Amazing Alex: Rovio tries to prove it’s a hit factory

And so it’s unleashed: Rovio, the maker of Angry Birds, has launched Amazing Alex, its follow-up to the smash hit game.
On Thursday it made its debut on iOS (s AAPL) and Android (s GOOG), with PC, Mac and Windows Phone (s MSFT) versions apparently on the way.
To be honest, there’s not much to say about Amazing Alex itself. It’s a physics puzzler in which you use a variety of objects to construct Domino Rally-style pathways that complete a task — such as moving a ball from one side of the screen to the other, or bursting a balloon. Cue comparisons with a million other titles out there, including big ones like Cut The Rope, and of course, Angry Birds.

In fact, it might look even more familiar than that: As rumors suggested, it does seem to be a pretty much a re-badging of a game called Casey’s Contraptions, which proved popular with players and was bought by Rovio recently. The art, design and most other things seem the same.

In fact, the core mechanic is pretty similar to Angry Birds, and the rest of the game owes it a great debt too. My first impressions were that it was a fairly strong example of its type, but didn’t quite have the destructive, chaotic element that makes Angry Birds so addictive. Plus on the iOS versions it was hit with a glitch that meant it couldn’t connect to Game Center, a problem which caused a bit of consternation.

But generally reaction seems pretty good so far. It’s already selling well in the app stores: currently No3 in the iTunes paid apps as I speak.
So the big question: does it have staying power? That’s not clear. Very few games do.
But of course, Amazing Alex doesn’t need to be a megahit: Rovio is already making a ton of money. But it still has something to prove.
The company does need to show that it can generate success away from the Angry Birds franchise if it’s going to live up to its billing and become something of real significance. In this case, it seems to be trying to do that not by building a new game (remember, it infamously produced 51 non-hit games before Angry Birds) but in trying to use its marketing power to push existing IP into the stratosphere.
I’ve argued before that Rovio really needs to show it’s got more in the tank if it wants to meet its ambitions and go public — as it has said it wants to on many occasions.
Sure, it’s milking the Angry Birds brand for everything it can get, including games, toys, theme parks, the rest. But if it wants to build a Disney-style business, and not just burn on the bonfire of single-franchise entertainment properties, then it needs Amazing Alex to be right up there.