Angry Birds was the unofficial killer app for iOS; it also became the sign that mobile platforms had matured in the marketplace. After two sequels and numerous platform conversions, Rovio has made a true follow up to Angry Birds: Amazing Alex. Based on a Facebook game Rovio acquired, Amazing Alex is a Rube Goldberg puzzle game. Sadly, like most follow-ups, Amazing Alex doesn’t manage to live up to the hype. It isn’t a bad game, but it lacks the all-ages appeal of Angry Birds.
If you’ve seen the OK Go video “This too shall pass,” you’ve seen a Rube Goldberg machine. Amazing Alex uses that base to create physics puzzles. This is Cut the Rope, but you’re creating the levels. It’s an engaging concept, although it’s been explored by more than a few games already on the App Store. Each level has an action goal as well as three stars. The action goals are pretty simple: you need to knock over a box or bucket, or land a ball in a certain spot. Like Angry Birds, simply getting the goal isn’t the challenge. The stars are the real goal, and through trial and error you should be able to get them. If you can’t, you can actually click through and watch a video of the exact solution to get three stars. Your solutions are automatically shared online as well. This means that a solution is always waiting for you somewhere, removing all friction from simply cheating your way through every puzzle. This is nice if you’re trying to review a game on deadline, not so nice for purists without self-control. Not that there are not people who fall into both categories.
If you get through all three levels, there’s a level creator included as well. This allows you to create your own puzzles and share them publicly or send then to friends. The level editor isn’t the most intuitive, but with some practice you should be able to design some pretty devious puzzles. You simply lay out your solution with all three stars. After it plays through you remove pieces for the player to re-add. You can also download levels. This is done through the Amazing Alex website. There is a menu option for downloadable levels; however it’ll be empty when you first open it. You have to select another menu that drops you back to Safari to download the levels. There doesn’t seem to be a clear reason why this process takes place outside the app. This may have something to do with the game’s multi-platform launch, but they could at least have used the web view inside the app. This isn’t a deal breaker, but this game has some impressive design and it is marred by this process.
Amazing Alex is set up in the same style as Angry Birds. Comic panels narrate the story between the various larger world sets. Angry Birds had the pigs stealing eggs narrative to work with — Amazing Alex not so much. The story is that Alex keeps making a mess and his Mom keeps sending him to different areas. It’s pretty flimsy, but the game has fewer characters to work with. The puzzles themselves have a ton of detail; even that smallest flourishes were given a lot of attention. It’s well worth springing for the iPad version of the game for the bigger real estate.
Amazing Alex had a pretty difficult challenge. There haven’t been many companies that can follow an iconic franchise with another IP. Amazing Alex likely isn’t going to spawn the same amount of adoration that Angry Birds did. There aren’t going to be plushes of pinballs and pipes. On the other hand, this is a solid game that plays well, and technically is infinitely expandable. This game would be perfect for kids interested in game design, allowing them to create levels to challenge their friends. So even if Amazing Alex doesn’t have the staying power of Angry Birds, it might have a larger impact on gaming.