The first Angry Birds Star Wars was a surprise: what on the surface looked to be an incredibly cynical marketing ploy turned out to be a really fun game. At first glance, the sequel seems even more cynical. Not only does it combine two of the most over-marketed properties in all of pop culture, but it's also introducing a potentially very lucrative business model. Much like games like Skylanders and Disney Infinity, Angry Birds Star Wars II lets you buy physical character toys that can then be transported into the game. The good news is that you don't actually have to buy anything to enjoy the experience.
The core gameplay is familiar
In terms of how it plays, Angry Birds Star Wars II doesn't mess with the formula too much. Once again, you'll be controlling pigs and birds based on characters from the Star Wars universe, only this time around the game covers the prequel trilogy, so it loses some of the original's nostalgic charm. The core gameplay will be familiar to anyone who has played an Angry Birds game, tasking you with destroying pigs by flinging birds at them. Once again, each of the characters has its own special power. Qui-Gon Jinn can swing a lightsaber to clear a path, for instance, while the Emperor can shoot lightning.
Experimenting with these powers is part of the game's fun, and it's here that the physical toys come into play. You start out Angry Birds Star Wars II with access to a number of different characters, and as you earn tokens you can unlock more (naturally, extra tokens can also be purchased with real money). But you can skip this altogether and buy the toys, which Hasbro has dubbed Telepods. And they actually come with an advantage: characters purchased in-app can only be used a limited number of times (unless you spend quite a bit on the permanent option), whereas Telepod characters can be used however much you like.
The toys are small, durable, and surprisingly low tech
The good news is that if you do decide to splurge, the toys are actually pretty solid. While much smaller than, say, the figures from Disney Infinity, Rovio's birds are relatively detailed and durable. They're made of a nice soft plastic and the character designs are great caricatures of the Star Wars universe. They're also surprisingly low tech. Each figure has an incredibly tiny QR on its base, but when you place it on a clear plastic stand the code is magnified. All you need to do is place the stand over your device's camera and the character is zapped into the game almost immediately.
Unless you're really into collecting tiny, anthropomorphic bird toys, the Telepods aren't really necessary to have fun with Angry Birds Star Wars II; they’re more like an optional bonus. And while the game itself is more of the same, in this case that's actually a good thing. Now we just have to wait for Disney's new Star Wars films to come out so we can play the inevitable sequel.