A quick look at Angry Birds Go! on Metacritic shows that reviews of Rovio’s latest game—essentially MarioKart with Angry Birds characters—has been broadly positively received. Only Pocket Gamer was really critical, ‘awarding’ the game 5/10.
I didn’t go into the game in a particularly positive frame of mind. Reports had suggested the IAP underpinnings weren’t too bad, but I’ve played relatively few titles where that’s the case, and only a tiny handful where IAP and micro-transactions have worked to the product’s favour. I was skeptical that a fast-paced kart-racer wouldn’t be undone by a freemium model. However, I truly love kart racers, and so I nonetheless wanted to like this game.
Initially, all appears well with Angry Birds Go!, and it gets two things very right. First, it looks fantastic on the iPhone. The courses are nicely cartoonish and organic, and the karts themselves are amusingly ramshackle. Secondly, it handles very nicely indeed. There’s little of the floaty physics evident in iOS kart racers—everything feels pleasingly solid, if still arcadey. It’s only when you play on for an extended period of time that you realise the game is a grindy, boring mess.
The problems with Angry Birds Go! are down to structure and greed. In terms of structure, you’re essentially forced to race over and over on the same small slice of track until you’ve ‘earned’ the right to progress to the next one. But the best kart racers (indeed, the best racers) thrive on variety. This is perhaps why the similarly IAP-infused Asphalt 8 doesn’t rub me up the wrong way—it’s still fun when you’re working your way through the game, because it regularly flings different tracks at you.
But greed is the bigger problem. Angry Birds Go! has a cooldown system for the racers—the conceit being that the birds doing the driving get tired. Naturally, they can be revived by spending one of the game’s two in-game currencies. Infuriatingly, the game also spams Notification Center when the birds are awake:
Your racers just needed some sleep! They’re now feeling fully charged and desperate to take the wheel!
Here’s a better idea, Rovio: how about you don’t place arbitrary barriers such as this in your game, and let me play for however long I want to? That way, I don’t have to make the choice of paying to continue or leaving your app, and you don’t need to spam my notifications!
Additionally, there are the usual walls racers of this ilk tend to throw up: races that need a certain type of vehicle upgrade; painfully obvious catch-up mechanisms; the requirement to have certain vehicles to race certain races; and stupidly expensive karts that you can only buy using real money. Furthermore, power-ups can only be used once per race unless you pay, and they’re also, astonishingly, ad-sponsored. A smaller number of these pungent ingredients wouldn’t have run Angry Birds Go! off of the road, but the combination makes for a truly grind-oriented trudge. And, of course, Angry Birds Go! will make a mint, thereby further justifying this business model, and validating it in the eyes of not only Rovio but also its competitors.
What could have been a minor iOS classic has therefore been reduced to a joyless slog through a business model, an accountant’s leer lurking underneath every angry bird’s feather.