iPhone App Review: Amazing Alex

When you’re the developer of the most popular physics game franchise available on mobile devices, it takes guts to make your first foray outside of that franchise, a physics game too.

We’re talking about Rovio, the team behind Angry Birds and all its spin-offs, and Amazing Alex, its first game since those furious flappers made it big. Since Angry Birds, physics games have been the go-to genre for many developers, and it’s now a highly competitive space inside the two main app stores: Google Play and the iTunes App Store.

With Amazing Alex, Rovio has, in a way, jumped on its own bandwagon. While Amazing Alex isn’t Angry Birds, there are similarities between them, which along with the chosen genre raises the concern that Rovio is a one-trick-bird, and that Amazing Alex won’t be a hit.

Rovio may not be crying out for funds at the moment, but make no mistake, Amazing Alex is the epitome of “the difficult second album” from musical lore. Is it destined to be a hit, or will it disappear without a trace?

This question can be answered even before we talk about the game, as according to iTunes’ Top 10 Paid Apps list, Amazing Alex tops the charts in Australia, Belgium, Greece and New Zealand already. The team at topappcharts.com have the game in the number one spot for puzzle, arcade and the general games categories too. So, it has performed well, but is everyone enjoying it?

Alex is a little boy who likes building contraptions from things lying around his house, school or his backyard. In the game, Alex sets out a series of problems, and it’s down to you to come up with the solution.

For example, the object could be to get a ball into a basket, and you’re given some lengths of wood with which to build a path. Each level is rated on how many of the three available stars you collect along the way, and this is the challenge, as the stars are not always easily grabbed.

As you make progress, the levels get more complicated, and you’re provided with more and more bric-a-brac with which to aide your misiion, including mechanical boxing gloves, different balls to drop on buttons and scissors to cut rope. There are 100 levels to play through, but then you can go on and either create your own with the built-in level builder, or download those already made by other players.

At the time of writing, a whopping 21,401 levels are available to download, and the game has only been available for a week. That should keep even the most determined player busy for a long time.

Back to the game. The control system is easy, with items dragged from a toolbar and dropped in place, plus many can be rotated to get the perfect angle, or switched around to face in the opposite direction.

What it’s not is very responsive, and it doesn’t always recognise which item you want to move about, and often refuses to make minute adjustments. It’s frustrating, and as many levels require precision to complete, fiddling about with the awkward controls isn’t what you need. After the pinpoint precision of Angry Birds, it’s a disappointment.

It’s not as luscious to look at as Angry Birds either, despite taking advantage of the iPhone’s Retina Display. Angry Birds Space looks great, and the visual flair seen in Angry Birds Seasons is lacking in Amazing Alex too. It’s not bad by any means, just a little uninspired.

The biggest problem with Amazing Alex though, is the amount of competition it’s up against. Take Cat Physics for iOS, where you must guide a ball from one cat to another, using a selection of items to influence its direction.

Then there is Toy Physics, where a number of objects must be guided into crates moving along a conveyor belt, all using lines swiftly drawn on the screen. Even Shark Dash, from the masters of the rehash Gameloft, feels more innovative, and in a mind-bogglingly meta way, Amazing Alex appears to borrow some elements from it.

All three of these, and other similar titles such as Cut the Rope, have one thing in common: Charm. Cat Physics remains a personal favourite, and a game to which I often return, while Amazing Alex probably won’t be reopened for a while. Everything from the bright colours, Alex’s smiling face and the bouncy music screams that Amazing Alex is supposed to cute and oodles of fun, but it’s not as much fun as all those titles mentioned above.

This all poses the question; would I feel the same way about Amazing Alex if it had been produced by someone else other than Rovio? The answer is probably not, but it would still only get an average review because it’s a very average game. The trouble with making a game like Angry Birds is that expectations are always going to be huge, and Amazing Alex looks like a very safe choice, and that safety feels a bit derivative and a bit dull.

Amazing Alex’s saving grace is its level builder, which adds a potentially infinite amount of new levels for players to download. It’s a clever way for Rovio to avoid having to endlessly update the game too. The current total of more than 21,000 levels makes Amazing Alex a bargain at £0.69, but again Rovio has ignored universal support for the iPad.

Judged on its pedigree alone, Amazing Alex is a disappointment, but viewed as just another physics game – albeit a highly polished one – fans of the genre will no doubt find plenty to enjoy. Ultimately though, it’s far more Average Alex than Amazing Alex.

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