REVIEW-Angry Birds GO!

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One thing that I believe a reviewer should never allow to influence their evaluation is a game’s price. Whether the writer believes the price to be fair or not doesn’t have any measurable influence on the actual quality of the title itself, so it’s an inappropriate gauge of quality. There is, however, one time when price should be considered in reviewing a title, and that’s if it somehow has an impact on the gameplay. Unfortunately, that is the case with Angry Birds GO!,  where pricing is an unforgivably prominent and hindering element of its game design. It’s a shame, as the endless money-grabbing besmirches what is otherwise a very fine kart racer that is perfectly balanced for mobile devices.

The racing genre has proven quite adaptable to touch-only interfaces over the years, and with Angry Birds’ varied and lovable cast of characters, it was only natural to expand the franchise with a karting game. It’s really very ingenious how developer Rovio was able to interject the personality of the series into a kart racer with limited sacrifices. Maintaining the physics-based gameplay that Angry Birds is known for, GO!‘s races are all downhill affairs with soap box karts. Though there are no engines, the kart’s are very nicely designed, with the ramshackle, pieced together ones using items from the Angry Birds games to comprise their bodies. The races are fast and intense, especially as the difficulty ramps up. With several game modes to engage in, including fruit smashing challenges and timed races (where you have to beat the fuse of a bomb to win!), the action is varied, entertaining, and fun. It doesn’t hurt that the game is gorgeous, with an excellent, cartoony aesthetic that perfectly encapsulates the vibe of the Angry Birds series.

Firing up GO! for the first time, players are guided through the basics of the racing types and the controls, which can be set to either motion or touch. While both are fun, I stuck with the touch controls, which were pinpoint precise. There are just two inputs, left and right, that the player can use to steer, and without the need for a gas or break button (remember, it’s a downhill race!), they’re more than enough to guide each bird down the track. GO! has some of the best controls I’ve experienced in a mobile racing game, and it’s clear that Rovio put a lot of thought into making the title as easy to play as any of its other games.

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Every bird has a unique special attack that can be used during races, which are easily activated with the tap of a button on the screen. The different moves are all serviceable, though a dedicated item system might have been more enjoyable. Still, as it stands, the attacks keep things simple and lend more individuality to each bird. Tracks themselves feature coins, which can be collected and used to upgrade karts and pay for a number of different things (more on that in a bit), as well as gems, which are in less abundance and serve as a secondary form of currency. The dual currencies would seem innocuous enough at a glance, but as I progressed, I began to see Rovio’s devious intentions behind them.

Working my way deeper into GO!, I came to find that every aspect of its gameplay revolves around money. Take the birds themselves, for instance; there are multiple Angry Birds to choose from, but each must be unlocked through a series of races in order to be used. That’s fair enough, but after the first additional bird is unlocked, one of the cash-grab tactics rears its ugly head in the form of an energy meter. Each bird is only capable of completing a handful of races before becoming tired, in which case the player can either recharge its energy with gems, or substitute in another racer. Here’s the problem; gems and characters are earned through racing. If the player hasn’t earned enough gems by the time a bird is tired, they can’t play again until that particular character’s energy has been recuperated (which occurs after a set amount of real-world time, much like Candy Crush Saga).

There is a solution, crass as it may be; spend real money to buy coins and gems. While microtransactions are nothing new in the world of mobile games, GO! takes it to a whole new level, as the panhandling isn’t limited to charging the birds back up. Karts are upgradeable with coins, which are in generous enough abundance at the beginning of the game. Once the second cup of races unlocks, though, the cost to upgrade skyrockets into the thousands, making saving up coins in-game through legitimate gameplay an intense, old-school JRPG grind. Rovio has your back here, too, in case you were worried; spend more real money.

Wait, there’s more! Later races can’t be attempted until the player’s kart is up to specs, which forces upgrading. The birds always lose energy after each race, so playing the game to actually earn coins to upgrade is tethered to how many racers are available at a given moment. Karts must be purchased with coins, and the better the kart (and, generally, the cooler it looks), the more expensive it is. If your head is starting to hurt, don’t worry, because mine was, too. It’s a simple enough scheme, but the way that Rovio has tied every aspect of GO! around keeping track of gems and coins is aggravating.

By the way, there is, seriously, the option to spend $99.99 on gems in order to pay for a large sack of coins. I buy COLLECTORS EDITIONS of retail games for less money, Rovio; I sure as heck am not spending a hundred dollars on an iOS kart racer. I can appreciate that the game is running under the freemium pricing model, but this is ridiculous. I’d offer to buy the thing at this point just to play the fun game buried under all this nonsense, but with a $99.99 price tag for gems alone, I’m scared to think what Rovio thinks GO! is actually worth.

As I said, a review should only ever reference a game’s price if it effects gameplay, and GO!‘s shameless money mongering does exactly that. Players have the option of waiting out recharge phases and grinding for coins, but after a thousand years, they’ll probably barely have scratched the surface of what GO! has to offer. Admittedly, there is the option to buy GO! Telepods, which are toys of the racers that can be scanned and transferred into the game itself (which is cool), but with over ten figures at $4.99 each, it’s still a sizable amount of money to spend (and I’m being generous with the pricing for those, as there are different sets to buy and the question of availability).

It’s just a mess and a disappointment. I enjoyed every minute of the gameplay and was ready to lavish GO! with praise, but I honestly can’t justify doing that when Rovio has so shamelessly targeted players’ wallets. Download it and play what you can when you can, but I must compel anyone reading this to refrain from investing real money into GO! Apparently, players across iOS and Android have been slamming the game for its microtransactions, so hopefully it will compel Rovio to do some kind of patch. Whatever happens, I just hope Rovio can atone for this blight in the long run.

Score: 6.0/10

+ Great gameplay and excellent graphics; Design takes queues from the Angry Birds games by revolving around physics-based racing; Transferring Telepod racing figures from real life into the game is a great concept; Game modes are varied and fun.

– Microtransactions are the equivalent of digital aggressive panhandling; Game design essentially forces player to invest real cash in order to proceed in a reasonable manner; Pricing makes the experience prohibitive, ruins the fun of the game-be sure to lock purchases for younger players!

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