A good game marred by greed, Beards & Beaks is a title that you will walk away from feeling pleased with the decent gameplay, but it will leave a bad taste in your mouth as you wonder what on Earth Microsoft where thinking when they came up with the pricing strategy for the game.
I don’t have anything against using in app purchases in games to unlock new content, not at all. However, it must be done with care and thought for the customer, and both of which are crucially missing here. You see, Beards & Beaks charges extra money to unlock levels in the main quest, without which you cannot finish the game. This sort of thing is only ever acceptable in a free title that you download for nothing and have to pay extra to get all the levels. The catch here is that the game isn’t free. You have to pay full whack for the game and then pay extra to see the last few worlds.
The very worst part is that there is no indication of this at all in the Marketplace listing, and the only way a customer would find out is if, when they buy the game, they scroll the main map to the right and try to select one of the later levels.
No, this isnt a game from a tiny or inexperienced developer, but from the mighty Microsoft, who really should know better, especially with an exclusive title on a platform still trying to develop a loyal following.
Anyway, onto the actual game which turns out to be pretty good, although a long fall short of a classic.
The game can best be described as an action RTS-lite, with Gnomes as your units instead of the usual tanks, and your enemies are those feathered creatures that seem to turn up in every other mobile game these days; birds.
Each level is viewed from above in 2D and the task is usually to find precious stones and bring them to your den, although there are a few other objectives scattered through the levels. You control the Gnomes by flicking them around the stage in the direction you want them to go, and they will travel pretty quickly across the level. If they get near a jewel, they will pick it up and heft it home, and if they approach any enemies they attack, either up close or at range depending on their attributes. The problem is that, if you leave them with nothing to do, even for a split second, they will start to wander off and do their own thing.
It is the main fault in the game, as each stage quickly descends into chaos. If you could just select a unit and give him a basic command such as ‘go for jewels’ or ‘go for enemies’, and they would then do this whenever not under your direct control, then the game would have had a far better strategic feel to it. As it is, most levels just get lost in a battle of attrition between equally matched forces.
Aside from this, there is a lot to like, with a good selection of different units to use, nice environmental helps and hazards, and some really clever special weapons to use. These special weapons include the excellent Tornado, which is activated by blowing on the screen and steered by tilting your phone. But guess how you unlock weapons to use in game? Yes, you’ve guessed it, with an in-app purchase.
The graphics are one of the games highlights, with bright and breezy levels that are populated by well animated characters that all have an individual style.
The game gets pretty challenging later on, although there is that tendency for many levels to plummet into a repetitive battle of attrition. This does spoil the experience somewhat, and that experience is remarkably short lived. The levels that you get for your initial money will last you no more than an hour, and even if you buy all the later levels this will only stretch the game out another hour. The achievements and leaderboards, as well as replaying a few favourite levels, will perhaps give another couple of hours to the devoted but I can’t see anyone getting much more time out of it than that.
It is a fun little game, and I did quite enjoy my time with it, but I just can’t recommend the title as its short length is made to seem all the shorter by the absurd DLC. If this had been a couple of dollars cheaper and been released with twice the amount of levels, as well as some tweaking to the gameplay, then this would have been a nice exclusive for Windows Phone 7. As it is, this game feels like a nice walk in the park ruined at the end by a rainy shower.