Making a mobile game crossover is easy. Just take your popular game and re-skin it to resemble whichever pop culture phenomenon will rake in the most cash. This is twice now Angry Birds developer Rovio has screwed up that simple formula. It's probably because they're Finnish.
The first Angry Birds Star Wars game was noticeably not a simple re-skinning. Rovio did manage to dress up their now-iconic birds and pigs in Star Wars costumes and fill the game with the sights and sounds of the first trilogy of movies, but they just couldn't resist innovating.
They refined the gravity elements of Angry Birds Space. They included features like regular bursts of blaster fire, adding an element of timing to the game, or objects suspended via dark Force powers that plummeted to the ground with the death of their Sith Master. Instead of a makeover, it was an evolution.
Now we have Angry Birds Star Wars II, the perfect excuse to just give us more of the same — hell, it's just the prequels, no one would notice. Instead, we've got a game that's even closer to the spirit of Star Wars. Another missed opportunity, Rovio.
Instead of giving players 80 straight levels at launch, we've got 40 for each side of the force. For the first time in Angry Birds history, we're flinging pigs at birds instead of just birds at pigs. It's oddly satisfying.
Story levels still follow along a path, as they did in the first title, but now there are branches in those paths, activated by nailing difficult targets in certain levels — technically that makes it more than 80 levels at launch — I was just not very good at hitting the targets.
We've got 32 different characters to play as — 18 on the Light Side, and 12 on the Pork Side. They're not all carbon copies of the characters introduced in the first game either. Some are evolutions — a soldier that fires scattered blaster fire instead of a focused burst. Others are complete new. Jango Fett fires missiles. Young Anakin Skywalker flies a podracer. Jar Jar Binks latches onto objects with his tongue and swings around like a wrecking ball.
With this massive influx of characters comes a new way to play. Using in-game currency earned through completing achievements (oh yeah, this one has achievements) or acquired via real-life funds, players can purchase characters from the in-game store. Character packs are also given out as stage completion awards. These purchased or awarded characters can be swapped out for the default birds and pigs on any given level, giving players fresh ways to attack vexing problems.
As you use each of the game's characters, the points they generate are accrued. Reach the target score for a character, and their bonus level is unlocked in the reward chapter.
So many new ways to play, and I haven't even mentioned the physical toys — Angry Birds Star Wars Telepods from Hasbro. That's mainly because those toys, while neat, are completely optional to the experience. You don't need them at all. I grabbed a little video anyway, in case you're curious.
If there's a downside to Angry Birds Star Wars II's ingenuity, it's that each new level is so fresh and exciting that I excitedly tore through the game's story levels in a little over an hour. Mind you I still have many stars to acquire and special character levels to unlock and conquer, but I devoured this initial story batch like an appropriately Star Wars-related hungry thing.
Instead of cashing in on one hell of a licensing tie-in, the majority of the innovation in the Angry Birds franchise has occurred over the course of these two Star Wars games. Rovio is truly an odd duck.
Angry Birds Star Wars II
Genre: Angry Birds Developer: Rovio Price: $0.99 Platforms: Android (coming soon), iOS Get Angry Birds Star Wars II on iTunes