Review: Angry Birds Space

AngryBirdsSpace

Walking through any store these days, I find it hard to not be inundated by the phenomenon and marketing madness of Angry Birds.  That’s not to say that I haven’t spent more time than I really should admit to playing the various versions of those ornery aviary creatures.  Often I find myself becoming more frustrated and angry with a bad angle or bounce, ruining my chance at a perfect 3-star run on a level.  I truly believe that the title for Angry Birds is indeed a double entendre, but then I look at the mass of toys, t-shirts, board games, etc. that have spawned from the simple, colorful game and say to myself that maybe at one time the developers may have envisioned a double meaning, but now laugh all the way to the bank.

Laughing all the way to the bank of course includes a detour back to the development studio to create a new version of the best-selling title.  While the basic concept of Angry Birds hasn’t changed–you’re still launching one of several birds from a catapult at a group of pigs holed up in a fort or some other obstacle destined for destruction–the clever folks at Rovio have added a genuinely fun twist to the tried and true gameplay in their latest title, Angry Birds Space. That twist is gravity.  Sure, objects launched in the air fall to the ground in the previous entries, but when the birds and pigs are relocated to the cold depths of space, gravity adds a whole new dimension to each puzzle.  Of course, since the pigs and birds are in space, a new set of rules has to be applied to the game mechanic to make the new setting work.  While the birds keep their same basic size and shapes, several new colors and alterations to their previous abilities add another level of complexity.

Pigs still sit around waiting for the birds to be hurled from the catapult, but now the porky rascals have a slight advantage.  The orbital nature of planets and the gravitational pull can cause a perfect bird launch to barely miss its intended mark and instead end up in a looping orbit around the planet.  Each bird launched into the gravity field can be aimed to allow for a low, almost perfectly round orbit, or a higher, oval shaped orbit.  To add to the complexity, two or more planets can be lined up to generate gravitational pulls that work against each other, causing birds to either weave between planets or careen to the surface of a planet much earlier than intended.

AngryBirdsSpace

This trial and error is what makes the game so damn addicting.  Sure, I might be able to take out each and every pig on a given level by using all of my birds, but then I’d be out the 10,000 bonus points for each unused bird.  Some levels at first glance seem that obtaining all three stars for taking out pigs while earning a high score is virtually impossible, but the key is often found by using gravity to its full advantage.

Since the game is set in space, not all pigs are safely found in the atmosphere of planets.  Several levels are designed around zero gravity fields with either frozen, stone or wooden blocks set in patterns designed to cause the most frustration yet offer high point values if everything is destroyed.  Pigs in space survive by having a bubble protecting them.  Popping the bubble causes insta-death by exposing the pig to the extremes of space.

Even with the new gravity feature, the puzzles aren’t much different from the previous Angry Birds games.  As with the previous games, there is promise from the game menu of additional levels being released eventually.  In the meantime, gamers waiting for the next free planet update can purchase additional challenges from within the actual game, as well as unlock the Space Eagle (a suitable variation on the Great Eagle from the past games).  With the original Angry Birds, the Great Eagle could be purchased for $0.99, and if a level had been completed, then the Great Eagle could be used again and again until all bricks and blocks and pigs were destroyed.

AngryBirdsSpace

With Angry Birds Space, Rovio has gotten wise to the OCD demand of gamers who play the main game, get all three stars and want more.  This time, the Space Eagle is unlocked by completing the two currently available worlds.  Rovio has tweaked the original business model by allowing gamers to buy additional Space Eagle attempts with micro-transactions.  20 additional Space Eagles are available for $0.99, 80 for $2.99, 280 for $7.99 and 980 for $19.99.  The perpetual micro-transaction model introduced in Angry Birds Space has the potential to turn a $0.99 app into a $20 to $30 app.  Of course, Rovio hopes gamers feel compelled to buy enough Space Eagles to earn a feather on each puzzle, but in my mind, 20 million downloads (as of this writing) is already plenty of income gained by Rovio.  Putting a perpetual micro-transaction into a game that caters to OCD tendencies feels a bit greedy and shady.  In addition to Space Eagle micro-transactions, an additional 30 levels, called the Danger Zone, can be purchased for $0.99.

While I really have enjoyed the new puzzle mechanic offered up in Angry Birds Space, I can’t help but feel the micro-transactions almost taint the experience. Buying additional zones make sense, but buying extra Space Eagles just feels slimy.  Of course, at a penny under a dollar for the game, having a little self control goes a long way to keeping too much real world money from being spent irresponsibly.

I’ve easily spent over five hours with the launch content for the game and look forward to the promised additional levels (so long as they are provided free in a future title update).  The new puzzle mechanics, changes to the bird powers and the unique locations definitely make the game worth buying.  My only hesitation in fully embracing the game is the very obvious ploy to extract more money from each gamer for the additional game features.  The chatter from the birds and the snorts from the pigs add to the overall experience.  The gravity puzzle twist is also nice, but the constant temptation to buy more unlocks in this game make it feel too much like a cash grab than a true feature rich puzzle game.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Challenging new gravity-based puzzles
+ Interesting tweaks to the traditional Birds
+ Fun art design

Cons:
– Tons of perpetual micro-transactions available
– Gameplay hasn’t changed or iterated much over the life of the various games in the series

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on iPhone, also available for iPad, iPod touch, Android, PC, and Mac
Publisher: Rovio Mobile
Developer: Rovio Mobile
Release Date: 3/22/2012
Genre: Puzzle
Age Rating: 4+
Players: 1
Source: Game purchased by reviewer

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About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.