Rovio, Rovio, Wherefore Art Thou Rovio?

I'm sure you're familiar with Rovio, the company that has had over a billion downloads of its Angry Bird games. I'm personally responsible for at least five of those – Angry Birds, Angry Birds Ad Free, Angry Birds Rio, Angry Birds Seasons and Angry Birds Space. These games are far and away my favorite thing to do while I'm waiting at the doctor, or the credit union or whatever. They are frustrating as all get out when I'm trying to get three stars (the max) on some of the tougher levels, but they are still always fun.

I've been cranking my way through the various Angry Birds games every since I got my Kindle Fire (which I love). I was intrigued when I started seeing a link for a game called Amazing Alex, which is also by Rovio. This game looks very different from their tried and true battles between birds and pigs, featuring a towhead called Alex who doesn't want to clean his room. Instead of picking everything up he sets up Rube Goldburg type creations that tidy up for him, spending about a hundred times as much energy and time to pick up one tennis ball. But in the end Angry Birds and Amazing Alex are pretty similar as they're both really about physics. (Although sometimes the physics gets a little crazy, such as when a pig rolls and hangs off the edge of a surface, then just stays there, defying gravity, and making your head explode.)

With that in mind I bought Amazing Alex the day after it came out. It's fun, but it's also kind of exhausting, at least for this writer. I have some neurological deficits from having meningitis a few years ago and I sometimes have trouble with my fine motor skills. With Angry Birds I can usually at least clear a level without too much trouble but Amazing Alex has more dragging and dropping as well as more fiddling with getting things in just the right spot. As a result it's satisfying when I figure out how to beat a level but there isn't that pure fun sensation I get from knocking things down in Angry Birds. (Or maybe I'm secretly a budding psychopath who likes destruction?)

I also had trouble with many of the levels because I wasn't sure what I was supposed to accomplish. With Angry Birds it's pretty clear. Pop the pigs while wracking up as many points as possible. Amazing Alex is a little more opaque. There are symbols like an x over a balloon, which means I need to pop it, or arrows, which show where I am supposed to move an object. I have a bag, a satchel I guess, in which I have a number of tools like balloons, balls, benches and scissors. I unpack these (by tapping the bag) and arrange them on the screen strategically. When I think I'm ready to go I tap an icon in the upper right-hand corner of the screen and the action begins.

Which is where my favorite part of Amazing Alex comes into play – the ability to restart a level where I left off. With Angry Birds I would often start with a beautiful level, crushing everything in my path, only to completely flub everything on my last bird. How I wished I could go back to where I goofed, but alas, it was not to be. But a little bird must have whispered in Rovio's ears and they made Amazing Alex much more user friendly.

When I fail a level I start right back where I was, which means I might need to move an item a tiny bit to the left or right, or it might mean I have to rethink my strategy entirely. If I've completely muddled things I can tap the restart button found on the left hand menu, which puts me back into the level with a clean slate.

Don't be fooled by all the items in the bag. I have gotten all three stars and won levels without using all of the tools. Usually you do need them all but either I'm a super fantastic player or some of the levels are designed to be able to be won while you leave a pipe or a bench or what have you in the bag. Incidentally, getting the stars is more like playing Cut the Rope than playing Angry Birds. In other words you don't get stars for getting points, you collect them from the screen when your objects touch them.

Another interesting thing about Amazing Alex is the ability to build your own levels, which you can share with the world if you so choose. There are 35 different interactive items so far with free regular updates promised by Rovio. The official site is here where you can watch the launch trailer and get more information. http://teaser.amazingalex.com/

Bonus Treat:
This week's bonus treat is a fascinating, and funny, piece from Michael Chabon about the lure of James Joyce's work. He concentrates in particular on the approach avoidance conflict many of us have with Finnegan’s Wake, which could be either the masterpiece of its age or the ravings of a syphilitic weirdo, depending on who you ask. I made it through Ulysses, which took what felt like a couple of centuries, and although I am sometimes tempted by Finnegan’s Wake I try and steer clear. When I hear the siren call that says I could do it by reading one page a day I cover my ears. Mr. Chabon however gave in to the siren and you can read about the results here: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/jul/12/what-make-finnegans....