Angry Birds Go review: Rovio spins out and crashes into the paywall

Rovio is back, Angry Birds is back, and this time things are a little different. We've still got birds, we've still got green pigs and we've still got catapults, but this is no regular Angry Birds game. This time around, Rovio has gone all Mario Kart on us.

Angry Birds Go! is a free-to-play kart racer that sees our favorite feathered friends hit the race track instead of the skies. It's also a free-to-play title, which means there are ads, and there are in-app purchases. So, has Rovio taken the checkered flag for the win, or spun out and hit the paywall? Lets find out.

The biggest change visually is the move from 2D to 3D, yet even with this the graphics retain a definite sense of the Angry Birds universe to them. Everything is bold, bright and colorful, and a joy to look at.

The gameplay while now following a different style to the other Angry Birds titles, still retains a similar structure. Progression through the game is still level based, and only when you've completed certain levels and overcome certain challenges can you move on to new tracks, and tougher opponents. The sad truth though is that this becomes tedious quite quickly. You find yourself having to replay the same tracks over and over and over again to fulfil different challenges before you're able to properly progress.

Actually out on the race track, the controls are simple and responsive. You're presented two different options; tilt and touch. Both are pretty self-explanatory, and both are as responsive as each other. As you might imagine the karts handle in a very cartoonish fashion with drifts and jumps aplenty, but there's absolutely no throttle. Think of these more like soap-box karts; you start at the top of the hill – in a slingshot – and get to the bottom as quick as you can.

There are ways and means of going faster though, such as the booster pads you'll find throughout the circuits, or by using your power-ups, which have a unique flavor to them depending on which character you're currently playing as. You only get one power-up per race early on though, and even when you do unlock the ability to use it multiple times, the more you use it the more in-game currency you need to hand over.

So, it's a fun if slightly tedious game to play. But the single biggest issue this game faces is the paywall. You can avoid it, sure, but Rovio makes it as tough to climb as possible.

Take upgrades for example. As you progress through the game your karts will need to meet a certain standard – displayed as CC – to enter races and challenges. The only way to keep up with this is to keep upgrading your kart, and upgrading takes coins. If you haven't collected enough, you're left with no choice but to cough up. This in turn then hampers your actual in-race performance, as too often you'll be concentrating more on collecting the coins than winning the races.

And all that is without coming on to the cost of some of the upgraded karts. No Angry Birds game in existence should have a $49.99 in-app purchase available. For a brand we've lived with for some years now – that has provided good quality, low cost mobile gaming – asking someone to pay the price of a new console game for an in-app purchase is scandalous. There's no other way of putting it. Especially when you consider how many kids will be playing this.

It gets worse too; the price of the new karts isn't displayed in the in-game store; you're not told until you've entered Touch ID or your iTunes password and asked to confirm how much it is you're handing over. Not good enough Rovio, not good enough by a long stretch, especially with some of the prices as high as they are.

Away from the karts, your birds get tired. OK, real racers get tired too, but once you're out of energy, you either wait a varying length of time to play again or pay up with in-game currency. It feels like nickel-and-diming at its very worst. The advertising in the game doesn't offend at all in comparison.

The good

  • Looks great
  • Easy to pick up and play
  • Simple, responsive controls

The bad

  • The paywall, it's everywhere and you feel constantly nickel-and-dimed
  • In-app purchase prices are hidden until the confirmation step
  • In-app purchase prices go from reasonable to ridiculous
  • Tedious progression ladder

The bottom line

I wanted to love Angry Birds Go, but I can't. I feel let down by Rovio. The famous franchise has reached a level of out-and-out greed, and you can't play this game without feeling like your wallet is more important than the experience you're having. It's such a shame, because underneath there's a fun game, but it's a fun game where folks will get rightfully tired of having to pay up or compromise. This should have been so much more.

Richard Devine

Editor at iMore, part time racing driver, full time British guy. Follow him on Twitter and Google+