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Amazing Alex Review: Rovio’s First Birdless Game Is Charming Puzzler

After dominating the App Store since late 2009 with four editions of Angry Birds, Rovio is finally branching out with Amazing Alex, a physics puzzler where you build complex contraptions to achieve simple goals. It’s not an original by any means; but where Amazing Alex shines is in the polished and clever execution.

In Amazing Alex, you must construct Rube Golberg machines to accomplish a stated level goal, such as getting a ball in a bucket or popping a balloon. Certain elements in each round are fixed, and you are given a pool of additional items with which to complete things: pool balls, punching fists, toy trucks, etc. Each level also has three stars to collect; while collecting all three stars isn’t required to succeed, they are necessary to unlock newer levels.

If none of that sounds original to you, that’s because it isn’t. The premise is a pretty standard combination of physics puzzler (I kept thinking of iBlast Moki when I played it) and pocket puzzle game (what game nowadays DOESN’T have three stars to earn?). In fact, the game itself isn’t a Rovio original, but a redux of the iPad game Casey’s Contraptions, developed by Snappy Touch and Mystery Coconut. Rovio purchased the game and all rights to it earlier this year.

It was a worthwhile purchase, because Amazing Alex is really fun. The combination of physics puzzles with the kiddie-toy chain reaction machine plays out wonderfully. The objects are varied, the challenges are engaging, and the physics engine keeps things consistent and predictable.The game is open-ended enough to allow for a lot of experimentation and serendipitous success; and if you’re a star-chaser in these games, there’s plenty of replay value in trying again with different builds.

There’s also a heavy social component, fueled through Game Center. There are achievements, of course, and the game also allows you to share your best solutions to each level with your Game Center friends. In addition, Amazing Alex sports a level-building mode where you construct your own challenges to share. This early into the game’s life, most of the uploaded boards I’ve played were pretty mediocre; but I can see this one taking off once people get more clever in their designs. Some sort of Facebook and/or Twitter integration, like to announce new boards, would be a welcome addition.

The whole game is presented with a clean and nicely designed style. Rovio gave Casey’s Contraptions a complete facelift, and the result is reminiscent of the Angry Birds look (I suppose we could call it the “Rovio Style). It also reminded me of Cut the Rope, for some reason. In any case, the game looks good.

The only thing I truly dislike about this game is its lack of a hint system. Instead, you get to go and look at “Alex’s solution” — that is, the solution that effectively completes the task to the three star level. And once you’ve looked at that, you’re more or less going to want to build it. Some kind of piece-by-piece suggestion system, using Alex’s solution as its basis, would help stumped players without giving it all away.

Since comparisons with Angry Birds are going to be inevitable and expected, here’s my take: Amazing Alex will not be the next Angry Birds. No plush Alex or Amazing Alex board games are likely in the future; the game just doesn’t have that same spark to it.

That’s not meant to be a criticism. Trying to recreate the lightning in a bottle that Rovio captured with Angry Birds would have been a fool’s errand. Instead, I think Rovio deliberately acquired a game that was not just like Angry Birds. Amazing Alex is a slower and more thoughtful game. Boards take longer to complete, the puzzles require more complex problem-solving, and there’s a heavy social element that the Birds games lack. It’s equally compelling to play, but in different ways.

As with the Angry Birds games, Amazing Alex is not Universal; a separate HD app exists for iPad Amazing Alex HD - Rovio Entertainment Ltd. And like Angry Birds, there’s nothing in the HD app that differs from its iPhone counterpart. It’s kind of annoying that Rovio hasn’t gotten on the Universal bandwagon yet; but seeing as how their games remain mostly free of IAPs, I’m willing to forgive them this marketing move.

I think that people who pick up Amazing Alex expecting another Angry Birds are going to be doing the game a disservice. Instead, go into Amazing Alex expecting a clever and engaging physics puzzler with a finely applied veneer of Rovio style and polish. And with the promise of more boards to come in the future, Amazing Alex really looks like it will be on my iPhone for some time to come.

Our Score: 4.5 out of 5

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