It’s been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that’s the case, then with their new game Cannon Cadets, XMG Studio is certainly laying the adulation on ROVIO Mobile’s Angry Birds. The similarities between these games is unmistakable, but unlike the plethora of Doodle Jump imitators (most of which are atrocious), Angry Birds has not seen its share of copycats yet. Like it or not, Angry Birds (like Doodle Jump in it’s genre) set the gold standard for projectile-based physics puzzle games and is the title by which subsequent games in the genre are judged. Throughout this review I will inevitably be making a lot of comparisons between the titles in an attempt to both distinguish and critique Cannon Cadets.

While I wont go as far as to say the Cannon Cadets is as good as Angry Birds, it is an excellent game in its own right. It is in no way a cheap imitation, in fact with it’s high production values, I see Cannon Cadets as more of a younger sibling to Angry Birds, with a lot of similar traits and features, but with some unique abilities all it’s own. Perhaps it’s not yet quite as mature as its kin, but given time, I have no doubt that it’ll grow into something equally as good.

Cannon Cadets comes complete with it’s own set of cute characters and crazy back story: A little monkey named Gordo was left stranded on a nearby planet by a group of heartless scientists. Using everything he learned as a science experiment, he builds an army of robots with the goal of making the rest of the world as miserable as he was. Gordo now travels the galaxy, rounding up those most joyous and happy, trapping them in cages and leaving them behind, guarded by his robot minions. But one happy little boy has escaped Gordo’s grasp. Armed with a rocket and fueled by fun, the little RocketBoy is building an elite force called the Cannon Cadets. You must help RocketBoy free his friends so they can restore fun to the Galaxy and show Gordo how to have fun again!

In each of the game’s 80 levels you are presented with a cannon and a series of cadets (your ammo). If you have ever played Angry Birds, you will be quite familiar with Cannon Cadets’ gameplay mechanics. By pulling back your finger on the cannon, you can adjust the power and angle of your shot. There is a trajectory line and a power meter to help you, as well as the ghost trajectory line of your previous shot. You can zoom in and out by pinching your fingers and slide back and forth for a better view of the “playing field”. The goal is to destroy all of the robots within the level before you run out of cadets.

There are all manner of obstacles in your way from columns, to indestructible platforms, boulders, bombs and more. One particularly cool obstacle is an ironclad box in which a cadet is trapped. When one of these boxes is destroyed, the cadet will go rocketing upward out of the box, taking out whatever obstacle or robot(s) get in its way. This can lead to some really neat and explosive combos. If you successfully complete a level, then you unlock the next one. The levels are spread across 4 different worlds and when you complete a world, you are introduced to a new type of cadet, which will be thrown into the mix of ammo for the next series of levels. For an additional 99¢ lazy players can pay to pre-unlock all levels so you do not need to play through them sequentially.

The cadet types map fairly closely to the various bird types in Angry Birds. RocketBoy is a hard-headed straight shooter with no special abilities other than his tough as nails noggin (red bird). RocketGirl gets an extra burst of rocket-powered energy if the screen is tapped while she’s flying at her target (yellow bird). Pop is a helmet-wearing octopus-like cadet that splits into three separate projectiles if the screen is tapped mid-flight (blue bird). Finally, Granati is a grenade-like cadet that explodes shortly after hitting any obstacle (black bird, without on-demand explosion option). The order of your cadet ammo for each level is pre-determined, so you must take this into consideration when deciding the best order in which to attack your robot targets.

Angry Birds, you will be quite familiar with Cannon Cadets has some very nicely drawn vector-style graphics and the animations ran smoothly. There are some cute sound effects, but oddly no in-game music (except in the menu) and I wasn’t even able to listen to my own music while playing. The physics engine is quite good and for the most part, objects seem to react appropriately when struck by one of your cadets. Although there are a few areas that could use a bit of tweaking. The first is the damaged caused by the impact of a fall. For instance, the armored boxes (with the spring-loaded cadet trapped inside) seem to be able to get hit, flip up into the air and then fall from some really high heights, striking the ground with nary a scratch on them. I’ve also seen such indestructible behavior from the Eiffel-tower looking robots as well in certain situations. Also the large spikey balls roll much too slowly when hit by a cadet. These issues, while not overly intrusive just didn’t seem like the appropriate physical reaction to me and were the source of some minor frustration.

What about the golden eggs? Occasionally you will see a UFO fly by, if you fire at (and destroy) these you will get a gold coin. If you collect all five gold coins in a world, then this unlocks secret bonus levels. I still don’t fully understand exactly what you need to do to get the UFO to come out. They almost seemed time-based, so if you finish a level too quickly you may never see it, forcing you to go back and re-play levels slowly until you see all the UFOs.

Cannon Cadets is a thoroughly enjoyable experience, but the one thing that was missing for me was a way to compare my cadet shooting skills against my friends’ (or even myself), a reason other than finding the UFOs to go back and retry and replay levels to improve your “score”. The game doesn’t have any sort of scoring system, no medals, no rewards for using the least number of cadets possible to complete a level. I, like I’m sure many others, love rewards and achievements, so this is something I’d really like to see added to the game, perhaps through OpenFeint or Apple’s forthcoming GameCenter.

In Conclusion

There is no doubt that Cannon Cadets has borrowed heavily from Angry Birds. The key to making such a venture successful is to make sure that your game is equally as good if not better than the original title that inspired you. While I don’t think Cannon Cadets is quite there yet, XMG Studio has done a darn good job thus far. With a few minor tweaks to the physics engine, perhaps the addition of some more cute and crazy cadet types (3 more and you’ll have Angry Birds beat) and some additional levels and they’ll have a strong competitor. I would definitely recommend this game to any fan of Angry Birds, especially those who have already completed it and are or looking for their next object tossing, platform-breaking, physics-based puzzler fix. The game is available now on the App Store for $1.99.