Angry Birds, for all its legions of avian adoring fans, is oft maligned by more critical gamers for being essentially the same game again and again. I disagree with my traditional gamer brethren in this case. I thought each iteration of the games brought novel changes and kept things entertaining, whether by gravity mechanics in Angry Birds Space, or excessive fan service and awesomeness in the Angry Birds Star Wars games. Well, the latest Angry Birds game finally brings something new to the franchise, in the form of downhill kart racing. I give you Angry Birds Go!
The birds are back, they’re in 3D, and they’re racing each other in this new title. That’s right, your favorite birds and pigs are now rendered in full 3D, so you can see all their spherical splendor. Okay, it’s not all that exciting, but it’s pretty cool. You can race as both birds and pigs across several different game modes and karts. The cast is colorful and cuddly as can be, and the carts are creative contraptions that seem to be appropriated from the things built in Bad Piggies. Everything looks absolutely gorgeous, and don’t let my footage fool you. The iPhone 4 can’t handle the true resolution of the game, the beautiful dynamic lighting, or the pretty particle effects. Newer devices will really show the game off.
Each race starts off with you being launched out of a slingshot down the hill, because of course they do. It’s all gravity and momentum propelled auto-acceleration, with you only steering left or right via tilt or touch. The game is divided up by tracks. Each track has a certain character to unlock, whom you have to best in proper racing combat three times, plus four other events including standard races against loads of pigs and unlocked birds. The time trial mode has block structures of glass, wood, and metal to avoid, because of course they do. There’s also a fruit splat mode, which requires you to run over a certain amount of fruit before the end. Once you reach your quota, all fruit lines and groups turn into coins. There’s also a versus mode that pits you against a random character, unlocked or otherwise. This is the only mode that lets you set the difficulty of each race. Every event, once you win, whether you earned a three star score or not, moves on to the next difficulty of that event. It kind of clashes with my compulsion to three star everything. Each event has five difficulty levels before unlocking the bonus version of that event, with extra objectives to tackle.
You start out with who else but Red, the basic bird and face of the series. You have to unlock other racers like The Blues, Stella, Terrence, Matilda, and King Pig through play. Each character brings a different ability to the table. Red brings a boost, Bomb explodes, Stella floats in an invulnerable bubble for a few seconds, etc. Your usage of each power is limited to once per race, unless you want to spend the crystal premium currency to use them again. Oh, did I neglect to mention this was a freemium game? Well it is. With gold as your main currency and crystals as your premium, you’ll buy carts, upgrade them, buy power-ups and even buy the ability to play the game if you want.
What I mean by that, is that each bird character can only race five times before needing a rest. Typical freemium energy meter stuff. The more birds you unlock, the less of a problem it becomes, but it’s still really frustrating. Especially considering races are super short. Most tracks can be completed around or under a minute, and it takes over ten minutes to recover one race worth’s of energy. The freemium aspects permeate every facet of this game to an embarrassing degree. It’s Candy Crush Saga levels bad. I know freemium games make enough money to fill Scrooge McDuck’s vault, and with an established brand like Angry Birds you have a guaranteed massive audience, but Rovio has gone completely overboard.
Aside from the energy mechanic, there’s the kart issue. Each kart can have its top speed, acceleration, handling, and strength upgraded, with each upgrade increasing the kart’s CC. Races have a CC requirement to even let you participate, which is often arbitrary and hilarious. I doubt upgrading my strength really helped me win some races I otherwise couldn’t have. You probably see where this is going. It can turn into a serious grind, as you race on older races, or easier difficulty versus races, grinding out money to progress, regardless of your skill at the game. This makes progress slow, and it’ll take forever to get to see all the tracks and characters available.
Aside from offering both currencies through in-app purchases, you can also buy new carts. These range from a couple dollars each, to the Big Bang, which will run you fifty bucks. These carts don’t even come with maxed out stats, or even particularly high stats, so aside from looking cool, they don’t bring a heck of a lot. There aren’t any obtrusive ads in the game, but there are Nascar levels of product placement. Unless you disagree and think purchasable power-ups from State Farm and Goldfish crackers are totally appropriate and fitting. Also, each pair of tracks has a specific selection of carts. That’s right, the cart that you build up in the first two tracks can’t be used in the next two. Hopefully you don’t spend extra time grinding it out before you learn this. Pro-Tip. Grind as much money as you can with Red before unlocking Stella. Once you unlock Stella, you unlock the energy meters.
This review is getting too long. Time to sum up. The game looks great, and plays great. It’s a bit on the simple and short side, and honestly pretty boring when you have to race with the same tracks, karts, birds, etc so often. Slap in the face offensive IAP aside, the game’s pretty good, but it’s also pretty soulless. You also have access to ToonsTV, where you can watch all the Angry Birds cartoons shorts, which are neat. This game has potential, and there’s no harm in trying it out with a zero dollar price tag, but please, please, I implore you not to buy any IAP from such a greedy game. Also, some form of multiplayer competition would be neat in future updates.