Insert Coin: Surprisingly, two evil empires can make good game

Will Podlewski, Columnist

Video gaming isn’t cheap. With a torrent of online passes, downloadable content and system peripherals taking a huge bite out of gamers’ wallets, it’s harder than ever to get a decent value when you plunk down your hard-earned cash for the next big thing. But in an industry that seems to care only about “Call of Duty” and “Assassin’s Creed,” it’s easy to forget that some of the best games out there cost little to nothing to enjoy. That’s why every two weeks, I’ll be showing you a great new way to get your video gaming fix for less than $20. So get your quarters ready and game on!

“Angry Birds Star Wars” is the combination of two franchises I love to hate. On the one hand, “Star Wars” was a beloved part of my childhood but has burned me time and time again with awful television show adaptations and mediocre games. On the other hand, I originally found Rovio’s smash-hit mobile blockbuster “Angry Birds” to be a fun little diversion until I began seeing their titular birds everywhere, from crammed toy store shelves to emblazoned on cheap T-shirts.

So naturally, I was skeptical when I heard these two media empires would be coming together for one of the most surprising and unforeseen collaborations ever in “Angry Birds Star Wars.” Would the trademark Rovio gameplay remain? Would the “Star Wars” license be horribly misused for the umpteenth time? No, it seems, “Angry Birds Star Wars” somehow managed to do the impossible: merge the “Star Wars” IP with a halfway-decent game.

The “Angry Birds” gameplay is here in spades, with players flinging the colorful avians into their pig nemeses to score points and win stars. There is a “Star Wars” flair here though, with the pigs reimagined as classic “Star Wars” villains (longtime Lucas fans will be pleased to know this game exclusively draws from Episodes IV, V and VI, with a free Hoth update released earlier this week), including Stormtropers, Sand People and a brutally difficult Darth Vader pig. The birds likewise are the protagonists, with a lightsaber-wielding red bird and a comically-oversized Chewbacca bird.

It seems though, that apart from these character redesigns and some remixed strains from John Williams’ original “Star Wars” score, the title is decidedly more “Angry Birds” than “Star Wars.” While not necessarily a bad thing, I always left this game with more of an “Angry Birds” experience than a “Star Wars” one, so your mileage may vary.

Gameplay-wise, “Angry Birds Star Wars” handles like a dream, whether on a touchscreen or with a mouse and keyboard. Animations are crisp and the level design is superb, combining the best aspects of both traditional “Angry Birds” games and the mind-bending gravity well segments of the “Angry Birds Space” one-off. Some of the puzzles may be at times frustratingly difficult, but after the relative simplicity of recent “Angry Birds” titles, the challenge is welcome.

In the beginning, “Angry Birds Star Wars” was hard to love. I didn’t want to like this game; I had grown tired with both of its inspirations and was ready to throw in the towel and just walk away. But a good use of the “Star Wars” license and expertly crafted game mechanics not only make this the best “Angry Birds” to date, but also the best “Star Wars” game in any app store. And with Rovio offering the game for free on iOS and Android, and for $4.95 on PC, you have nothing to lose in giving these two entertainment titans a chance to wow you again.