Feature mostly female feathered heroes and released alongside a line of pink-centric toys, one wouldn't be blamed for assuming Angry Birds Stella is a game for "girls." It's a game for any fan of the series who wants to see how far it's come -- and the unfortunate direction its going in.
There's no doubt Angry Birds Stella was created with a marketing exec's image of female players in mind. Stella's quest to rescue her friends from an evil queen who looks to be on the side of bacon is rife with giggles and collectible scrapbook photos. The Hasbro Telepod toys, samples of which arrived at my apartment earlier this week, are flush with elements commonly associated with the pinker Toys'R'Us aisles -- though my local store places them among the Angry Birds Star Wars and Angry Birds Go! toys in the action figure aisle.
Rovio's stance on the matter, as evidenced by several interviews since the game was initially revealed, is that while attracting female gamers would be nice, Stella is a game for everyone. As a frequenter of the pinker side of the Toys'R'Us aisle, I concur, though males worried about playing a game that's "girlie" or might have "cooties" might want to turn down the sound -- the giggles never stop.
Those giggles are all part of the character of Stella -- the game, not the pink bird. Over the past couple of years developer Rovio has been injecting more and more peronality into their limbless heroes and villains, transforming them from curiosities into genuine characters. Stella is the culmination of that effort -- I'd almost call this strange little flock loveable.
The graphics, the music, the characters -- every aspect of Stella is polished to a mirror sheen and dipped in the essence of Disney. At times the level of calculated design is overwhelming, the awareness that Rovio's attempting to build an empire pulling attention away from the game proper.
And it is a proper game. Each new iteration of the Angry Birds franchise I'm surprised to see creative new ways for birds to knock over things to kill pigs.
Look to closely and the newness begins to unravel a little. Stella's ricochet power is a twist on the blaster power from Angry Birds Star Wars. Willow's spinning boomerang is just that silly hooking bird's power with a bit more control. The realisation doesn't take away from the enjoyment of the game -- it just makes me wonder how long Rovio can keep this up.
Whatever the future holds for the franchise, it's clear the developer continues to move towards the more diabolical side of the free-to-play spectrum. There was a time I could pick up a new Angry Birds game and make my way to the end in one sitting. Now I'm faced with smoke barriers that either dissipate with coins or time. Coins are earned in game, but earned much more quickly via real money purchase. My last unlock had me waiting three hours before I could play again -- I can only imagine it getting worse.
And then there's the whole toy thing. Where Angry Birds Star Wars and Go! Telepod toys from Hasbro mainly focused on action, Stella toys are more about imagination play. The birds have costumes they can wear, playsets they can flit about in -- it's a different vibe.
They're cute, in a diabolical sort of way. Like all Telepod toys, these can be scanned into the game via a clever little camera magnification trick, allowing players to swap out birds on the fly. These collectible figures are also the key to unlocking special pages in the game's scrapbook -- it cannot be completed without the toys.
Rovio took a wrong turn with Angry Birds Go!'s microtransactions and game-halting begging mechanics, and as charming as Angry Birds Stella is, it's also evidence that Rovio is leaning into that bad turn.