‘Angry Birds Star Wars II’ returns to a galaxy far far away, and brings toys with it

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The idea of merging video games with physical toys is still relatively new, but is gaining traction. Activision proved there’s a market for such things with the ridiculous success of Skylanders, prompting Disney to follow suit with its own Disney Infinity, which launches in August 2013. Now Rovio is stepping up with an enhancement to its upcoming Angry Birds Star Wars II, out September 19, that leverages its partnership with Hasbro for a new toy-meets-game feature called Telepods.

Story/Concept

A galaxy far, far away. With Angry Birds Star Wars having already explored the Original Trilogy sequence of events, there was really only one direction that Angry Birds Star Wars II could go in: the Prequel Trilogy. The all-new story is set in and around the events of the Clone Wars, with players slingshotting a new cast of bulbous, Star Wars-themed birds around in land and space environments. The story loosely follows the events of the three prequels, though anyone who played the original Angry Birds Star Wars knows that liberties are taken freely.

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Come over to the Pork Side. Angry Birds Star Wars II changes things up a little bit with a pair of dueling campaigns: one for the bird-filled Light Side of the Force and the other for the pig-filled Dark Side. You fling pigs and use their powers in the same way that you do the birds, only your goal is to take out the squawking do-gooders instead. The Dark Side campaign is basically “more Angry Birds” and not a Star Wars-y take on Bad Piggies.

Gameplay

Use the Force (of gravity). The gameplay in Angry Birds Star Wars II is the same as its been in previous games, particularly that of its predecessor. You’ve got a mix of the space-based, gravity-tweaked play from Angry Birds Space and the more traditional land-based bird-flinging of the earlier games.

An elegant weapon. The new time period for Angry Birds Star Wars means there’s an all-new cast of characters, and a fresh set of powers to go along with them. You’ve seen lightsaber twirling in the original, but the General Grievous pig brings all four of his lightsabers to the fight, allowing him to cut through that much more. The young Anakin Skywalker pilots his podracer; tapping a location while it’s in flight allows you to change its course of travel and, in doing so, cut a wider swath of destruction. Emperor Palpatine (Pigatine?) shoots Force lightning in front of him and Darth Vader – yes, some Original Trilogy characters are involved as well – pulls nearby blocks toward him and then rockets them outwards with an explosive Force blast.

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Toys for your game. Telepods introduce an optional new feature in Angry Birds Star Wars II. Buy one of the tie-in toysets – which should be out soon – and you’ll notice a small slot next to a tiny, laser-etched QR code on the base of each figure. The slot allows you to attach the figure of  your choice – there are 32 in all, to start with – to the Telepods base, a clear, plastic pedestal with a micro-sized magnifying glass positioned directly beneath where the QR code sits.

The way it works is simple: in your Angry Birds Star Wars II game, tap the Telepods icon at the top of the screen. Then place the figure-equipped pedestal over your mobile device’s front-facing camera and the figure you’ve chosen will be transported into the game, replacing whatever bird or pig it was that you were supposed to be flinging for that turn. You can’t use Telepods to change the number of birds/pigs you have to fling, but you can swap an undesirable one out for a different type.

The process of reading the code and plopping the new character into the game is nearly instantaneous. You only need to place the pedestal on the device camera for a second or two before the QR code is read and the new character is inserted. The game also stores what you’ve scanned in on a per-session basis, so you can keep bringing these characters back without re-scanning them until you power down your device. The only caveat is that Light Side characters can’t be used in the Dark Side campaign (and vice/versa).

Buying birds and pigs. The Telepods feature is completely optional. These characters will all unlock for use in specific missions over the course of the game. The difference is, you won’t be able to swap one critter out for another, at least not without spending some cash. The Angry Birds Star Wars II in-game store will sell birds and pigs for you to swap in as you please, though they are all limited use. So you might buy Obi-Wan Kenobi, but you can only swap him in, say, five times before you run out. With Telepods, you can zap any character that you own into the game whenever you like, campaign restrictions notwithstanding.

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Presentation

Return of the Angry Birds. The graphics appear to be slightly sharper than they were in Angry Birds Star Wars, but Angry Birds Star Wars II doesn’t make any tweaks to the franchise style beyond what the story demands. The environments in the sequel are of course modeled after Prequel Trilogy locations, so Naboo (for example) serves up lots of lush greenery while the Theed palace hangar is filled with the yellow, T-shaped N-1 starfighters from The Phantom Menace.

Takeaway

Let’s make this simple: more Angry Birds Star Wars is coming. Yes, it’s the Prequel Trilogy, but it’s still a fun game with a cool franchise wrapped around it. You’ve got to admire the cash-grabbing simplicity of the new Telepods feature. Kids already like their little toys, and now those same toys integrate directly into the game. It’s not quite as involved as Skylanders, with no actual data stored on each toy – it’s just a QR code, after all – but that also serves to make it extremely accessible for young ones, and much more cost-effective for the parents doing the shopping.

Strip all of that away and you’re still left with a brand new Angry Birds Star Wars game. This is not a bad thing. We’ll have more impressions when the game launches on September 19.

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