Rovio brings Angry Birds into the next generation with Angry Birds Space

by Phil Hornshaw

Realistically, Angry Birds has probably needed a good refresh for some time now.

The incredibly popular game has been downloaded about 700 million times across multiple platforms, but the truth is, it has barely changed since it was released in late 2009. With Angry Birds Space for iPhone, Angry Birds Space HD for iPad, and Angry Birds Space for Android Rovio Mobile changes that, giving the game more than just a fresh coat of paint – in fact, it redefines the rules.

Check out our video review of Angry Birds Space:

Like other titles in the Angry Birds series, Space gives players a flock of flightless birds and a sling-shot. The idea is to destroy structures and squash round enemy pigs that populate them in order to score points. Each bird has a different function or ability, and you need to clear the pigs before you run out of birds.

Gravity mixes things up a bit

Anyone who has ever picked up an iPhone at this point knows the rules, but just when you thought you were going to settle into another 60 levels of causing buildings to collapse on themselves, Rovio changes up the formula by manipulating gravity. The central tenet of Angry Birds Space is that each level requires you to reassess what you know about its physics in order to solve it.

Some levels have round planetoids in them with their own gravity wells, requiring players to send birds orbiting around them to get the correct attack trajectory. Others have you smashing space debris apart and creating a deadly shrapnel field to eliminate pigs. Still others require you to shoot off-target to manipulate the level in order to cause pigs to get sucked in by gravity and go crashing and burning on re-entry.

It’s a clever way to mix up a formula Rovio has been relying upon for quite a long time now. You can’t just take out the front support of a building in order to collapse it, because on a small round planetoid, gravity may well cease to cooperate with your plans. What’s great about what Rovio has done is that players familiar with Angry Birds are going to find Space to be a pretty fresh experience. It really doesn’t handle much like other games in the series at all, and that brings a lot of new challenges.

Not everything is perfect

It also means a few drawbacks, as well. Angry Birds Space’s penchant for throwing creative level designs at players means it can often be tough to figure out just what the developers had in mind when they built those levels. One stage I played was basically a massive debris field with TNT boxes laced throughout; I needed to blow the boxes in order to spray bits of wood, glass and cement through the level to take out pigs. But just how I implemented that destruction was fairly haphazard, because there was little or no way to guess just how the debris would react to my actions. I cleared the level not because I’d thought it through, but because I smashed something and it worked out pretty well.

Other levels have the same problem in different forms. It often can be tough to gauge how the game will react when gravity wells interact with one another and structures conform to different rules. Just because a tower looks like it should topple – and like that’s the key to solving the level and pulling down a high score – doesn’t mean it’s going to topple at all like players have come to expect. So Angry Birds Space can be jarring, especially for experienced fans.

Still well worth a look

That said, Rovio has thrown in enough new bells and whistles that players will likely be more than willing to put the time in to learn the ins and outs of gravity wells and inertial drift. The newly added Ice Bird is a fun twist, for example, because it’s almost purely for support, freezing materials when detonated and making them prone to shatter. Where you place the Ice Bird is key for your next move, and that kind of multistep thinking brings a different level of strategy to the game.

Should you play Angry Birds Space? Absolutely. Despite it feeling a little weird to players with Earth physics sensibilities, it does a great job of taking the old Angry Birds formula and making it feel brand new again. Whether players will respond to it the way they have to original remains to be seen, but I, for one, think this iteration may be better than its predecessors.