iPhone/iPad App Review: Angry Birds Space

Surely everyone reading this is fully aware of the Angry Birds phenomenon, and will likely have one or more of the games already installed on a mobile device. Since Angry Birds made its debut in 2009, we’ve been treated to the oft-updated Angry Birds Seasons spin-off, plus the Angry Birds Rio movie tie-in edition, however neither could be called a sequel to the original hit.

That has changed with the release of Angry Birds Space, which instead of just altering the theme of the game, adds several new elements and challenges, plus subtle tweaks to the birds’ abilities. It’s a true sequel, and as is hopefully obvious from the title, is set in space. But isn’t shifting a story into space often the last resort of tired and/or rubbish movie franchises — take Hellraiser 4: Bloodline, Leprechaun 4: In Space, and the tenth Friday 13th film, Jason X, for example? Is Angry Birds Space equally awful?

No, don’t be silly, it’s still excellent!

Those naughty pigs have relocated their egg-stealing crimes out into space, but the birds aren’t that easily defeated, and are equally as determined to have their revenge. The basic principle of launching a bird from a catapult towards a pig stays the same, as do the structures built from stone, ice and wood, however, the new game’s biggest alteration is found in the physics.

Most levels are made up of open space and gravitational fields produced by a planet. When birds are fired off into space, they go in a straight line until disappearing off the screen, unless they hit something first. But fire a bird into the pulsing blue halo of a planet and gravity takes effect, causing the bird to behave like previous Angry Birds games.

Planets come in all different sizes, and some gravity fields are stronger than others, plus if the planet is small enough, you can whizz birds all around it — in both directions — until they eventually crash into something. This change is enough to make Angry Birds Space feel like a new experience, which is quite a feat given our familiarity with the formula.

The outer space setting and clever use of gravity fields has let Rovio experiment with some very challenging level designs, as well as include new systems for completing levels, such as asteroids that can be used to push larger structures towards a planet, where they gets sucked into the ground by the force of gravity. It’s all very clever, and there are often multiple ways to complete a level, providing more replay value that the simple three-star-rating system.

All of the birds have new costumes, but several have new abilities too. The old yellow bird is now purple and a tap of the screen sees him home in on that point, regardless of the direction in which he’s flying. The egg-dropping bomb bird has been replaced by a square bird who freezes the structure around him when he crashes, and is best used in tandem with the returning small bird that splits into three.

There are sixty levels to catapult through, plus a selection of fun, arcade game inspired bonus levels accessed by finding golden eggs. If you love Angry Birds then you’ll love Angry Birds Space, as the game is similar enough not to break from the established tradition, but different enough to feel fresh and new. It’ll never be deep, intense or require masses of brain-power to master, but that’s not the point. Angry Birds is casual gaming at its best, and Angry Birds Space is a near-perfect example of the genre.

So, that’s the actual game reviewed, and it’s safe to say it’s a must-buy, however, there are some changes that don’t really affect the gameplay which show Rovio moving in a new direction. In Angry Birds Space, instead of having the Mighty Eagle as the only in-app purchase, you can also pay £0.69 to buy access to The Danger Zone, a collection of 30 additional (and very tough) levels.

Now, in-app purchases are very popular with developers, but less-so with consumers, and having already paid £0.69 for 60 levels — which are quite quickly completed — and then being told to pay the same again for half the amount of levels is the reason why.

It’s not the cost of these in-app purchases that makes them unpleasant, it’s the way they’re implemented. Just charge £1.49 for 90 levels and be done with it please, it’s not as if people won’t pay. The reason this is a worry is because the path is a dangerous one, and it’s not long before all updates primarily consist of new in-app purchases, or worse, in-game currency (shudder).

If in-app purchases are the number one annoyance in an iOS game, then making separate iPhone and iPad versions is number two. Once again, Rovio hasn’t made Angry Birds Space universal, and you’ll need to pay double for the iPad version — even though it’s exactly the same as the iPhone game. Worse still, any progress you make in one doesn’t transfer over to the other. Seeing as we’re expected to pay more, the least Rovio could have done is throw The Danger Zone levels in for nothing with the HD iPad game.

Angry Birds was once a shining example of how to do it right in the App Store: A brilliantly designed, addictive, challenging casual game with frequent, good quality, free updates. It has made Rovio a fortune, and it would be a shame to see them adopt the less popular pricing models, used by less popular games, for the sake of a little more revenue.

Thankfully, you don’t need to pay for the extra levels to enjoy Angry Birds Space, and we’d recommend just choosing one device to buy it on.

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