Amazing Alex is a Rovio game — but is it a great one?
The Short Review
Amazing Alex is heavily cartoon-themed, is clearly aimed for a younger generation, and has graphics that won’t stress any devices on the market. Indeed, it works well enough on my year-old HTC Sensation. The music is quirky, if a little repetitive, and the game is as fluid and responsive as you’d expect from a big developer with plenty of resources to lend to creating a new game. There were few bugs I noticed off the bat, but what I did notice I reported to the @AmazingAlex Twitter account, where I was told they would look into it. It’s addictive and easy to pick up.
4 out of 5
The Long Review
After playing Amazing Alex for a while, I quickly recognized the subtle similarities between this game and Angry Birds. Angry Birds has been a runaway success, operating on almost every platform you can name. Both Angry Birds and Amazing Alex operate around the simple physics mechanic of manipulating an object to a desired location with in-game physics playing a heavy role. Angry Birds did so with a simple story, giving the player a chance to not only understand the birds’ plight in having their eggs stolen, but to actively assist in getting them back. The reason that we sympathize with the avians is because they’re anthropomorphic — in the title, they’re designated as angry, and by giving them human traits, such as attempting to recover their young (in the form of eggs), and by having us deal directly with them, it allows for a greater depth and connection between the player and the characters in game.
Amazing Alex appears to be more impersonal than its predecessor, which is bizarre, because a human is technically the centerpiece. The human element of Amazing Alex is somewhat removed — the only times you see the titular character or understand whatever motivations he has are during cut scenes — and they aren’t particularly detailed. At least with the birds there is some level of emergency; their offspring were being stolen by the pigs, thus giving Angry Birds an emotional angle. In Alex’s case, the game feels slightly more impersonal as the physics-based puzzles that the player has to complete don’t add toward any narrative goal that I could recognize.
The majority of the solutions to these puzzles are not often beautiful, nor do they make much sense, relying instead on placing disparate household objects seemingly at random through the different levels. Instead of relying on strategy in a physics-based game, I was reduced in some levels to a crude bit of guesswork. I found myself throwing ideas at the virtual game wall to see what stuck, and often had to create the most convoluted solutions rather than the most elegant. Perhaps this was the intention of the game designers, but while playing, it often feels cluttered and difficult to navigate pieces. Perhaps a larger screen (my HTC Sensation is a mere 4.3″) would remedy this. I also encountered a bug where slingshots don’t accept items placed inside them. As I mentioned above, I tweeted to Amazing Alex’s official Twitter account and the person responding said that they had made a note, and I hope to see this fixed in an update.
A lot of the time I’d get stuck on one level and it literally became a case of jiggling the onscreen elements until I’d give up frustrated or the objective was completed. I can easily envision a scenario where you could play the entire game and win by accident rather than by strategy, and I don’t think that’s a good way to create a physics-based game.
Despite all this, when you put your mind to it and make the physics work for you rather than simply applying a form of chaos theory and seeing what sticks, the game works remarkably well. There are plenty of levels to keep you occupied, and I found myself going back to try to complete levels while attaining all three stars, proving a remarkable amount of replay value. There are also levels that players can create and to upload for others to play, giving the game a greater depth and accessibility compared to its predecessor — rather like custom maps in Minecraft. It feels like a game that can work for adults rather than just for kids, and it seems a slight misstep by Rovio to have marketed this game at that level rather than at the grown-up market where many, many more people actually own a smartphone. There are also nice hints to the Angry Birds game, such as can be seen in the screenshot below.
It’s a well-polished addition to Rovio’s catalog, and though not perfect, it serves as a nice basis for Rovio to expand in gaming. Rovio has been wise in sticking to what it knows by taking elements from the jewel in its crown, and using themes from Angry Birds to help form a new game that can be both parts infuriating and innovative.
But you don’t have to take my word for it! Find out if Amazing Alex is up your alley at the official Amazing Alex site. Let us know what you think in the comments below.