The Angry Birds franchise has a legacy that’s bigger than Terence (psst –he’s the huge red wrecking ball bird, if you’re not up on your digital ornithology). The first game, released in 2009, helped cement mobile phones as a serious gaming platform in North America. Even today, playing that now-ancient Angry Birds game feels fun and fulfilling.
But Angry Birds’ legendary status is double-edged. The recent release of Angry Birds 2 makes it all-too-easy to look back on that first game and pine for an age when mobile games weren’t intermingled with wait timers, hard currency, and advertisements. We just picked up, played, and never thought twice about re-starting a stage when a swine assault went sour.
Sure, Angry Birds 2 looks and sounds much more refined than its predecessor — over the years, the Pigs and the Birds have received an impressive infusion of personality — but this latest session of bird-flinging makes it too easy to reflect on the tedium and frustration that comes with some free-to-play titles.
That’s not to say Angry Birds 2 is a bad game. That’s not the case at all. It’s still as fun as ever to take out the glass base of a pig’s tower with a beautiful bluebird shot. But neither is it possible to play the game without observing how the deck has been stacked against you in hopes of getting you to spend money on in-app purchases.
In fact, the alterations made in the name of farming your hard currency are the only really significant changes between Angry Birds and Angry Birds 2. For instance, each level has multiple screens — sometimes three or more — with multiple pigs to take down, and / or bosses to demolish. You must clear every screen with the birds you’re allotted at the start of the stage.
Incidentally, some of those birds are hidden behind face-down cards. You can switch between visible birds, but invisible ones remain unseen until you’ve burned through your previous birds. You also can’t peek at what’s ahead in multi-screen levels.
That means, unlike earlier games, strategizing in Angry Birds 2 is a near-impossibility — especially since each level is given subtle, random changes on repeated playthroughs. No more consulting walkthroughs, YouTube, or friends if you’re stuck on a level. There’s not even a point to starting a level over after a bad shot, unless you simply feel like wasting one of your precious five lives (each of which takes half an hour or a fistful of hard currency to fill up).
There are flashes of mercy in Angry Birds 2. When you cause enough destruction (always a noble endeavor), you gain another bird. If you’re really lucky, you may even gain one of the game’s spells, which are usually purchasable with hard currency (gems). Spells do crazy things like rain down rubber duckies or make a pig explode, but they’re all pretty much “instant win” power-ups that clear a screen.
Also, if you run out of birds in a stage, you’re allowed to watch a video in exchange for one more angry avian. The bird you’re issued is seemingly random, however, so good luck throwing bluebirds at a reinforced concrete tower.
Angry Birds 2 is a free download, so there’s nothing to be lost by giving it a try. But given how little its gameplay varies from classic Angry Birds, you might be better off paying a bit of money to grab the first game. It might seem a little bare-bones in this day and age, but “bare bones” means no lives or level timers. It’s just you, pigs, and physics. Just the way the Mighty Eagle always intended for things to be.