This is NOT Angry Birds. Yes, you do fling avians in graceful arcs towards a target and yes, you get a star rating at the end of each level and -- again, yes -- the graphics are cut from the same cartoonish cloth. But these are mere coincidences! For a start, there is only one bird. He even seems quite content.
Ok, we are being a bit unfair. Early Bird HD has some superficial similarities to That Game but it manages to overcome them to shine in an increasingly crowded genre of action puzzlers.
The goal in each of Early Bird HD's levels is simple. You need to get Birdy - a cute, wide-eyed bluebird not a million miles from the Twitter logo -- to the tasty worm hiding under a target at the level's end. In your way is a rocky landscape dotted with obstacles that you must fly over and around.
You fly into the air by swiping your finger in the rough direction you want to go. Birdy will then flap his wings and soar in an arc before touching ground again. Unfortunately, for reasons never adequately explained, Birdy can only fly a set number of times per level, indicated by a row of feathers at the top of the screen. Run out of feathers and Birdy will just sit there and burst into tears. This is traumatic enough to watch that you would sooner restart the level than risk seeing it, in all honesty.
That poor, poor little bird. Sniff.
Just getting the worm will end the level but to rake in the points you need to eat as many bugs as possible as you swoop around the level. You also get points for long drops and particularly elegant flights, and of course for any spare feathers you don't have to use to achieve your goal.
The game looks fantastic, with lovable characters and fluid animations. Even the Worm is quite a character, taunting you from his hole inside the target and offering a very disgruntled commentary on your performance ("Good effort" and "I've seen worse") between levels. The swiping mechanism could hardly be simpler and yet you are left with the feeling of real control, even when being wafted around by a flower fan or bouncing off a trampoline.
There are plenty of ways to get bonus scores and you get instant feedback when you do something that earns you bonus points, both from pop-up text and a satisfied grin on Birdy's beak. Levels can be replayed instantly and as many times as you like in order to squeeze every last possible point and star from them, and there is real satisfaction to be had from executing a swipe that results in the perfect swallow dive.
Level design starts very easy as you are taken through a tutorial with helpful popups and hints but quickly ramps up to a challenge that is definitely comparable with that other bird game. You know the one.
Early Bird HD is a free download for the iPad