of luck, trial and error and eventual precision, Angry Birds is the ultimate ‘just one more go’ game that’s sure to absorb time like a black hole of distraction. With so many micro-size levels, some taking mere seconds to complete while others remain fiendishly difficult to master, there’s no denying that the gameplay and physics engine are perfectly tuned. A star rating compounds the game’s OCD prodding nature, pushing you to replay a level ad nauseum in order to get that high score. Add in a ranking system and you can see why Angry Birds has taken the world by storm - it’s the perfect combination of bragging rights, deceptive challenge and bite size levels that prove the adage ‘time flies’ to be accurate. For newcomers, this version is the perfect introduction to a very new, very successful franchise. However, the game has forced it’s way into the cultural mindset so, chances are, you’ve already played Angry Birds. Whether another £25 - £30 investment in avian studies is required is another matter.
Fly like an eagle or dead as a dodo?