When the history of gaming is written, Rovio’s Angry Birds will to be touchscreen device games what Super Mario Bros. was to 8-bit consoles — that is, the seminal title that helped bring an emerging gaming platform into the mainstream. Rovio has certainly set a high bar for itself and the release of Amazing Alex on Thursday is the company’s attempt to show it can do much more than simply fling birds with slingshots. While Amazing Alex is definitely a clever puzzle game with an intriguing setup, it lacks the visceral sense of immediacy that made Angry Birds so much fun.
Take the setups of the two games: In Angry Birds, you’re tasked with helping some cantankerous-yet-lovable birds rescue their eggs from a race of evil green pigs. In Amazing Alex, you’re tasked with helping an extremely bored (and seemingly friendless) kid solve puzzles in his bedroom for no apparent reason other than a desperate need for some kind of amusement.
Sure, some of the puzzles are nifty and challenging, particularly when you have to work lots of moving parts to construct a wild, Mouse Trap-style edifice. But failing at properly designing your puzzle solution doesn’t create the same sense of motivation that failing at a level in Angry Birds does.
Think about it like this: Whenever I mess up in Angry Birds, staring at those wicked pigs’ smug, obnoxious smirks makes me contort with rage and shout “I’ll get you next time yeeeeaaaaargh!” When I mess up in Amazing Alex, on the other hand, the only thing I’m thinking is, “Welp, looks like I might have to adjust the angle of the shelf a little bit and tweak the location of that laundry basket.”
Which brings me to my main point: Amazing Alex could desperately use an antagonist to fight against.
Given that Alex is obviously a gigantic nerd who spends all his free time creating elaborate puzzles involving shelves, soccer balls and balloons, it’s more than likely that he also gets his little head flushed in the toilet by the school bully every day. Why not have Alex design puzzles that double as traps to humiliate the bully in his life? So instead of setting up a ramp system the results in a soccer ball bumping into scissors that cut a balloon free, have the scissors cut the belt on the bully’s pants so the whole school can laugh at his polka-dot boxer shorts. Or maybe have young Alex can design an elaborate in-class mailing system to help stealthily pass a note to the girl he likes…
At any rate, I did enjoy the 40 minutes or so that I spent with Amazing Alex. But if Rovio wants to keep me going back, it will definitely need to add some more urgency into the mix.