Also available on: iOS / PC / Mac Developer:Rovio Mobile Publisher: Rovio Mobile Genre: Puzzle
It's amazing how much mileage Finnish developer Rovio has gotten out of the concept of disgruntled avians. Despite beginning life as a humble mobile title, Angry Birds commands a fanbase big enough to rival any triple-A gaming franchise. There have been multiple updates to the game, but none have ever taken it away from its roots... until now.
Angry Birds Space is a standalone title, and an attempt to take the formula to a whole new level. The object is still to hurl birds at egg-thieving pigs, but the zero gravity conditions turn the game on its head and make the concept feel fresh.
Levels no longer take place against flat planes. The playing fields are set among the stars, and are littered with small planets, asteroids and space debris. Larger objects have their own gravitational field, earmarked by a halo of white, and these are pivotal to the core gameplay.
Once one of your birds is caught up in the gravitational pull, they will be propelled around the planet until they collide with something. Successfully beating most stages involves using this mechanic to your advantage. For instance, if a player needs to take out a pig structure's weak point from a particular angle, hitching a ride around a planet is the way to do this.
The intergalactic conditions also mean that you can have more fun with debris too. This also gets caught up in gravitational fields, so liberating stray space rocks and beams of wood will often see them careen towards those pigs with lethal force. It's almost like a game of snooker, in the sense that you must carefully weigh up where to strike an item to send it in the desired direction.
Each level has been expertly designed, but it's possible to beat many of them through sheer dumb luck. Players will beam with satisfaction when they start a chain reaction that wipes out every swine on the screen, whether it was intentional or not. The later stages are all about strategy, but offer what feels like an appropriate degree of challenge.
Boss battles are a series first. These see you go up against the king pig in various mechanical contraptions, that can only be taken down with carefully-aimed rocks. There is a greater sense of urgency to these stages, making them a welcome inclusion. New additions to your aviary add further variety. There's now a bird that freezes pigs on impact, which is sure to assert itself as a fan favourite over time.
There are 60 levels available to play at launch across two zones, giving players plenty of mileage in the short term. A further 30 levels can be unlocked through an in-app purchase, plus Rovio has promised to deliver a host of free updates, so nobody will be able to accuse Angry Birds Space of skimping on content.
Not everything about the game is a resounding success, though. The Space Eagle power-ups, which create a black hole that swallows every pig in the vicinity, feel like a cheap cheat rather than a useful power-up. Perhaps more significantly, the touch controls can be over-sensitive. The slightest mis-tap is enough to send your bird into oblivion, usually forcing you to restart the level.
The scoring criteria for the star ratings you receive at the end of each level needs to be more clearly defined. Players are often left in the dark as to why they scored two stars on one level, and just one on the next despite finishing with the same number of birds intact. This is a criticism carried over frpm the original Angry Birds, and while it's a minor gripe at best, it may frustrate high-score fanatics.
Angry Birds Space is a pleasing blend of old and new. The core concept of firing avians at pigs remains in place, and has lost none of its pick-up-and-play value, but the new physics are a real game-changer. It's a welcome addition to Rovio's stable, with enough of the series-patented hallmarks to please fans and reel in some new ones along the way.