Star Wars games have had something of a tumultuous journey in recent years. Whereas the nineties and early noughties saw a slew of fantastic Star Wars games, there’s no denying that quality control has taken something of a back seat in more recent times. The franchise has been increasingly used to primarily push merchandise and, in the case of video games, attracting external developers who will pay a pretty penny for a licence, only to then make a mediocre title that sells on its name alone.
Despite this, it’s fair to say that Angry Birds Star Wars on Wii U is not a blatant attempt at cashing in. In fact, this is a well-made game that’s fun to play for the most part, and one which serves as a fun, light-hearted tribute to the things that made the original films so great. The only problem is that this particular version simply costs too much. For years now, we’ve been enjoying numerous instalments within the Angry Birds series on our smartphones and tablet computers, with each game typically costing no more than a couple of pounds or dollars. Angry Birds Star Wars on Wii U, however, is a retail release, which means that it also costs a heck of a lot more. While the game does offer some exclusive content, as well as a multiplayer mode, the changes simply aren’t drastic enough to warrant the considerable price hike.
If you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years and have no idea what Angry Birds entails, then don’t worry as it’s fairly straightforward. Using a large catapult, you must fire an array of different birds across a 2D plane at precarious constructions containing Bad Piggies — the archenemies of the Angry Birds. The goal in each stage is to destroy all of the Bad Piggies using only a finite number of birds — something which is easier said than done in many of the game’s later stages. In keeping with the licensed theme, all the creatures resemble Star Wars characters, although it is perhaps a tad strange that the (supposedly) Angry Birds are representing Light Side characters.
Each character also has a unique ability, which come in very handy in certain situations. Luke Skywalker’s Lightsaber provides an additional attack that’s great at hitting passing enemies or breaking through walls, while Han Solo’s blaster is perfect for hard-to-reach places. More often than not, using an ability in a specific way is all that you need to do in order to a complete a level with a single bird, which in turn enables you to score big points. This is essentially what makes Angry Birds a truly fun game to play; trying to work out the perfect timing and trajectory in which to launch your birds may take a while, but the game’s short, self-contained levels welcome this trial-and-error approach.
When it comes to visual style, Angry Birds Star Wars does a good job of capturing the pure essence of the epic space opera. It’s clear that this blending of intellectual properties has been carefully orchestrated by fans who respect the original trilogy. The stills that show in between sections of the game take a humorous approach that is likely to prompt the odd chuckle here and there; we couldn’t help but smile at one particular scene which left no doubt about who shot first in the Mos Eisley cantina. In terms of how the game is presented on the Wii U, it’s not especially different from any other version you may have seen.; the display is split across both TV and GamePad, and it’s worth noting that the latter actually looks surprisingly sharp.
There are also a number of different control methods. As expected, the game takes advantage of the GamePad for touch-screen controls, which work as they would on a tablet. Occasionally the camera will freak out a little bit, not moving with your bird after it has been catapulted, but this seems to be a very rare occurrence. Otherwise, you can use the traditional joystick/buttons setup, but it’s fair to say that this just doesn’t match up to the intuitive speed and feel of the touch controls. Lastly, there’s also the ever-reliable Wii Remote, which is the next best alternative to the GamePad itself.
Multiplayer — which is technically the only real unique selling point this version has to offer — is an underwhelming affair. Playing the game cooperatively, for example, adds absolutely nothing to the experience; the gameplay is still turn-based and you share the same pool of Angry Birds. Moreover, the game seems to struggle when it comes to determining when a player’s turn has ended in multiplayer; you’re often left waiting for 10-15 seconds, waiting for the game to decide when the next person can go. It’s actually quicker to just keeping passing the controller to one another in the single-player mode, and the only thing that is lost by doing this is individual scores for each player. This issue also rears its ugly head in the versus mode. This mode really does seem like a missed opportunity; simultaneous play on bespoke multiplayer stages could have created a far deeper and more rewarding experience.
Angry Birds Star Wars isn’t a bad game. While it does suffer from a few issues here and there, it’s an enjoyable experience overall. Nevertheless, it’s a good game sold at a bad price, and one which doesn’t reflect value for money; the exclusive content and subpar multiplayer mode do not merit the considerable jump in price. Given that Nintendo has the Wii U eShop and that Angry Birds originated as a digital game, it’s baffling that Activision didn’t just release a more affordable version of the game through that. If for some reason you’ve never played the game, don’t have a smartphone or tablet and are happy spending an extortionate amount of money on an otherwise cheap game, then Angry Birds Star Wars may be worth a look. Everyone else should fly the coop and play it elsewhere.