Angry Birds Go! (iOS|Android) is the latest game from Rovio's popular Angry Birds franchise, but this time the birds are hitting a downhill racetrack for a Mario Cart-style arcade racing game. It's important to note right away that this latest Rovio title is a freemium game, with no cost to download, but there are time limits and micro-transactions that become apparent not far into the game.
Racing really is for the birds
Before I get into the freemium model, let's talk about gameplay. Angry Birds Go! is a downhill racer, so rather than driving around a track, you'll start at the top of a hill and race to the finish line at the bottom. The racing action is pretty fun and the 3D graphics (a first in the Angry Birds franchise) are colorful and look great as you race down the track.
When you first start out you get to choose between three different soapbox-style race cars, each with different attributes. It doesn't matter much which you choose because you'll be able to upgrade them once you make some in-game cash. But each car focuses on an attribute (such as top speed, handling, strength, or acceleration), so you'll want to pick the starter car with the attribute you find most valuable to get a small head start on later upgrades.
Angry Birds Go! eases you into the game with a couple of tutorial levels so you can get accustomed to the racing style. True to the Angry Birds franchise, you launch your car from a slingshot at the beginning of every race, but once on the track it's a smooth flowing driving experience as you drift around turns and try to take the best line through the track. Each Angry Bird driver has a special ability you can use for free once per race. You start out with the red bird who has an onscreen button for a quick boost of speed. Later birds have other special abilities that you'll unlock as you complete tracks. If you don't like the default controls, you have a couple of control options here with either tilt controls for steering, or onscreen buttons. I found the tilt controls to work best for guiding the car down the hill.
Once out of training, you get to the meat of the game. You start out on track one, and there are five different events for each track, and the first three need to be completed five times to "complete" the track. The first is a standard race where you'll battle against other bird and pig opponents racing to the finish line. Next is an event called Time Boom, where you need to finish the race before a fuse burns out across the bottom of your screen. Splat the Fruit is next, and involves driving through rows of fruit on the track until you deplete a "fruit" meter, then finish the race. Finally, a versus mode has you going head-to-head with one of the other characters in the game. Once you've gotten enough practice at the various events, you'll need to race a specific Angry Bird through three races to earn that bird as a driver for your team and to close out the track.
As you earn coins by winning races and picking them up as you fly down the hill, you'll be able to purchase upgrades for your car. When you max out your car with upgrades, the car levels up to a better looking design and gives you more room to upgrade further until the next level up.
Once you've finished all the tracks (and championship birds) in the racing class, you'll move up to a more powerful racing class with new cars that need to be upgraded and new birds to unlock.
As arcade racing games go, I found the racing action pretty fun, but the way the level progression is set up (racing on one track several times through the different events), the game can get a bit repetitive. Not to belabor the point, but it was a little shocking to me that the championship race (where you earn a bird racer) requires that you race the same bird three times on the same track, when I had already raced that same track several times throughout all the events. I suppose there is something to be said for mastering a track before moving on, but it still felt a bit tiresome.
I wrote a post about the right way to do Freemium just before writing this review and -- while Angry Birds Go! starts out pretty annoying -- it gets better the longer you play.
Each bird has enough energy for five races. When your energy meter runs out, your bird is "tired" and can't race. The game imposes a 20-minute waiting period for your bird racer to gain one energy point (one race) back. In the early going, you'll only have a couple of bird racers to choose from, so you'll run out of energy and inevitably wait to play. But like I pointed out in my Freemium piece, just like Real Racing 3, Angry Birds Go! makes it possible to continue playing the game by switching racers. So, once you've unlocked a few racers, the time delays won't hurt nearly as much. Still, you're not free to do what you want.
Angry Birds Go! is a moderately fun racing game that brings the Angry Birds franchise into the world of 3D. The racing action is pretty good, and the different event types keep the game interesting as you try to unlock new tracks, bird racers, and cars.
Unfortunately, it's not without some problems. The way the game is set up, you're going to have to race the same track several times to complete a level, rather than racing on a circuit of tracks like you find in other racing games. This format gets a little repetitive, but some racing game fans will probably appreciate mastering a track before moving on.
The freemium limitations are probably my biggest gripe, especially early in the game. Fortunately, once you unlock a few racers you can switch to another racer while one is resting, but in the beginning you're going to be forced to wait to play the game.
In the end, even with its issues, Angry Birds Go! is still a fairly good, casual racing game. Fans of the Angry Birds franchise will like to see their favorite feathered friends in this new setting, but serious racing game enthusiasts should probably look elsewhere.