Review: Angry Birds 2 is a great game ruined by ridiculous microtransactions

Somewhere underneath the ridiculousness of Angry Birds 2’s micro-transactions is a great game, possibly the best mobile game I’ve played since Alto’s Adventure.

This is why I still find myself playing Rovio’s latest release despite my distaste for Angry Birds 2’s incessant clamoring for my money. In Rovio’s defense, past Angry Birds titles have mostly steered clear of micro-transactions, offering players the game at a relatively low price (or completely free), periodically releasing additional paid content thereafter. So perhaps the studio is making up for lost time (and finances) with Angry Birds 2?

The Angry Birds franchise has a sordid reputation among most people that play video games. “It’s too easy; it’s too casual; it’s just a silly game about slingshotted birds,” they say. But Rovio’s blockbuster franchise is enormous for good reasons – it’s an infallible game mechanic. The series embodies everything mobile gaming should be: simple touchscreen controls, gameplay that’s easy to pick up and play, but difficult to master, along with bright, colourful visuals.

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The average person likely knows what Angry Birds is, and if they don’t, they’re aware of the series on some level, likely due to the array of merchandise available based on its cute characters, the titular avians themselves.

The only recent title I can think of that has the same level of brand recognition is Minecraft. And looking back on gaming’s history, I’d say Angry Birds’ only rival is Nintendo’s Goomba-stomping plumber, Mario.

Like it or not, Angry Birds has become the platform-defining title for mobile gaming, and while Rovio has muddled the series’ reputation by releasing over 16 games and spinoffs since the original, make no mistake, Angry Birds 2 feels like a full-fledged sequel.

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Angry Birds 2 improves almost every aspect of the series’ gameplay. The structure of levels has changed considerably, and players need to work through multiple stages – generally two to six – managing the birds they select on certain levels, as well as changing their order around, to make it to the final stage.

New variables, like fans and wind jets, have also been added to levels, which make hitting your mark even more difficult. Then there’s new special abilities called spells that can help players make it through particularly difficult stages. The game has also received a slick graphical overhaul that maintains the cartoony feel of the original with an additional level of high-definition polish. Remember, the original Angry Birds debuted when the iPhone’s resolution was 480×360 pixels.

All of these new elements combine together to create the most difficult Angry Birds game Rovio has ever released.

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So far I’ve been very positive about the game because it really is great – and the direction the series needs to head in. Unfortunately, micro-transactions all but ruin the experience.

First there is the game’s new “life” system, a standard feature in many video games. The problem here is Angry Birds 2’s life counter starts at five and includes a constantly diminishing timer. If the timer runs out or if you run out of lives, you wait. And wait.

While waiting you have two options. You can either play the game’s daily survival-style tournament mode that can be entered once about every three hours, or shell out real world money for additional lives.

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Here’s where the micro-transactions rear their ugly head. In order to purchase additional lives, you need Angry Birds 2’s in-game currency called Gems. While you start the game with a set number of gems, once your stockpile is quickly used up, one of the only ways to push forward is using real money to purchase additional currency (or, again, wait).

Or you could watch a video; and another video; and another.

Similar to Rovio’s Retry, which featured pay-to-win features that were far less frustrating, you can watch various advertisements in order to earn additional gems. I’m only at level 30 and I’ve already viewed so many ads for Rovio games I might never play one again.

Angry Birds 2’s greatest offense is that Rovio has ruined what made the original Angry Birds such a great title in the first place, the ability easily retry a level. One attempt quickly becomes two, then five becomes 50 and before you know it, you’ve spent four hours trying to three star a particularly difficult stage.

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In Angry Birds that retry mechanic is completely gone, instead replaced by disingenuous money-making ploys. Progressing through the game is painfully slow because of its limited lives, and I find myself being far too careful when it comes to planning out the path of each bird as a result. This isn’t gaming, it’s micro-gaming.

Gaming is an industry and it needs to make money, but I would have much rather spent $5.99 or even $9.99 for Angry Birds 2 if it didn’t include frustrating in-app purchases. There’s a way to implement micro-transactions in a way that isn’t intrusive; Fallout Shelter is a perfect example of this.

The only way you’ll find enjoyment in Angry Birds 2 is if you’re like me and are able to separate gameplay from the game’s weak, punitive progression system. Unfortunately for Rovio, most people aren’t like me.

Also, play Bad Piggies. That game is amazing (and free of in-app purchases).

Angry Birds 2 is available on iOS and Android for free*.

Find Patrick O’Rourke on Twitter.

*Sort of.

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