Something of a cultural phenomenon by now, Rovio's Angry Birds franchise is one of the few in gaming to capture the general public's eye, time, wallet and wardrobe, becoming the poster child for "the future" of the industry. It has been called quite a few things in its meteoric rise: Herald of the death of dedicated gaming handhelds. Rip-off. Charming. Hollow. A great value. Worthless.
It can seem an audacious proposal to package $3 worth of smartphone gaming and jack the cost up to a full ten times that amount for its 3DS debut, making this one of the first real examples of interleague play. And to call it a "trilogy" is a bit of a stretch considering each game is, at its core, identical, and the two franchise titles that are divergent — Angry Birds Space and the recently released Bad Piggies — are nowhere to be found. What Angry Birds Trilogy does collect is the original Angry Birds, holiday pack Angry Birds Seasons and movie tie-in Angry Birds Rio in a slick package that pulls out all the stops to justify itself as a retail product, a sign that despite little new actual content Rovio and Activision have taken this release fairly seriously. In fact, it's so cleverly and tightly put together that absolutely everything is wired to some measure of progress to keep players attentive and engaged, taking what many found addictive on smartphones to a whole new level on 3DS.
In case you have yet to experience Angry Birds in any of its ubiquitous releases (in which case, we'd love to Instagram your giant rock of a home), a flock of ticked-off fowl go to war against greenie meanie pigs by way of catapult, shooting themselves to take down the pigs and cause as much destruction as possible. Each game plays exactly the same and, with the exception of Rio's swap of pigs for bird cages, monkeys and other wildlife, might as well be the same. Points are awarded for the amount of damage done and how many birds are left unflung, with up to three stars given at the end of each stage of piggie eradication. The cumulative star tally opens up new portions across all three games, so getting stuck in Angry Birds doesn't have to mean progression is over, just that perhaps the new content unlocked in Seasons or Rio are better options at the moment. Returning to a completed stage in any game opens up the Mighty Eagle, which is altogether another way to play: fling a bar of soap onto the scene to mark where a giant missile will strike, with a percentage given at the end of how much damage was done.
Despite whatever the nayers say, it's easy to see how Angry Birds has struck such success — the endearing art style, silly sense of humor and devious score hooks make a potent concoction. But Angry Birds' true strength lies in its tension, the floating moment between lining up a shot and hoping that it ends in a satisfying crash-bang-boom of pigs and tinker toys. This feeling can be exhilarating, and the highs of victory and the ease of starting over after an errant or unsatisfactory fling hooks players into an addictive loop. That next star always feels within reach, so why not just get it now? You're already there, after all, and you wouldn't want to double back later and have to rethink the strategy you're been working so hard to perfect, would you?
In fact, much of Angry Birds Trilogy taps into a sense of compulsion, most transparently in the gamification of the menus. See, the menus, to start, all look like garbage: every item, including stages, is packed inside a wooden crate that then breaks away when you fling a bird to select it, leaving a much more appealing icon behind. Given the amount of stages and menu items, this encouragement to poke and prod your way to a nicer front-end has the side effect of spinning you back into the game proper, to achieve more stars to unlock even more menu items — before you know it, you're back into the "one more go" loop you tried so hard to break from. It's quite a monotonous and cheap way of luring people back in, but it is certainly an effective one.
The amount of content crammed onto the cart is not insignificant — all in all, Trilogy boasts around 700 stages (a small number of which were specifically made for this collection), which could take days to get through in full, weeks to get three stars. Factoring in the Mighty Eagle, that number essentially doubles. That's a lot of wood to break. Chopping up the menu slowly unlocks new birds for StreetPass, dubbed Migration, where you record a tune with bird sound effects and send them off into the aether. We were unfortunately unable to test this feature, but the game tells us that hits provide goodies of some sort.
Angry Birds Trilogy makes good use of other 3DS features as well, like auto-stereoscopic 3D and buttons. Stylus controls mimic the smartphone interface with which many are so familiar, but we found ourselves far preferring use of the Circle Pad to aim and A button to launch. In game, the touch screen is exclusively dedicated to aiming, allowing you to pan around and zoom in close up top for a better view. Separating aiming from the field is very useful, allowing greater precision — not only mechanically compared to a smartphone, where fingers can hit the edge of the screen so easily and mess up a shot, the projected trajectory is now easier to imagine.
Perhaps you've never played Angry Birds before and are curious what all the fuss and t-shirts are about. Maybe you're a super fan and want a physical object of your desire. Or you might be a parent that just wants your device back from your child. Regardless, Angry Birds Trilogy makes a compelling case with its addictive gameplay and low barrier of entry, although cheap compulsion shenanigans ultimately prove more to be of a downer than presumably intended. While this may not be the best option to play one of gaming's most visible titles — we won't hold our breath for free updates any time, ever — it is still a very good way to experience Finland's biggest cultural export since the Moomins.