With more than 700 million downloads to its name, Angry Birds is as much a part of pop culture as the Big Mac, The Beatles, or Justin Bieber. But such popularity poses a problem: how to create a sequel that feels fresh, yet still appeals to avian aficionados around the world. For developer Rovio, the answer is gravity, or rather, the lack of it. Angry Birds Space takes the fundamental physics-based flinging of the original and turns it on its head–sometimes literally–by playing with the gravity simulation that powers it. You’re forced to think in new, creative ways to solve puzzles, using the pull of planets to slingshot your birds over greater distances and at previously impossible angles. It’s satisfying, yet completely familiar, and is heaps of pig-smashing fun.
The basics of Angry Birds remain unchanged in Space. You smash cute green pigs that have neatly placed themselves atop, or in, precarious-looking towers made of wood, steel, and ice. To do so, you’re armed with birds, which you fire out of a slingshot by dragging your finger over the screen to pull it back in an effort to knock over the towers and crush the pigs within. It sounds simple, but there’s a surprising amount of depth to the action. Different materials smash at different rates, so while wood is easily smashed with a single bird, steel requires several hits before you can smash through it.
Likewise, there are different types of birds for you to use. There’s the standard red bird, which acts like a simple missile. The other feathered projectiles include blue birds, which act like cluster bombs; black birds, which explode with a tap; and green birds, whose hefty size makes them ideal for smashing through larger structures. New to Space are purple birds, which can be targeted like a homing missile with a tap, and ice birds, which let you freeze parts of a structure, making it easier to destroy. New birds are introduced gradually as you progress, creating interesting challenges that tax the brain in new and exciting ways. While your choice of birds is predetermined, the progression is excellent, so you never feel overwhelmed by a sudden influx of unfathomable avians.
The twist in Space comes from an inventive use of gravity. Rather than lounging on a simple surface, the pigs are spread across different planetoids in space. Each planetoid has its own gravity field, highlighted by a blue aura, which affects the movement of your birds. This results in some incredibly inventive and often challenging puzzles. You might have to use a planetoid’s gravity field to curve the angle of your bird to reach pigs nested on the far side, or make use of two nearby fields to send a bird one way, only to have it join the other field and slingshot around to hit pigs floating outside the atmosphere.
Other puzzles are set entirely in space, where the lack of gravity means objects float further and require less force to push them. One such level sees you having to take out pigs by using small wooden blocks. You use an exploding black bird to fling those blocks across the screen like projectiles, hitting the defenseless pigs sealed within air bubbles. There are a host of different ways in which gravity fields, or the lack of them, are used, so you never feel like you’re playing the same puzzle twice. There is a certain amount of luck involved in the puzzles, so sometimes you might fail a level, only to try the exact same thing again and miraculously succeed. These moments are rare, though, and the vast majority of the time you feel like you’re in control of the action.
Aside from gravity fields, there are a few other additions to the Angry Birds formula in space. Some levels house a hidden space egg, which takes you to bonus levels that make tongue-in-cheek references to other games; the Space Invaders-inspired level is particularly great. Other levels feature boss characters, such as a pig-piloted robot. You can’t destroy the contraption directly and so must make use of nearby floating asteroids, which you smash into the machine using your birds. The random nature of the floating asteroids means these battles are based more on luck than on skill, but thankfully they’re not overly difficult to complete and can be finished quickly.
The final new addition is a special space eagle power-up, which is awarded to you periodically. These let you summon the space eagle, who proceeds to gobble up whole planetoids, letting you skip past difficult levels. You’re not awarded a star rating when you use the space eagle, though, and are instead given a separate cosmic feather rating–meaning if you want to impress the world with your collection of three-star ratings, you have to do things the old-fashioned way. Trying to get three stars on each level is very challenging, so there’s good reason to go back through and replay levels once you’ve made it through the initial campaign. An extra set of hardcore levels can be purchased from within the game for 69p (99 cents). And while they’re fun, it’s a shame they aren’t included with the initial purchase, particularly since there are just two worlds of 30 levels to play through–fewer than in Space’s predecessors.
Angry Birds Space is an incredibly addictive game. Even when you get frustrated that you can’t find a solution, you keep coming back for more, and its bite-size levels make it ideal for playing on the go. Developer Rovio has pulled off the difficult task of making a game that feels new and exciting, yet familiar enough to easily pick up and play, and the charming cartoon visuals and sounds are used to great effect. Above all, Angry Birds Space is a lot of fun for a very small outlay (or for free if you’re playing on Android). There’s no reason to feel guilty about playing Angry Birds; it’s a great game, and a phenomenon that’s one step closer to succeeding in its quest for world domination.