Once upon a time there was a young man with silky blonde hair and the purest of hearts. He cared about all things, was always considerate of people’s feelings, and never said anything mean to anybody. He was the kindest young man you ever did meet.
And one day, he bought an amazing new device from a man named Mr. Steven Jobs, who had lots of money and a jumper with a long neck, and he worked in a shop where they didn’t allow bricks, so everything was made of glass and bits of metal. The device was called an iTelephone, and though it had only four buttons it worked like no portable telephone that the young man had ever seen.
A big part of the iTelephone was a special shop inside it called the Application Store, an amazing digital market stand that allowed you to buy special games and functions for the iTelephone to use. There were lots of different ones, including applications that let you go fishing, send pictures to your friends, and ring a cowbell.
…We were easily amused back then.
Then, after not too long, a new game appeared that the young man happened to see. It was a game called Angry Birds, and not many people had heard of it before. And this man bought Angry Birds and really enjoyed it, because it was fun and cleverly made and you got to smash things but without really hurting anybody.
And this young man was ever so happy, and he thought “This is surely the beginning of something amazing for electronic video games on the portable telephone. Perhaps we are witnessing an evolution, where games will turn into something beautiful with lowered prices, innovative concepts and interesting uses of available hardware.”
And now the man is very angry and bitter, and he drinks a lot and throws things at animals and has some unfinished business with the authorities that he’d rather not talk about, though he’s almost saved up the money for the ammunition he needs. For you see, children, things have not gotten better for mobile games. They all copy each other and keep trying to take your money even after you’ve bought it, and they use up all the memory space on your phone and don’t realise that you can’t effectively use joysticks on a touchscreen because it’s like trying to tap dance on an ice rink.
But then a few days ago Angry Birds 2 came out, and the angry man was filled with a sudden sense of hope. Maybe, he thought, this game would strive for that age-old dream, maybe it would aspire to something more than to simply turn a profit, to bring real joy without compromising on that original dream and to elevate everything that made the first game so smart.
And now that man is even angrier, and he keeps lighting matches in the corner of the room and staring at the flame, and every now and then he just makes a noise like a crow with a dry throat, and everybody is wishing he’d move because he’s been there for three days and they’re all very uncomfortable about the whole thing.
And the moral of story is: Don’t ever play Angry Birds 2. Or have hope and love and that sort of thing.
I know that was a long opening, but Jesus, was I pissed off when I saw what this game series had turned into. It was like some execs had sat around the original, and said to themselves, “Now how can we remove any sense of charm and integrity from this?”
So yes, it’s loaded with micropayments that make the game easier. Yes, there’s pointless online elements that don’t add anything. Yes, you can’t play indefinitely because you can only have five lives at a time (then just three after a recent update), and it takes half an hour for a single life to come back, so good luck using it to kill time on long journeys like you could do with the old one. Of course, if you’re willing to pay, you could always-
OH FUCK OFF, ANGRY BIRDS 2. I’m not going to keep giving you money to keep playing a game that is demonstrably worse than the other one.
Perhaps the most insulting aspect is how virtually nothing has been added. Isn’t that the point of sequels? To make an enriched, fuller version of the original concept? There’s hardly any of that here, just ways to gouge money from us, like they took a beloved dog and started strapping leeches to its back. You don’t want to go near it for fear of getting drained.
I actually don’t have any gripes against the free-to-play model, at least in theory. It sounds very fair, like the natural extension of the game demo concept. “Here’s a fun game for free, but you can acquire additional gameplay and cosmetics if you feel willing to throw in a couple of bucks.” Hell, if a game’s fun enough you could just donate money to the artist. After all, he’s done something cool and we want talented people to keep producing fun stuff. Quid pro quo, I scratch your back, etc, etc.
But this? This is just gross. They’ve gutted their precious prize in the name of making capital. I know, I know, it’s not like Angry Birds was a sacred cow, but those Star Wars and Rio expansions generally kept to themselves, you know? The core series had at least a little respect offered to it, when it began.
That is, until now. So what’s new? Well, there’s a new bird, easily the shittiest one available. When you hit the screen it suddenly does a loop mid-flight and smashes its face into the floor, albeit with all the force of a cat’s fur gently brushing past your arm. So not only does it have the stopping power of a water pistol, its power is to make itself less accurate, partly because the loop is so huge that it always hits something before it reaches the right trajectory, and it flies forward so quick that it’s impossible to activate it in time.
The one saving grace is that you don’t have to use Mr. Spin Cycle if you don’t want to. Now the order in which you get the birds is randomised, and you can swap around the first three as much as you like. But this in itself seems silly to me, because the obvious loss is focus and good design. There were levels in the first game that were challenging because you had to use specific birds in a specific order, and now you just get one of each thrown at you in whatever order seems most inconvenient. Not to mention that the levels are randomly generated, so you never have time to work out a strategy before it’s replaced by another one you haven’t seen before.
Ironically, the stages are easier when you’ve only unlocked two birds, because it’s guaranteed that one of the ones you want will be in the accessible line-up and the early levels are designed to accommodate for your lacking variety in ammunition. Whereas if I needed a exploding bird later on, it would always be sitting at the back of the queue where I couldn’t use it, behind barrel-roll bill, the three musketeers and some pointless ice spell.
Speaking of which, The spells are one of the ways in which Rovio are trying to distance you from your money. They all have different effects, such as doubling the size of the pigs, dropping a cloud of objects from the sky, or just winning the fucking level for you. That’s right, Angry Birds 2 is offering to play the game for you if you’ll just cough up the cash. You only have limited uses of spells, and once you run out there’s no way to get them back without handing over your credit card details. The problem is that whilst the game starts off easier than farting in the bath, after a while it gets annoyed and ramps up the challenge, so unless you want to be stuck on that level forever (only getting to try it three times every two hours, now that there’s a life system), you might have to cough up some cash to get past it. Sure, and why don’t I pay an intermediary to watch the film I want to see, and read that book I was interested in?
The final twist on the formula, in the same way that one twists a turkey’s neck to kill it, is boss fights. Basically, it’s just a piggie with an unreasonable amount of health, the result being that when I slam a bomb into the emerald bastard, detonate him into the atmosphere, watch him crash through three buildings and finally come to a rest on a bed of spikes, only for him to lose ten percent of his health, I do feel the need to throw my iPhone through a plate-glass window. I’ve nothing against challenge, but this is always my problem with micropayments, the games are so often structured so that you get forced into a corner, with the only way out being a door for which you need to buy a key.
There are some games I love tearing to shreds, but this isn’t one of them. The game I enjoyed is in there somewhere, but it’s buried beneath the work of cold-hearted executives who have no purpose but to scrounge children’s pocket money away from them. Maybe it feels churlish to disparage a free game, but at the end of the day I thought about how much fun I had with it, and that’s not much at all. Smashing stuff is always fun, but you could always do it a different way. Such as breaking a phone full of free-to-play games over a corporate villian’s head.
If I could get at the good stuff beneath the flabby design and horrible attempts to steal my money… I’d just have the original game and nothing more.