Angry Birds Go! (for iPhone) review

A fast and fun little racing game for iPhone, Angry Birds Go! sabotages itself with relentless attempts at monetization.
Photo of Angry Birds Go! (for iPhone)

There’s a lot of fun to be had with Angry Birds Go! (App Store, free), the Mario Kart-esque spinoff of the monstrously successful Angry Birds franchise. It’s a great little racing game that delivers excellent graphics in bite-sized competitions that are perfect for mobile. But things quickly turn sour as you hit the roadblocks erected by developer Rovio, ending up diverted from the Funtime Freeway onto Monetization Turnpike.

Start Your Bird
After some initial hand-holding, you begin each race by launching your car from an oversized slingshot—apparently in keeping with the ancient traditions of the Angry Birds. As you whizz down a brightly colored track, take a moment to appreciate the lush detail of the 3D world and the careful sound design. You’ll hear your car creak and see nuts and bolts fly off with each impact. This is console quality.

The motion controls work surprisingly well on my iPhone 5c, and my little car zigged and zagged exactly where it should have. In fact, the controls felt like they might be slightly better on iOS than Android. You can switch to touch controls, which places left and right arrows on the screen, but these don’t feel natural. Competitions last about 43 seconds each, which is perfect for quick mobile play.

Each racing bird has a special ability like super speed or bubbles, mimicking their roles in the original Angry Birds. At first you’ll only get one use per race, but you’ll eventually be able to buy more using the game’s premium currency of gems, but more on that later.

The tracks have many tricks to them—like a half-pipe you can use to go upside down—but don’t worry about wrecking your car. Even driving backward is automatically corrected by the game, meaning that you’re always headed downhill toward destiny (and hopefully, a win).

Each track has five kinds of races, each with its own gimmick, but don’t look for any multiplayer racing. While racing against AIs or smashing fruit with a car (just go with it) is fun, playing against my friends would be better.

Vroom-Vroom Becomes Cha-Ching!
But as fun as Angry Birds Go! is to play, it’s also mostly padding. At first you need to simply win a series of successes to unlock new content, but then you realize that some events have a minimum cc requirement—in car terms, cc’s relate to engine size, which is weird because the cars in this game are gravity powered soapbox derby cars. Whatever. You increase your cc by upgrading your vehicle, and you need money for upgrades, and you need to race to get money.

Also, if you want to unlock characters, tracks, and game modes, you’ll need to chalk up so many successes in so many categories.

Ok, so you need to race more. Ah, but your bird characters have a limited amount of energy and can only race five events before they need to rest in their roost for 15 minutes. And by the way, if my red bird is so “tired” and needs to “rest,” then why the heck is he racing against me after I switched birds?

It’s at this point where I wonder if the Rovio excluded multiplayer because of technical limitations, or because it would have messed up Angry Birds Go!’s carefully crafted in-game purchase scheme, which drives players toward the premium currency like lambs to slaughter.

Gems are the premium currency of Angry Birds Go!, and you’ll get a few on the track or as an extra prize for winning after being gifted 30. You can use them to purchase additional powerups prior to each race, or to purchase more coins. Unsurprisingly, you can buy gems with real money as well.

Fans of in-app purchases can also buy different cars or powerups, like one that doubles the amount of coins you get per track. The cars can be remarkably expensive (I saw one that costs $49.99), especially considering that their stats are nearly identical. You can also import cars using Angry Birds Telepods.

And then there are the ads. You see ads when you start the game, you see ads while you wait for the game to start, and the fine print even mentions “sponsored powerups,” whatever that means.

Puttering Out
All this in-game money-making is disappointing because Angry Birds Go! is otherwise a really fun racing game. It’s paced just right for mobile devices, and it looks great on iPhones. While you can definitely enjoy the game without paying a cent, the push for money magnified my few frustrations with Angry Birds Go! and is almost certainly why multiplayer was left out.

Clever monetization has spurred the growth of high-quality mobile games, but it’s hard to do well. The best example I know is The Simpsons: Tapped Out, which is packed with opportunities for spending real money but is never too pushy and avoids being frustrating with a refreshingly snarky attitude about purchases. I don’t expect a high-end game to be free, but I prefer games to feel like games and not just a break between monetization opportunities.


Verdict
A fast and fun little racing game for iPhone, Angry Birds Go! sabotages itself with relentless attempts at monetization.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc