Angry Birds Space review: A great tribute to Mario Galaxy, but quite short

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What do you do when you’re under pressure to create an actual sequel to one of the most successful games of all time? Well, if you’re Rovio, you put it off until the original games hit 700 million downloads. For more than two years, the developer has been porting the game to every game-enabled platform possible, and releasing new batches of levels and half-sequels like Angry Birds Rio and Angry Birds Seasons. Yesterday, however, it launched its first real sequel. Angry Birds Space retains all of the core elements of its predecessors, but kicks everything up a few notches with a suite of new puzzles that borrow as much from Nintendo as they do Angry Birds

Super Angry Birds Galaxy

There’s no denying the influence of Super Mario Galaxy here. Rovio may not ever mention the game, but it’s present in every frame of Space. Nintendo is the master at keeping game franchises vibrant and fresh, and Rovio was smart to take a cue from the publisher’s Wii Mario games, which put the famous plumber in the middle of space, running around 3D planets that each have their own gravity. Jump too far off of a planet and you may be pulled onto the gravity of another planet or object. It’s difficult to explain, but Rovio seems to know a good idea when it sees it. Angry Birds Space slingshots the birds and pigs into space.

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Like Mario, no good explanation is given on how these birds turned into super heroes or can breathe in space, or why pigs would want to defend tiny planets and floating chunks of rock in the middle of nowhere. But hey, who needs it to make sense? Nothing about these games is supposed to, except that if you kamikaze your bird into a building, it tumbles, hopefully crushing a pig. It’s rough justice out in the gaping void.

Gravity ain’t what it used to be

Birds has always been about using gravity to your advantage, but now down isn’t the only direction it’s pushing. Space is full of planets and other objects, which all have a visible gravity field around them and will pull things toward them. If you’re away from a planet, your bird will fly straight forward forever, much like you would in actual space, but the minute it enters a gravity field, it is pulled down toward the planet. Manipulate your shots right and you can shoot a bird all the way around a planet to hit a pig from behind.

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In later levels, multiple planets with different levels of gravity (some weak, some really strong) are introduced. To win those, you must quickly learn how to use a planet’s gravity to propel your bird toward another destination or planet. It all gets pretty crazy. As usual, Rovio’s levels are varied and difficult, so even veteran players will have a tough time.

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If you find a hidden golden egg, you can unlock bonus levels, which pit you and your birds in classic-style arcade games and other fun arenas. 

Old pigs, new digs

Most of the puzzles involve relatively familiar items like wood blocks, stone blocks, and ice, and many familiar birds return as well, like the standard red birds, ice breaking blue birds, homing birds, fat birds, and explosive birds. The pigs are their standard green selves as well and often hide out inside buildings or bubbles.

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It’s not all old though. A new ice-splosion bird has been introduced and almost all of the birds’ abilities have different impacts in space. The pigs have learned how to build machines as well. At the end of each world (every 30 levels), there is a small boss fight where you must defeat a pig inside of a machine. The machines reminded me a bit of some of Dr. Robotnik’s contraptions in the old Sonic The Hedgehog games. It’s clear that the engineers, artists, and designers at Rovio are game players. Space gives nods to many of gaming’s success stories, and even lets you learn about NASA. (Did NASA pay for an in-game ad? That would be fairly hip of the space agency.)

Great, but short

It took me quite a long time to beat the first Angry Birds, but I beat Space in a day. The levels are imaginative and fantastic — there just aren’t many of them. I bought the game for $3 on the iPad, and I’m sure prices and features between editions will vary, but this version only came with 2 worlds, each filled with 30 levels. A third world was also in the game, but required an additional $1 to unlock. While I understand that Rovio will undoubtedly release more worlds and levels, I can’t help but feel like I only played half a game. Angry Birds Space is an amazing new take on the series and should help the franchise stay alive for a couple more years, but don’t expect to play the full game for $3. It’s going to cost a lot more than that once the team starts adding more levels. 

Angry Birds Space is now available on PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Android. Sadly, there is no Windows Phone version in the works. Not yet. 

(This game was reviewed on an Android device on a copy provided by Rovio)