Friday, 11 May 2012

Angry Birds Space [ANDROID REVIEW]

The birds are back in town!
But sadly this extra-terrestrial adventure leaves a lot to be desired.

What's It All About Then?
Latest instalment of the Angry Birds franchise, launched at the end of March 2012, takes the series' usual formula of "Put bird in slingshot - Aim at pig in building - Let loose and *ka-blam*" and moves it into outer space. 

The story goes that some very mean piggies stole the nice birds' precious eggs. Ergo - kill them all and smash their homes to pieces. Capisce? 

The greater the destruction you cause - plus the fewer birds flung in order to achieve total piggie massacre - will give you a higher star rating at the end of each level. For an acceptable serial porcicide, you'll earn 1 star. If you totally demolish the place, destroying a couple of nearby piggie schools just for good measure, you'll earn the maximum of 3 stars.

The series always uses a variety of birds, and this set it unique in order to deal with the additional factors of being in space - with all the variable gravity fun that nearby asteroids (or lack thereof) may lead to. You are given a level-specific selection of birds in a particular order, which must be used to completely wipe out the level's pigs.

The types of birds used in Space are as follows:

  1. RED ROUND - flies straight and does a bit of damage
  2. LITTLE BLUE - after launching, another tap to the screen causes the bird to split in 3 (only causing a small amount of damage)
  3. PURPLE TRIANGLE - after launching, another tap to the screen at a specific point will redirect the bird to do medium damage to that point
  4. BOMB BIRDS - shaped like a bomb (weirdly) - these detonate after a few seconds (or after another tap)
  5. BIG GREENS - huge but heavy birds that don't fly too far but caused massive damage if aimed correctly
  6. FREEZE BIRDS  - these guys explode into a ball of ice, with all surfaces hit by the cold becoming vulnerable and brittle. Careful use of the birds that follow leads to major gravitational destruction.

There are 76 levels in total - meaning 228 stars to collect in total (at time of writing, I've collected just over 190). They are broken up into the following chapters:

  1. PIG BANG - 30 introductory levels - easy basics. Showing you the ropes with set-ups involving most types of bird in easy configurations. There's a boss level at the end on the ground.
  2. COLD CUTS - then there's a set of 30 tactical levels involving freeze birds and more complicated gravity systems. The boss at the end flies around and defends itself.
  3. FRY ME TO THE MOON - 10 slightly more challenging levels that involve a lot of stone structures - difficult to knock down without clever use of destruction - and piggies that fly around in orbit.
  4. EGGSTEROIDS - 6 bonus levels that generally pay homage to other videogames. There's a Pong level and a Space Invaders level that are both fun.  These are less of a challenge to beat - but to unlock them you need to fire at hidden black holes spread across the other campaign levels.
Later on, there are complex gravitational fields to work with.

So Is It Any Good Then?
+++ Fun New Setting +++
The new space setting is well-realised and all-in-all is pretty  good fun. The menus, birds and levels have all been tailored to fit the theme, with a lot of thought put into the graphical design and style of the game. Not a lot has changed since the last one - they've just been given a sci-fi overhaul - but each level certainly feels like it's in space.

The use of gravitational fields is brilliant - meaning that a lot of thought has to go into later levels and that there are often some less-obvious solutions to tough levels that can be found with clever/flukey "hookshots" around asteroids. Think Red Dwarf, where Lister has to block the black hole with a planet in a space-snooker-esque affair - you may sound all smart when you line it up and then look daft when your bird spins wildly around a nearby planet - but with a bit of luck it can collide in just the right way to lead to big points.

This means that every level is definitely worth a couple of playthroughs - trying out both different firing angles and different tactics - honing your skills and high scores until you've aced each and every one of them.

Special mention goes out to the bonus levels - they're all great fun and it's good to have some levels that are there for fun/variety rather than just for challenge. Mixing it up a bit was part of what made the original great - with a few simple gameplay concepts they made like 250 enjoyable levels. 

This is the Pong-themed bonus level -
not necessarily mind-blowing but quite sweet.

--- Short and Limited ---
And that leads neatly on to my first big criticism - it's too damn short! The 70 main levels are quite enjoyable and have  a good progression in difficulty and elements (static targets to begin - moving and protected targets later on). The issue is that I was just getting going at that point - expecting a whole bunch more after that and it just.... stopped.

Is this a case of "expansion pack sickness"? Are they giving us a taster of the new setting but leaving all of the content for additional, paid packages?

Therefore, the difficulty level was a bit lacking - I sort of expected there to be further challenges to play around with the gravity stuff but it just finished really early!

Even the Rio expansion pack for the original game had around 160 levels in total - and that was just made to advertise a film! Admittedly, these were released bit-by-bit too - so perhaps I just need to sit tight and wait for the rest of levels to be released.

Now I'm playing the free version - so I surely I shouldn't really complain much about the small level selection? 

Well that really doesn't make me want to pay to upgrade now, does it? 

And how can I recommend the paid version to people when it feels half-finished? Well the problems don't end at the number of levels...

In this shot, the adverts are actually preventing me from seeing the game -
 and you can't zoom out on this level either!

--- Badly Built and Lucky ---
The game also has a looooooot of issues. The screenshot above shows the big problem with the adverts - they get in the bloody way! Steve Jobs' big ugly face is constantly blocking my view - adverts for Wonga offering me cash loans (I'd imagine so that I can afford the next expansion pack).

If you could move the advert to the other side of the screen when necessary - or if they just buggered off altogether - then I'd actually be able to see what I was shooting and I'd have a lot more fun with the game.

Then there's the numerous occasions where the game actually cocks up. See below for an example of this - where the gravity is meant to topple unsteady towers but parts of it just hang in mid-air. 

So - the game prevents me from winning in a quite annoying way.

Then the next major issue is the complete opposite: that due to the gravity systems you can regularly demolish towers with flukey shots! Bounce a bird off an asteroid - it will often spin round and round until it eventually crashes into a piggie tower. Just launching your birds in random directions can sometimes lead to a 3 star score - requiring no skill whatsoever.

That's the biggest problem of them all to me - when the pig killing was taking place back on Earth, if you missed a shot then you had to start the level again. There was a very rational pattern to proceedings - only one or two angles to launch birds at in order to get the big scores. In Space, there are dozens - if not hundreds - of different angles and shot power that will win you a big highscore. I liked that you could try out complex shots around planets - I just don't like a bird I fired five minutes ago to swing back around and smash everything to pieces.

Perhaps some changes to the way the birds work in the long-term? (disappearing after a few seconds to prevent these ridiculous fluke shots).

WTF is going on with the arrow-shaped block - how is it still floating there?
You can clearly see the gravitational field all around it!

The game is still great fun for absolutely zero pounds - if you don't mind infuriating advertising splashed all across your screen - but in terms of substance this game falls well short of its predecessor.

If this was a space-themed expansion pack then it may have been less disappointing - as the full sequel to one of the most popular mobile games of all time then they just haven't put the effort in. A true shame.

Feel free to post comments or contributions to improve the experience!
Any stock images in this review are subject to relevant copyrights and are kindly provided by:
All game screenshots were taken in-game using a HTC Nexus One and were taken by Brighton Games Trader.

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