July 12, 2012

Rovio’s Angry Birds Follow Up: Amazing Alex

Michael Harper for - Your Universe Online

Rovio has never been quiet about their desire to branch out into other markets and franchises. The Finnish developers of the runaway gaming hit Angry Birds have announced plans to create an Angry Birds cartoon and have already built Angry Birds theme parks. They´ve also licensed out their characters to other companies. (Whom among us hasn´t seen an Angry Birds plush doll, T-Shirt or gummy snack at our local mega-mart?)

Angry Birds is a revolutionary hit, and now, Rovio has released what they hope will be their next big franchise: Amazing Alex.

More than 1 billion people have downloaded the Birds since they first flung onto the scene in 2009. As such, Alex has some pretty big shoes to fill if he plans to live up to the hype his Feathered Friends have built for him. Part Birds, part Cut the Rope, (another popular mobile game with iPhone origins) Amazing Alex is a physics-based puzzle game with a variety of situations in which Rube Goldberg like contraptions can be employed to clean Alex´s room or battle cardboard robots in the backyard.

With plenty of bright colors and a few heavy-handed hints for gameplay, this app is rated ages 4 and up. Available for both Apple´s App Store and Google´s Play store, Amazing Alex has a feature which brings those from both camps together in his own, physics-curious world: The ability to build your own levels. Players can design their own levels using 35 different interactive objects, then share them with their friends or the rest of the world.

Alex also lets players share solutions to the puzzle´s they face, a lesson he no doubt learned from watching millions and millions of frustrated adults curse at their slabs in duress, unable to figure out how to get past level 4-14.

According to Alex´s Twitter feed, he´ll also be coming to Macs, PCs and even Windows Phones soon.

While the Birds were hatched in Finland, Alex is actually an adopted member of the Rovio family. When he first met the world, Amazing Alex was known as Casey of Casey´s Contraptions. Noel Liopis, an independent developer from California released the game via Mystery Coconut Games Studio in 2011. A combination of wacky cartoon machines and spur of the moment inventions, Casey received many positive reviews, though he never became a true hit.

Earlier this year, Liopis and Mystery Coconut sold the Intellectual Property rights to Rovio, who then pulled the app from Apple´s App store.

To generate excitement for today´s release, Rovio gave away its Angry Birds Seasons game for a limited time. When the hoards of Birds fans rushed to download and play the game, they noticed a rather prominent teaser for Alex. It´s a clever way to use their existing audience to sell a new franchise, but one analyst says it´s too soon to tell if Alex will really take off.

"It's hard to know if they can bring their audience with them," said IHS Screen Digest analyst Jack Kent, who spoke to the BBC.

"If you look at a company in the wider games business like Zynga, they have used core brands like CityVille to add players to their next games and have had some success in doing that.”

"But on mobile it's not as clear that Rovio will be able to do that, especially from a game like Angry Birds that doesn't have the same social connections - it's a casual game but you're not necessarily connected via a wider social network."

Alex´s big debut hasn´t been without hiccups, however. The iOS version of the app features a bug wherein the game cannot connect to Game Center, Apple´s online social arcade. Rovio has admitted this problem, calling it “frustrating,” and that they´ll resolve the problem “as soon as possible.”

In the meantime, the bug is allowing for some great “people watching” on the app review section. Normally a place full of exaggeration, hyperbole and irrational extremes, those burned by the very minor Game Center bug have not  disappointed in offering some very disproportionate sentiments.

“app not recognized by Game Center makes the game unplayable. I want my money back.” writes one commenter. The game is priced at an affordable 99 cents.

“Cannot play game bc you get error pop-ups over and over saying it isn´t a game center game. How does a company not test the product before sending it out?!?! Not professional at all, Rovio!” fumes another reviewer. Finally, one particularly Angry Alex was so shaken they couldn´t remember the name of the app developer. Entitling their rant “Garbage!!!” this reviewer goes on to say, “What are you guys releasing this and not working! Thought Roxio was a better company”

In researching for this piece, I, too, encountered the Game Center bug. Despite this, the over all game play is easy, fun, and worth the 99 cents, especially if you have young ones who like to run off with your iDevice.