In space, no-one can hear you "Cha-ching!"
The music is the same. The sound effects are the same. Even the mechanics are the same. We still pull back on a slingshot, to launch a bird at a structure to kill the pigs that raided the nest and took off with the eggs. One would be totally forgiven for thinking that this is merely the next step on Rovio's road to complete world domination. At first glance, it seems like just another re-tread of the same winning formula that has seen the name Angry Birds become synonymous with mobile gaming.
After a typical cartoon intro, and a small graphic showing you how to play, you are left with the familiar site of a red bird on a slingshot, facing a pig on a podium hastily knocked together by some planks. However, this time, something is not quite the same. For, your slingshot is on an asteroid, and the pig is on a separate one. Further, this asteroid is large enough to resonate a gravity field, yet small enough that you can see the entire surface. As you fling your crimson warrior pigwards, the gravity takes effect, and suddenly it becomes a battle between the planetoids gravity and your birds’ momentum. You circle the sphere once, twice, and then on the third pass you finally make some bacon.
It's Angry Birds, Jim, but not as we know it.
Over the course of the next few levels, the new rules are introduced to you very subtly. An asteroid that is large enough will be surrounded by a transparent bubble, which lets you know the extent of its gravitational pull. If your bird, or indeed any item, is in this area, it will be pulled towards the centre of the rock that created it. Outside of this, however, and such things as friction and inertia become meaningless. Momentum is all you have in space, and once you start moving you have to hope that something causes you to change direction if you are heading off into the deeper reaches of nowhere.
It is this switching between gravitational states that is the overriding element in most of the puzzles in Angry Birds Space. Often, you are charged with utilising one field to steer you into another one, and then taking advantage of this new direction to inflict maximum structural damage on the swine’s hideouts. Your ability to predict trajectory is tested in all new directions, because sometimes things fall left and at other times they even fall up. In this respect, gravity is almost a character in the game. Whilst not exactly adding a new dimension, it certainly adds a few extra directions to the core gameplay, which in turn ramps up both the difficulty, and the satisfaction gained from working out some of the trickier levels.
A criticism of the earlier titles was always how luck could play a part, with many of us frustrated at being unable to get that plank to land just right in our quest for 3-stars. In this one, there are more variables to play with, so luck plays less of a part. However, when it does surface, it is also intensified. Instead of feeling like you were cheated, you tend to feel like you just caught a bad break. The converse is also true; when it works in your favour, it is a veritable jackpot.
The changes for the better don't just stop with the level design. Gone are the pointless boomerang birds of old, along with the fat red boys. The big birds are now green, presumably to help differentiate them, whereas the boomerang just has no use in this new environment. Also sent off to unwanted retirement are the yellows, but this is not the loss you may fear as they have been ousted by the supreme new purple laser-targeting BIRD OF DOOM! This one retains the turbo boost, but will head to wherever you touch the screen instead of just straight-ahead. Being able to shoot them in the opposite direction to which they travel remains a joy throughout, as well as a key weapon. Also new to the party is the ice bird, which freezes structures on impact, thus making the little blue bird that breaks into three all the more useful.
Altogether, this collection of improvements, alterations, and at times fiendish puzzles, combines to make this the standout title in the franchise to date. Whilst previous additions to the original have been mere iterations on the theme, this one stands out as the first true sequel. For the price, you get a decent collection of levels, along with some absolutely wonderful retro-videogame classic inspired bonus puzzles. (The 'Golden Eggs' of yore, herein referred to as 'Eggsteroids'.)
It is important to mention that the 3rd, much harder, set of levels is locked until you purchase it, which may well sting some. And the app itself is not universal, so iPad owners pay more for the HD version, and even if you buy both you will find that progress does not synchronise between devices. These tactics won't sit well with everybody, and may be seen as cynical cash-grabs. To temper this, we must remember how many free updates we actually got during the lifespan of Angry Birds. There is no evidence that there will not be more to come, for free, and that perhaps Rovio have merely ring-fenced the more difficult content for the benefit of the hardcore?
However, if we were to let this put us off playing, we would be doing ourselves a disservice. Whilst some will decry Rovio as the masters of milking their market, the simple truth is that the original game became successful because of the game itself, and all the merchandise just followed suit. There has always been a reason that Angry Birds is THE mobile game, and that is because it does what it does extremely well indeed. My own personal iPhone has a folder for "Essentials" on the first page, and it is in to this very folder that I have put Angry Birds Space.
- Sound: 7
- Graphics: 7
- Gameplay: 10
- Longevity: 10
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