Angry Birds 2 is a bit of a misleading title. Rovio's addicting pig-toppling simulator has seen roughly a dozen iterations since its 2009 debut, from licensed titles featuring Star Wars and Transformers to the role-playing action of spinoff Angry Birds Epic.
But this first true sequel (available for free on iOS and Android, with in-app purchases) brings the series back to its roots, focusing on the original game's core mechanics while introducing some neat new touches, such as boss fights and multi-tiered levels. The result is a game that you've definitely played before, but one that looks and feels considerably better.
The first thing I noticed about Angry Birds 2 is how pretty it is. Birds, pigs and obstacles have a more hand-drawn look than ever before, with beautiful watercolor-like backgrounds that are often sprinkled with some nice sunlight and weather effects. The game's blocks explode like fireworks when they hit the ground, making destruction even more satisfying.
But my favorite new visual touch by far is the staredown — every time you pull back on your slingshot, you'll see a hilarious close-up shot of your enraged bird, as well as the terrified green pig that's about to be crushed by it.
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Gameplay: Familiar but Bigger
In terms of gameplay, this is largely the same physics-based pig destruction game you've been playing for years. The original game's crew of enraged avian animals are back, as are their unique powers — such as the tiny blue bird's ability to split itself into three to smash glass obstacles, and the yellow, triangular bird's ability to speed up when you tap the screen.
Taking a page out of Angry Birds Star Wars, Angry Birds 2 lets you use your available birds in any order you like. While this adds tactical variety, it's also Rovio's means of monetizing the game; once you're out of birds, you'll be encouraged to either bring them back via in-game currency, or watch a 15-second ad for a lame free-to-play game in order to get a second chance.
Mastering your birds' abilities is more crucial than ever, as Angry Birds 2 heralds the arrival of multi-tiered stages. Wiping out a wave of pigs will now often take you to a new part of the stage filled with even more evil swine, so you'll have to make extra-careful use of your available birds to clear out all porcine enemies.
Angry Birds 2 is the first game in the Angry Birds series to feature boss battles, which force you to face off against an extra-large pork-monster at the end of every few stages. Simply hitting boss characters with your birds will only chip away at its health; you'll have to find ways to crush them using the surrounding environment to put them away for good.
To help you topple these new challenges, Rovio has introduced Spells: unlockable assist items that let you effortlessly stomp through a stage. For example, one spell lets you shower the enemy with deadly golden ducks, while another turns all blocks into ice to make them easier to crush.
It's worth noting that Angry Birds 2 has the usual benefits and pitfalls of any free-to-play game. I was able to get through the first dozen or so levels using my pig-zapping skills alone, only occasionally dipping into the in-game cash that Rovio starts you off with for free. It was a bit annoying to be asked to watch an ad or buy more birds every time I failed though, and I do miss the way the first Angry Birds gave you a near-endless stream of levels for a one-time 99-cent purchase.
Still, Angry Birds 2 is more Angry Birds, and that's not a bad thing if you enjoy its addictive physics-puzzle action. The graphics are gorgeous, the new gameplay tweaks are welcome and you can download it for free, so there's no reason not to kick back and reign some adorable terror on an endless army of green pigs.
Mike Andronico is an Associate Editor at Tom's Guide. When he's not writing about mobile tech and gaming, you can usually catch him playing Street Fighter. Follow Mike at @MikeAndronico.