Angry Birds, Rovio’s free mobile game that turned a generation of children into heavy tablet users, has enjoyed a long and lucrative existence since its debut in 2009. Between its merchandising, re-releases based on licensed properties, like Star Wars, Rio and Transformers, and its own feature film, the quirky physics-based puzzler took the world by storm and went on to become one of the greatest mobile games ever made. Angry Birds didn’t stick with me for too long, though. It was certainly a novel puzzle game that was fun and charming enough and while I walked away and quickly forgot it, Rovio built itself a healthy little empire thanks to its ongoing success that remains strong to this day. At least, strong enough to justify another feature film, the aptly titled The Angry Birds Movie 2.
I had no idea that a second film was being made nor that it was already out in theaters. However, that won’t stop me from telling you what the movie is about because the tie-in video game for the PlayStation 4 begins with a full, two-minute unskippable trailer for the film! A word to video game studios planning on future movie-based games: DON’T DO THIS. There is nothing more immediately off-putting than having to sit through an advertisement before playing an interactive advertisement for the movie being advertised. For crying out loud!
The Angry Birds Movie 2 VR: Under Pressure is meant to fill the gap that happens when Red, Leonard, Chuck, and the rest of the characters make their way to Eagle Island. The birds and pigs must set aside their differences and team up against a new threat: an island occupied by eagles that want to drive the birds and pigs off their islands so that they can take them over and enjoy the warmer climate. Our heroes board a massive submarine designed to take them to the island but along the way, Leonard decides to do a little treasure hunting. Their undersea voyage puts you in the hooves of King Leonard as you work with the birds to experience on-rails undersea jaunts to grab as much loot as possible and retrieve his crown from a very pesky shark. Instead of adapting Angry Birds’ classic gameplay, Under Pressure is more like Overcooked in that you and up to three players must work together to complete tasks under the gaze of an unforgiving ticking clock.
When played as a single-player adventure, you’re given control of Leonard and Red and must switch between the two to secure loot and also repair the ship if it takes damage. It’s Leonard’s job to spot and reel in treasure chests by shooting a plunger at the wooden boxes and repeatedly smash down on the X button until it gets pulled into the mini submarine (a mechanic that’ll really make your fingers sore). He can also use a magnet tool to pull hard-to-reach crafting crates to the birds and help them be more efficient. Funnily enough, though, the birds are responsible for all the heavy lifting which seems thematically appropriate. Tapping the triangle button turns control over to Red who is free to move about the cabin and drop crafting crates into machines that’ll churn out plunger and torpedo ammo. Red also secures treasure to the pedestals that line the cabin and dispose of volatile crates, like TNT, that cannot be picked up by Leonard’s magnet tool. The extreme disproportion of labor is actually pretty hilarious at first but as you near the end of the story mode (which is only nine levels), more obstacles and obstructions make deeper demands to the point where I felt really stressed out and overwhelmed.
Like pub crawls, Dungeons & Dragons, and cults, Under Pressure is better with friends. The player controlling Leonard uses the PSVR headset and enjoys an overview angle of the action to watch the birds as they scramble to craft ammo, store treasure, and dispose of trash and bombs as you wait for treasure chests to come within range of the submarine. Three other players control the birds and play directly off the TV with an overhead view of the cabin, which are a mess of barriers, blockades, and forced walkways. Just like Overcooked, the birds can toss crafting and ammo crates to each other to cut down the time it takes to move from one part of the map to the other. The level ends if the sub makes it safely to the end of the route, giving you thirty seconds to secure any last bits of treasure, or reaches 100% damage when the game ends with no final score awarded. In typical Angry Birds fashion, you’ll earn a star-based rank depending on whether or not you meet predetermined score thresholds that, ultimately, are there to encourage replay.
I came into The Angry Birds Movie 2 VR: Under Pressure with a bit of a chip on my shoulder because I had to sit through a trailer that should have been relegated to an in-game menu option. However, I was captivated by the game’s charm and challenge to a degree I didn’t expect. I like how levels steadily introduce new challenges and problems to deal with that make getting the best scores a real endurance test but the difficulty does spike towards the end of the story to an almost unfair degree. If you really want to get the maximum number of stars in the game (and get a trophy for it) you’re going to need other people to tackle the complex and devious cabin designs in the late game and bonus levels. Also, having more people around to play with means more screaming and yelling while the captain cackles away in between bouts of shouting out for more plungers. How is that never not fun? This movie-based game, to my surprise, has a lot more going for it than initially expected.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.