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APPsolutely Review - Angry Birds Transformers

Mark Marianelli

I’ve been wanting to review a handful of ios apps that I’ve downloaded over the past few months, but I’ve been caught up in other projects and reviewing games fell by the wayside… Here’s the thing though, I’m STILL caught up in those other projects; so either this game is so awesome that life had to be put on hold so I could declare my written love for it… Or it’s so infuriating that I had to put my precious time on hold to vent.

 YOU TELL ME WHICH ONE IT FREAKING IS.

Fine, whatever, let’s discuss Rovio Entertainment’s latest entry in the Angry Birds franchise - Angry Birds Transformers.

I should set up my relationship with Angry Birds for you before I begin my rant review. See, I’m what you would call a Rovio Entertainment Fanboy. Ever since I paid my first digital dollar in the app store, I’ve been hooked. Angry Birds, Angry Birds Seasons, Rio, Space, Star Wars, Star Wars II, Bad Piggies; I even paid for Amazing Alex on the principle of just wanting to support the company. Never even played it, just wanted to give them a dollar. I also would purchase the Rovio Stars third-party games on principle alone. See, Angry Birds was once the Mario of the app store, it single handedly revolutionized handheld gaming from an app store full of gimmicks like iBeer and about a thousand Bubble Wrap simulators and an oversaturated Zombie-themed mess. They deserved the popularity, needless to say.

Fame comes with a price, and if there’s ever a game franchise that could be comparable to the fate of a child-star, it’s Angry Birds - On top of the world one day, a pathetic sense of self-entitlement the next. What started as a harmless 1 dollar game about flinging birds into pigs grew far too quickly into merchandising. Then Angry Birds GO! was released, and my soul wept. Apparently all the money Rovio’s fanbased pumped into their Great Eagles, 6 sequels and random merchandise wasn’t enough and they decided they wanted to be the iOS equivalent of the Claw Crane at the local Walmart. So they adopted the Freemium model made popular by whatever greedy putz created Candy Crush.

Look, everybody wants to make a buck, I get it, but the Freemium Model is insulting and nothing more than a scam aimed at really bored children with access to their parent’s iTunes accounts. It’s pathetic. You’d think that with the criticism aimed at Angry Birds GO! and it’s ridiculous overuse of the pay-to-play system they would revert back to their premium app model and charge one flat fee for the whole game and let people play however they want. But it didn’t stop there, every game that they’ve released since has been the same thing. Angry Birds Epic, Angry Birds Stella… And now their most recent rip-off, Angry Birds Transformers. Could you imagine if every time you died in the original Super Mario Brothers you were forced to decide whether you wanted to wait 45 minutes for another life or pay $5 to continue playing? It sounds ridiculous right? Well that’s EXACTLY the model that Rovio has adopted.

Rovio's Super Mario Brothers!

Rovio's Super Mario Brothers!

 I’ll only briefly touch on the Pros of this game because I want to get back to being insulted by it ASAP. It’s obvious that this game is a beautiful tribute to the Transformers of old. The music was composed by Vince DiCola (the guy who did all the music for the 1986 animated Transformers: The Movie), so right away you’re immersed in nostalgia, which I’d say is the theme of the game. You’re treated to some lovely VHS tracking effects while you play as well as a flawlessly animated intro sequence that is a spitting image of old school 80’s cartoons. It’s just a warm feeling all around.

The gameplay itself is very simple and very fun. You’re a Transformer-Bird running along a beautifully designed landscape with a familiar assortment of enemies in the background - pigs sitting on their usual Angry Birds structures of wood, glass and stone, arranged in their typical physics puzzle fashion. Only instead of flinging birds at these structures from a slingshot, you’re firing weapons in a very easy to understand tap-and-shoot control system. Each Transformer Bird has their own unique weapon, which much like other games in the franchise is designed to take out a specific material. You can transform into a vehicle to outrun falling obstacles, use a special power which is charged up from shooting structures far in the background and you can summon another Transformer to help along the way.

All in all, the gameplay itself is smooth and easy to understand. No complaints so far, right? Well, this is where it all begins to go downhill…

You’re limited to a small sliver of a map, on that map is a handful of missions. To expand the map, you have to upgrade your Transformers, once upgraded you have to then pay a very large amount of coins (usually around 15,000) to unlock sections of the map. You earn coins by playing the missions. Each mission is only available to specific Transformers. That Transformer’s health doesn’t recharge on its own, so if you sustained a lot of damage from a previous mission for that character, you have to replenish his/her health. This costs coins as well. Once you pay to replenish the health, you then have to wait a set amount of time for the recharge to complete. So the mission becomes unplayable until that’s finished. Fine, whatever, I’ll just move on to another mission… Oh wait, I can’t play that one either because the Transformer it’s assigned to is busy being upgraded. Upgrades also cost coins followed by a substantial amount of time. No worries, there’s a mission being created- Never mind, it has a wait time until it’s ready too.

But there’s hope! You can speed up any process you’re waiting on with another currency: Gems! Guess how easy those are to get - Yeah, not very easy. You can earn them by completing achievements in the missions or by randomly spawned treasure chests on the map. Well I can’t earn them because all my Transformers with missions are unavailable at the moment, and the spawned treasure chests are not very common. Sure, it may look like you have a decent amount of gems to spend, but with gem prices ranging from 2 - 47 depending on how much time you have left to wait, they’re not going to get you very far… So you’re left with a choice: Wait anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, or purchase gems using real money.

And just like that, Angry Birds Transformers just screwed you. I should mention the coin prices for upgrades only go up, so even if you’ve saved enough coins to unlock an area of the map, you can’t actually open it until you’ve upgraded your Transformers enough, so whatever coins you just saved up are now gone and you’re starting from scratch.

Sound like fun yet?

Now, anybody who’s had experience with Freemium games knows there’s a cheat you can use - Put your phone in airplane mode and change the time. It tricks the game into thinking X amount of time has gone by and you’re free to play as you like! Oh, except that Rovio REALLY, REALLY wants your money. If you do this more than once, the game knows it and penalizes you. Whatever upgrades were in progress go away (and you don’t get those coins back) and all of your transformers lose their health. This forces you to spend more coins/gems or wait longer to recover.

In a nutshell, you’re being scammed if you buy this game. I can’t even praise the gameplay, nostalgia and graphics wholeheartedly because they’re nothing more than a siren’s song to lure you in. It sucks that Rovio has stooped to this level of development, and unfortunately I don’t see this business model going away anytime soon. The problem is, people keep supporting this nonsense, giving it good reviews in the app store and giving this company their hard-earned cash so they can get 5 minutes of fun gameplay. Imagine if this model was applied to more than just a silly Angry Birds game, imagine if television did this. You’re watching your favorite show but instead of the normal commercial break, you’re told you have to wait an hour to keep watching or pay up. You wouldn’t stand for it - so why stand for it with a video game?

The logic is lost on me, and I grew up in the era of Arcades. I can appreciate blowing $20 for a half hour of solid arcade action. The difference is that when I went to the arcade, I knew I was paying for a limited amount of gameplay, when I ran out of coins, I’d leave and not give it a second thought… A phone app however stays with you, it’s linked to a bank account so you can’t actually hold your budget in your hands and know when enough is enough. You can play whenever you want so long as you keep spending dollars. It requires self-restraint, and these developers know that in this day in age, we as consumers don’t show restraint. Maybe I’m just getting preachy now, but just as smart phones were becoming a player in the gaming console world, games like this reared their ugly heads and reduced gaming apps to nothing more than a slot machine with pretty colors.

Screw it, I’ve said all there is to say about this game and Rovio Entertainment. There’s not one redeemable quality to the freemium garbage this company is putting out now, they’re not about making good games, they’re about making good money. And while I’m all about making good money, there’s classier ways to make it - this isn’t one of those ways.

With that being said, I give Angry Birds Transformers a rating of…

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