Friday, February 17, 2012

The Friday Facebook Fing : Angry Birds

Facebook. The word itself now entirely encapsulates all that is good about social networking, as well as reminding you just what it is that you find so odious about people. You may not care in the least what that girl you vaguely recall fancying in school thinks about X-Factor, but thanks to this modern marvel of technology YOU ARE GOING TO FIND OUT!

However, it is not all about being linked to horoscopes of the dumb and pointless. For Facebook is also home to an entire legion of games. Most of them are as vapid and trite as those people who you wish you had the balls to defriend, but, just like in your friends list, there are some true gems to be found hidden amongst the dross.

The only surprising thing about today's game lies in the length of time it has taken for it to actually arrive on the platform. Since it first arrived for the iStuff at the back end of 2009, it has spread like some kind of unstoppable forest fire all around the digital world. All it is missing is a 'direct to brain' interface version so that it can be played purely by power of thought with no screen attached. The numbers that get thrown about when discussing its success are the kind that were once reserved for science-fiction, and only sound plausible after 11pm on BBC2. 500 MILLION downloads? That's insane! Angry Birds is, in fact, now so all-encompassing that it can only be a matter of time until there is an animated series and a theme park in Japan.

Such world domination is only possible if there is a solid product to carry the weight in the first place. Thankfully, the game itself has no small amount of playability. On the surface, it is a simple physics-based puzzler. Set the power and angle of a slingshot to literally fling the birds at various structures with the aim of destroying the pigs that are hidden within. Destruction means points, and points mean star rankings, so there is a reason to play levels multiple times.

But there is more to it than just the gameplay, which is fairly basic stuff. What Angry Birds has in spades is charm. The looks, and especially the sounds, do a great deal to endear the title to the player. Further, like all puzzle games that live and die on the depth of the puzzles, some of the levels herein are downright devious. Attempts to get maximum score and 3 stars from every level sit just on the right side of frustration. If you are not careful 'One more try' will become the mantra that keeps you engrossed long past your bedtime.

Even worse than the 3-star factor, and new to the Facebook version, is the online leaderboards. Along the right side of the screen, you can compare your current level score to that of your entire friends list. And, by constantly rubbing your nose in the fact that even though you have a 3-star ranking, you are A PATHETIC LITTLE WORM compared to that dude who constantly posts all those "Copy and paste if you ..." status updates.

That showed him!

This makes you even more determined to beat him, which is where the nasty side of the game sneaks in to play.

Because the Facebook version of Angry Birds is absolute digital crack, there is no escaping this. The temptation to beat your mates is so strong that eventually you may try the powerups. Yes, also new to this version are bonus items that swing the advantage even further to you.

The first change you see, too.

You might change your puny red bird into the big fat one, thus literally smashing your way through a level that you were struggling with. You might cause an earthquake, moving those hard-to-get pigs into more advantageous positions. Or you might use the Mighty Eagle, which is a screen-destroying ultimate badass nuke, and that also rewards you with a feather based on damage. Seemingly, these are the only way to get the feathers, and it also seems like the only way to get a Mighty Eagle into play is to buy it. Ergo, the game ushers you gently in the direction of microtransactions, which will be more than enough to have some vocalising extreme hatred upon Rovio and all involved with them.

Resist the temptation to buy into this optional extra, though, and you will find there is easily enough game tucked away to last you until next Friday, when I show you something else to play. Or even longer, if I am absolutely honest. Entertaining gameplay that is particularly delicious in snack size form, but also compelling enough to push you to unhealthy extremes of not bloody sleeping tonight, and with the ability to share your lack of any real social life by means of clicking the "Brag" or "Share" buttons, it is everything that it needed to be, and could even be said to be the game that Facebook needed to be taken seriously as a viable platform. An improvement on the original version, of that there is no doubt, even if you take the skirting close to the dark side of social gaming into account.

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