Beards & Beaks is a Windows Phone 7 game that costs $2.99 and has been updated for Mango. The evil birds are out to take your gemstones and it’s up to you to fling your poor gnomes around the map to combat and outmaneuver them. Birds, who are stronger than your gnomes, enter the area one by one through their small base at the top of the screen. Victory will require the player to be able to transport as many of the gems as possible to their own base at the bottom of the screen while simultaneously distracting or even defeating opponents.
The character models and environments are all beautifully rendered and the colors contrast enough to never leave the player confused about what is going on. Sound effects can become annoying, but the music is instantly catchy and won’t be leaving this reviewer’s head for quite some time. The controls usually work fine, but when large numbers of gnomes are concentrated into one area it becomes impossible to control which one you’re flicking across the level.
As the player progresses through the campaign they will encounter new unit types, new enemies, and a variety of obstacles. Unfortunately there are only 30 levels that come with the game and each can be completed in roughly 90 seconds on a first try. Here we run into Beards & Beaks’ fatal flaw: content. The majority of this short title feels like a tutorial and then it just sort of ends right when a handful of levels get interesting. The WP7 marketplace is packed with impressively lengthy games that can keep anyone busy for hours on end. Beards & Beaks has a similar structure to what you would see in titles like Plants vs. Zombies, so why are there so few levels?
Beards & Beaks was actually the first WP7 title to add the ability to use Microsoft Points in order to expand the experience. There are three downloadable expansions of 15 levels each. The first is free, but the second and third will cost the player 80msp ($0.99) to download. In most gaming markets it’s sort of pathetic to complain that 25 minutes of content is held back at the ‘steep’ price of a dollar, but when we’re dealing with phone games each of those tiny expansions could instead be an entire new game purchase.
Any difficulty encountered can also be trivialized by the powers offered by the game. Tough opponent blocking your path? Hit him with a meteor! A line of birds are heading your way? Mow them down with that tornado! Players who spend mushrooms to access these powers will quickly find any interesting challenge destroyed. The mushrooms are handled in a similar manner as many Facebook games, requiring you to wait for periods of real world time in order for them to replenish. Anyone who has spent time with such games knows that they try to use that time requirement to trick players into spending money to make things go faster, and Beards & Beaks is no different. Buying packs of mushrooms to replenish your supply can cost as much as 320msp ($3.99). When combined with the level packs that’s $5.99 of additional fees for a $2.99 game!
That said, Beards & Beaks is still a fun experience for what little there is to play. If you’ve got the willpower to ignore the powers you can have some fun with it and the Angry Birds three star system for levels should offer a bit of replay value. Achievement junkies will also be happy to hear that the list doesn’t require anything particularly ridiculous. You can certainly do worse when the biggest complaint about a game is that there isn’t enough of it.