Angry Birds Rio
When I first heard that Rovio Mobile was doing a movie tie-in release of Angry Birds, my eyes rolled pretty far back into my head. Movie studio sponsored games are notoriously poor quality and typically lack the entertainment value of original IPs. Part of the problem with games paid for with studio money is that the development cycle for games doesn't match up to movie production. Movies are made much quicker which gives game development studios little time to create a high quality product. However, I can't knock Rovio as the original Angry Birds has been a massive success with over 100 million downloads.
Angry Birds Rio ties our petulant feathered friends into the Rio universe. 20th Century Fox's Rio is a tale about a Minnesota based Macaw (voiced by The Social Network's Jesse Eisenberg) that chases after the girl-bird of his dreams to Rio de Janeiro. Rather than going after pigs in this go-around, the Angry Birds are working to free their tropical brethren (and eventually the movie's stars) from cages precariously stacked on boxes within creepy warehouses (the Smuggler's Den levels). The caged birds get replaced with malevolent monkeys in Jungle Escape (the second batch of levels). Rovio has even offered up a mini-boss fight during the game, an interesting reprieve from the standard formula.
Similar to other Angry Birds releases, animated slide shows tie a loose story around the levels along with an ending sequence. There are 60 levels total, 30 in each section. In addition, 4 more sections of 30 levels each will unlock in May, July, October and November 2011. Ultimately, you are paying 99 cents for 180 levels. My bet is that this ties closely into the Blu-ray / DVD release of Rio, allowing the studio to pound that brand recognition into your head. The amount of advertising for the actual movie seems very low within the app, nothing like the onslaught of ads that Rovio injected into the original Angry Birds in the last update.
If you have played Angry Birds Seasons (formally Angry Birds Halloween), you are going to immediately notice the lowered difficulty on the opening 15 levels. The developer is attempting to reach people that haven't played the original Angry Birds and has to teach them how to play. That's a bit of a disappointment for the veterans, but knocking out 3 stars on each level can be done quickly. Fortunately, the difficulty quickly ramps up and there are several levels that will make you want to search Youtube for the answer. The introduction of a boss fight (taking on Nigel, the main bad guy in Rio) is an interesting direction for the series as well. It's well thought out and a cool inclusion for future fans of the movie. Golden eggs have also been replaced with golden fruit. The amount of hidden fruit is mentioned in the opening menu, thus giving you an exact count of the the fruit remaining in each block of levels.
Visually, this is the best looking version of Angry Birds to date. Anyone with an iPad or iPhone 4 is going to love the high resolution character models and the extra depth to the backgrounds due to the inclusion of parallax scrolling. (For those unfamiliar, parallax scrolling moves background images slower than the birds flying across the screen, thus creating depth via illusion.) Animations are also well done with the released birds racing to freedom or the monkeys frantically moving before falling. Backgrounds are detailed and use an excellent color palette. It runs perfectly on the Apple platform and runs equally well on its Android counterpart.
Likely pulled from the movie, the Island musical theme works extremely well at the title theme in the main menu. If you listen closely, you will also hear elements of the previous Angry Birds song in there. The bassoon / clarinet laden orchestral work during the slide shows is also fantastic. In the warehouse, the quiet, ambient nighttime sound effects tickle the ears while the birds squawk away. The sound effect for adding up point totals has changed a bit and is slightly more climactic when leaving up to 3 stars. All in all, the simplicity of the sound effects is perfect for this type of game.
As skeptical as I was going in, Rovio has really knocked it out of the park with Angry Birds Rio; even with just 33% of the levels unlocked to master at launch (less than 2 cents a level at its 99 cent price). My guess is that the levels tie in closely to the plot of the movie, thus not everything should be playable immediately. The presentation is highly polished and little touches like the inclusion of the Rio characters as playable birds or the extra information included in the menus really help advance the core concept of Angry Birds. I highly reccomend Angry Birds Rio to both newcomers to the series and those that have mastered all the versions previous to this release. Squawk!