When our six-year-old started school, one of the surprises was how well-versed his schoolmates were in the world of Star Wars.
It’s a combination of parents sitting them down in front of the six films, and the newer Star Wars: The Clone Wars TV series, I think. Plus the enduring appeal of spaceships, lasers, and wheezing villains in big black helmets, of course.
But if Star Wars was big for my son and his friends, so was Angry Birds. They played the games, collected the plush toys, dangled the charms from their book-bags and so on. Unsurprisingly, then, last year’s Angry Birds Star Wars mobile game was a big event for children as well as for adults.
100m downloads of that game later, it has a sequel, which was released this week. Angry Birds Star Wars II isn’t a children’s game as such, but it will appeal as much to kids – six or seven years old and up, we’d say – as much as adults. So what do you need to know about it as parents?
The game neatly presents the good characters from Star Wars as birds and the baddies as pigs. But this time around, you can play as both sides, slinging pigs at birds as well as birds at pigs.
The characters are drawn from all six Star Wars films: Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca, Darth Vader, Yoda and more from the original trilogy, through to Anakin, Darth Maul, Mace Windu, and the rest from the newer films. And apologies if you’re not a fan of Jar Jar Binks from the latter: he features too.
The basic gameplay will be familiar to any children who’ve played previous Angry Birds games: each level sees you pulling back a catapult with your finger to fling a bird (or pig) at the enemy characters, and you can tap on the screen mid-flight to trigger each character’s special attack.
Some have whirling lightsabres, laser guns, or missiles, others use The Force to move scenery about, Yoda curls into a ball and richochets around the screen knocking things over, and poor old Jar Jar swings on a rope – although that can be useful in the right hands.
At launch, there are 120 levels to play through, split between the Bird Side and the Pork Side, where you play as the birds and pigs respectively. More chapters will be added in the coming months, based on settings from the films. When you complete each level, you’re scored one, two, or three stars, as in previous games.
It’s very fun, with the difficulty level just about right to suit parents and slightly older children. Learning how to make the most of each character, and puzzling out the different levels, requires plenty of lateral thinking – a good skill for kids to practice.
Angry Birds Star Wars II does use in-app purchases. Players can buy virtual coins with real money, and then spend those coins on unlocking new characters to use – either for a set number of throws or as a permanently-available power-up.
I dug into this in a bit more depth for my Guardian review of the game yesterday: you can generally buy a character for 10, 30, or 100 flings, as well as the permanent option. The cost of virtual coins varies according to how good they are: 10 Jar Jar Binks cost 70 coins, while 10 Darth Vaders cost 800 for example.
The game gives you some coins for free as you hit various achievements while playing, but if you’re buying them, they’re available for between £1.49 and £69.99 in the in-game store. As with any game offering such high amounts of in-app purchasing, we’d advise parents to lock down their settings to ensure their kids can’t spend money without your permission.
Another way to get the extra characters, though, is by buying the physical Telepods toys that have also gone on sale this week from Hasbro. Available online and in shops, the Telepods packs cost between £5.99 and £39.99 and include between two and 10 of the toys (see the picture above for scale) plus catapults and pieces to build knock-downable spaceships and scenery.
So, the idea is you can play real-world Angry Birds. But the toys also come with transparent stands which you can use to ‘teleport’ them into the game whenever you like. Stuck on a Pork Side level? Teleport Darth Vader in to sort things out.
There’ll be some pestering around these toys, which parents may not be keen on. My honest view is that they may be a preferable alternative to in-app purchases if your child loves a particular character. The idea of games with scannable toys is becoming more common: Skylanders and Disney Infinity are the other two high-profile examples in 2013.
More importantly, the game isn’t designed to make you spend more money: it’s not too hard to complete the levels with the basic characters provided, so the in-app purchases are a matter of personal choice.
It’s too early to tell if Angry Birds Star Wars II will be as big a hit as its predecessor, but if your child has been eagerly anticipating its release, they won’t be disappointed. Its characters are well-loved, its gameplay remains extremely fun, and developer Rovio’s policy of regularly releasing new levels should keep kids and parents alike playing well into 2014.