We loved Bird Mania 3D. Its superficial simplicity hid a surprising gem of a game that sunk its talons into us and never let go; news of Bird Mania Christmas, as you might expect, got us very excited indeed. The fact that it missed release in time for the holiday is unfortunate, but the game itself is no worse for the delay, and ultimately that's what matters.
It's worth reading our review of the first game, because very little has changed in terms of the core experience. In fact, Bird Mania Christmas at first feels like a simple festive skin more than anything else. The balloons have been swapped out for baubles, there's snow on the ground, etc. Even the story remains unchanged; you're still a poor little birdie on a doomed, desperate flight to join the birds that have migrated without him. As in the first game the mission is decidedly futile...but that's what makes it so much fun.
Bird Mania 3D and Bird Mania Christmas, after all, are score-attack games. The fact that there is no end to the game — or even an end to the randomised, calculatedly difficult level — works in their favour. If it were possible to achieve a definite goal, the scores would be robbed of a great deal of their meaning. Without one, you can literally always do better, and that's what makes it so difficult to set the stylus down. While Bird Mania 3D is absolutely suited to a couple of minutes' of play here and there, it isn't uncommon for it to blossom into an hour-long play session.
The way to accumulate points is to collect stars and baubles as you soar along, but it won't be long before you realise that you'll never set an impressive score doing that alone. That's because you can use the L or R buttons to boost, and if you smack another bird while doing so you'll increase your multiplier. This is where the game's addictive strategy comes in, as you must juggle the collection of stars and evasion of obstacles with the necessity of boosting through enemies to keep the multiplier alive. It's difficult enough to do from the start, but as the game speeds up your decisions have to be downright instinctual.
Of course, setting a high score is a more appealing prospect here than it was in the first game, owing to Bird Mania Christmas' main selling point: online leaderboards. These are broken down into weekly, monthly and lifetime categories, as well as a friends-only leaderboard, which means that even if there's no hope of you ever reaching the top of the lifetime board, you can always aim for the high score of the week instead. It's a great feature, especially for the price.
The leaderboards are the big new feature of Bird Mania Christmas, but there's still more. Fans of the first game know that even though the game is randomised, there are certain patterns of stars, obstacles and enemies that repeat. Bird Mania Christmas tosses in plenty of new ones, just to keep you on your toes, meaning that there will be a learning curve even for those who played the first game to death. It also seemed that this game was a bit more willing to conceal enemies behind clouds, which is unfair at first but quickly gives you a natural instinct to boost through the clouds, just in case, and adds another layer to the necessary, ongoing strategy behind Bird Mania success.
On top of that, the original game rotated between daylight sections (with better visibility) and night-time sections (which slowed the pace for a much needed breather). Bird Mania Christmas adds water sections, which now break up different styles of terrain. It's a welcome change, though the fact of the matter is that you can't spend too much time appreciating the visual changes if you want to survive. What we mainly enjoyed about it was the fact that the water sections come with their own unique patterns to learn and master.
It's a very good game, but not flawless. The online leaderboards get glitchy if you close your 3DS, and the game may suddenly decide to restore its connection to them after you've started your next run, which introduces some momentary but potentially fatal lag. If you get in the habit of quitting the game rather than closing your console when you're done playing this won't be a problem, but it does seem needlessly messy.
There's also the fact that as much as it does right, Bird Mania Christmas doesn't do enough differently to win over those who were dissatisfied with the first game. If the final flight of a dying bird didn't win you over the first time around, it's doubtful that online leaderboards and tweaked obstacles will do it now.
For the rest of us, however, Bird Mania Christmas is a minor but welcome step forward. Now to begin our own hopeless mission of dominating those leaderboards...
Bird Mania Christmas retains all of the addictiveness and frantic charm of its predecessor, and the fact that it arrived just slightly late of its titular holiday should not be held against it. Fans of the original should still get significant mileage out of Bird Mania Christmas thanks to the online leaderboards and tweaks to the obstacles you'll face, and those who never purchased the original have no reason not to get this instead. Bird Mania Christmas may not have arrived quite on schedule, but fortunately it's a gift that keeps on giving.