I never thought I would score an Angry Birds game so highly, but there it is, that big fat 90% that straddles this review like a weight around its neck. The thing is, Angry Birds Space really deserves that score, not because it is the latest in a multimillion pound franchise, not because of the hype train surrounding its release, but because it is simply a bloody good game.
In case you are wondering, my ratings of the previous games in the series, for another site, were: Angry Birds 82%, Seasons 70% and Rio 77%.
Angry Birds Space sees the winged wonders take a trip into space, with the green pigs making an appearance, this time in little space helmets, which the Angry Birds apparently don’t need. The birds have all had a slight redesign to fit in with the theme, while the pigs look the same as they ever did.
The setting is space, and as with Super Mario Galaxy, that brings a whole host of new features, with the big one being gravity. The birds and pigs usually start on different planetoids and asteroids, with many of the big rocks, moons and planets having visible gravity fields. Each gravity field can have different levels of strength, marked out by the separate greyed out sections, and you must launch the hapless birds, using the traditional slingshot method, in and around the rocks, using the gravity fields wisely to get at the pigs.
Handily, the guide line from the previous Angry Birds games returns, and is also affected by gravity, making the starting section of your launch far easier to judge. Areas outside of gravity zones are usually just dead space, so if you shoot a bird there it will follow the same path and not slow down until it reaches an obstacle or goes off the edge of the screen. Pigs survive in these sections by living in little air bubbles, which of course can be burst, at which point the pig comically freezes to death. A big hint here is that you can nudge pigs in bubbles slowly toward a gravity zones, and when they reach it, they will automatically be affected by the gravity like anything else and will fall to their doom- a handy tip if you can’t get a shot square on.
The great thing about all these gravity based shenanigans is that the birds themselves are transformed, either by a smart redesign from Rovio, or by the very nature of their job changing. An example of this are the exploding birds, which in previous games have been a fix all kind of weapon, but here, especially in zero gravity areas, they take on a new meaning. The explosions from them have an effect of pushing nearby objects off in a relative direction at high-speed, which usually amounts to raining asteroids down on the hopeless pigs below. The new bird, an ice creating fiend, is good fun.
I would have to say though, that the best new feature is the removal of a lot of the frustration factor. The other Angry Birds games seemed to rely on a lot of luck, with some odd physics and random events, but here the physics are fine, and every mistake is your own fault. There are a couple of times where space debris from the last round can upset your plans, but not very often.
There are plenty of levels included in this initial release, with the promise of more to come, although you can unlock some extra, super hard levels for a reasonable 99c. Super eagles, the tools to skip tricky levels, also make a return, and you can earn a few for free as you play through the game but can unlock more via IAP if you so choose. I like the way Rovio have used IAPs wisely here, as they are purely an optional extra for when you get really stuck, and the small charge for the extra levels is fine by me. The fact that this is not a universal app does dampen the value aspect somewhat, however.
The graphics have not been upgraded at all, with most of the work no doubt going on the new gravity engine, but I would have liked a small update in this regard. The music on this one isn’t as memorable as the previous titles in the series, nor as good as the space tunes found in Flight Control Rocket. The cut scenes in this new title have thankfully been massively shortened, and it is now much easier to skip them.
Overall, this is a great puzzle game, and it is good to see Angry Birds progress as a franchise at long last. The new gameplay elements make this feel like a breath of fresh air for the series, and the game proves to be addictive and well-balanced. If you only ever bought one Angry Birds game, this should be enough to entice you back to the series. Lets hope that Rovio continue to innovate in the future, and remind us just why they are such a huge success.