When considering the most well known pop-culture phenomena of the past few years, not many have had the massive impact that Angry Birds has. When considering the biggest pop-culture phenomena of the last few decades however, many would argue that Star Wars sits atop that list. Combining the two would theoretically create an avalanche of awesome no mere mortal could handle – at least, that’s what Rovio Entertainment and Lucasarts thought in throwning their hats into the next-gen ring by doing just that with Angry Birds Star Wars. The already popular mobile game has found its way onto both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, but is this jump to hyperspace a smooth one, or is this not the game we are looking for? Read on to find out.
Angry Birds Star Wars is a strange beast indeed. On one hand, it is absolutely the same game that millions of fans have spent countless hours on, flinging their fine feathered friends at smugly grinning swine. On the other hand, the PS4 and Xbox One versions of this game cost $50. That’s right, fifty dollars. As in, forty-seven to forty-nine more dollars than it costs to play this game on any other smartphone or tablet. That is an immensely bitter pill to swallow for even the most ardent fan of either franchise. Normally, price doesn’t factor into a review since money carries different value to everyone, but the asking price here is so ludicrous that it had to be mentioned. So, stating the obvious: There is no amount of exclusive levels, multiplayer modes, or special features, short of George Lucas himself hand-delivering every copy sold of the game, that would make Angry Birds Star Wars a good buy at $50. Now, moving on.
Angry Birds Star Wars’ transition to the big screen and big machines is mostly a successful one. The first thing that jumps out is the developer’s obvious love for the films and for the Star Wars universe. The game is mechanically an amalgamation of the various Angry Birds games that have come before, specifically utilizing many of the gravity mechanics found in Angry Birds Space, so players are likely to have seen much of what it has to offer. That is exactly why it’s so incredible just how far a new coat of Star Wars paint can go in keeping the experience from feeling instantly stale. Top to bottom, everything about this game screams passion for the beloved film franchise. And it’s this love that allows the game to feel fresh and new, despite adhering to those same mechanical foundations that players have grown accustomed to, or for some, bored with.
Instead of birds that are simply varied in color and shape, each winged creature is now an Angry Birds-ified version of a Star Wars character. Luke, Han, Chewbacca, Obi-Wan, Princess Leia, and even Tie Fighter pilots are given the bird makeover. Also, just like the birds in the original Angry Birds games, these characters are given a unique ability. These abilities are just a tiny example of the little details that convey that aforementioned passion, as each ability reflects the individual character. Luke mows down the scenery with a swing of his lightsaber, Han fires (first, of course) a few rounds from his blaster and Leia grabs anything that gets in the way of her tractor beam. Stuck on a tough level? Call in the Millennium Falcon to lay waste to the place. It would have been easy to simply rehash the same generic abilities from previous entries, but this excellent use of the Star Wars license only strengthens the game’s appeal. Similarly, injecting Star Wars with a healthy dose of the mobile series’ usual quirky humor also adds keeps things as lively as possible.
Visually the game looks great, but it’s not the graphical powerhouse players will want to pop in to show off their new console’s next-gen horsepower. At least nothing was lost in translation. One negative that is much more noticeable on a larger screen is just how often assets are re-sized and reused. Be they rock formations or planets, many are exactly the same image, just made larger or smaller. This may seem like nit-picking, but a game with a $49 mark-up deserves the scrutiny.
The aspect with the largest potential for error is in how the game controls. The move from touchscreen to controller is not always an easy one, and indeed, this is where Angry Birds Star Wars stumbles the most. The control options are certainly available as players may use either a combination of the left thumbstick to aim and the X button to release, or they can use the DualShock 4’s fancy new touchpad. It seems as though the latter would be the obvious choice, but surprisingly the thumbstick feels much better in this regard. The touchpad seems tuned a little to tightly and feels too sensitive, making precision aiming more of a chore than with the analog stick. Additionally, the touchpad’s placement in the center of the controller means the player has to stretch and reach up over the analog stick or hold the controller in a non-standard position in order to use it consistently. And while the abilities are all fun and add to the experience, neither input method felt very good when implementing any ability that required quick aiming, especially when compared to the ease of a touchscreen.
The other major facet of Angry Birds Star Wars that doesn’t quite work on consoles is that the core design of the game doesn’t hold up as well in longer play sessions. Of course, this will vary from player to player, but when most are accustomed to playing these games as quick distractions, just a few levels at a time, getting through the game’s 120+ missions spanning across some of the locations of the original Star Wars trilogy devolves into tedium rather quickly. There may be hours content here, but not all of them will be fun. Some may even feel like a grind. Not to mention that those hours are drastically reduced if the player is not chasing a three-star rating on every level.
With a more reasonable (read: drastically lower) price tag, or perhaps by including more than just 20 bonus levels and a basic multiplayer component, Angry Birds Star Wars wouldn’t be a difficult game to recommend to fans of either franchise. The mobile sequel is already out. Why not include it here? At $50 though, it’s hard not to see this release as a cash-grab meant to exploit parents who just bought their little ones a new console and don’t wish to sit them down in front of Call of Duty: Ghosts or Killzone: Shadow Fall. With other family-friendly fare like Knack or LEGO Marvel Superheroes going for nearly the same price, Angry Birds Star Wars deserves to sit on store shelves. And that is the biggest shame of all: That some players will miss out on what is mostly a fun experience that has the power to pull more than a few smiles from anyone willing to play. But it’s justifiably unlikely that anyone should be wiling to pay.
Angry Birds Star Wars is available for PS4, Xbox One, Wii U and probably any mobile device you can think of. The PS4 version was played for this review.