Angry Birds. Star Wars. The very thought of these two global entertainment brands coming together was controversial when first announced, with plenty of critics suggesting the Star Wars brand was somehow being sullied by the association with a mobile game series that didn’t exist five years ago.
It was as if these critics hadn’t watched The Phantom Menace, or had blocked out the vision of Darth Vader and Yoda plugging PC World and Vodafone in TV ads. If anything, an association with Angry Birds in 2012 is a step up for Star Wars, given its recent history.
That said, scepticism about such a partnership is understandable: when the world’s biggest entertainment brand ever meets the most popular brand of the mobile apps era, the danger is compromise: a game so hemmed in by brand guidelines that it forgets to be fun.
The alternative, though, is a game that recaptures the thrill several generations of children felt when watching those first three Star Wars films, playing with the toys, or roaring round the garden pretending to be the Millennium Falcon.
Can Angry Birds Star Wars sidestep the compromise and deliver the thrills? Yes it can. This is a treat for Star Wars fans and Angry Birds fans alike.
The game will be available today (8 November) for iOS, Android and Windows Phone devices, as well as Mac, PC and Windows 8 (which I’m assuming means tablets running Microsoft’s new OS too, like the Surface).
Gameplay-wise, it’s a mix of all the previous Angry Birds games to date, including the basic bird-slinging action of the first three games in the series, and the gravity-ruled planetary action of Angry Birds Space.
It’s essentially a Best Of compilation of Angry Birds so far, but with the Star Wars universe wrapped around it, starting with the TIE Fighters on the intro screen. Yes, with the proper sound.
The initial Angry Birds Star Wars download includes 80 levels split equally between two worlds: Tatooine and the Death Star.
A further 40 levels are available in a third world, Dagobah, if you choose to buy it for an in-app purchase of £1.49, but the game also teases an upcoming free update with a fourth world, Hoth. There is also a set of bonus levels starring C-3PO and R2-D2 birds to unlock.
The gameplay is familiar Angry Birds – catapult birds to destroy all the pigs on a level, earning one, two or three stars depending how well you do it.
Within the worlds, you segue smoothly between levels offering the two flavours of Angry Birds (Space and non-Space). For example, the Death Star world starts you in Space, then moves inside, then back out again for a final Death Star trench run.
There are a number of other Star Wars additions. For example, a few levels into Tatooine, the red bird gets a light sabre, which you swing to destructive effect at any point during his flight by tapping the screen. He even has Luke Skywalker hair.
Meanwhile, the yellow bird now shoots lasers – complete with authentic Star Wars sound effects – the black bird can use The Force to send objects shooting off with a tap, and there’s a heavy Chewbacca bird to barrel through obstacles.
The pigs? They dress as stormtroopers, Darth Vader and even get to hop in Tie-Fighters and fire lasers of their own.
All this is more than just for show: it moves the Angry Birds gameplay on a notch, particularly when lasers are involved. Think thwacking laser beams with the light sabre in mid-air to hit hard-to-reach pigs, or dislodging laser-firing enemies so they end up shooting their own side.
Rovio has also reworked its Mighty Eagle power-up: it’s now the Mighty Falcon. When triggered, a Millennium Falcon flies onto the screen and lets loose with its lasers to (hopefully) reduce to dust a level that you’ve been struggling with.
You have a finite number of Mighty Falcons to use, although Angry Birds Star Wars is pretty generous dishing more out as you progress through the game. You can also pay for them, though: from £1.49 for 20 through to £13.99 for 200.
Charging for power-ups can be controversial, but Rovio handles its IAP well. I manage to progress through all 80 of the game’s preloaded levels without needing to buy any Mighty Falcons (and I did use a few). If £1.49 for another 40 levels seems steep, you can choose to wait for the free Hoth update instead.
There’s a good 5-6 hours gameplay to be had working your way through the Tatooine, Death Star and Dagobah worlds by completing the levels with one, two or three stars.
Then there are a fair few more hours in store if you go back to nail three stars on every level, as a lot of Angry Birds fans like to do. The iOS version builds in Apple’s Game centre to compare friends’ scores and in-game achievements.
Angry Birds has been an app store phenomenon since fairly early in its life, and to some extent its popularity since has been self-fulfilling: it was at the top of the charts, so millions, then tens of millions, then hundreds of millions of people downloaded it.
That’s not the whole story though. Angry Birds Star Wars is a timely reminder that the series’ billion-plus downloads is also down to strong word-of-mouth recommendations of a game that’s accessible and addictive.
It’s also a reminder that developer Rovio continues to put a lot of effort and craft into Angry Birds as a game, rather than just a brand to be milked.
So yes, there are new Angry Birds Star Wars plush toys and heaven knows how many other bits of merchandise, but the game is also an imaginative evolution of the core bird-slinging mechanic, just as Angry Birds Space was before it. Little touches – the new weapons – really do make a difference.
Angry Birds Star Wars is the best Angry Birds game yet, and the best Star Wars spin-off in a long time. It’s going to be big, and deservedly so.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.