Angry Birds, eh? It's like the Call of Duty of the mobile world, in that it sells like hotcakes despite everybody and their brother swearing they absolutely despise it. But it's easy to understand the chagrin: since its magnificent 2009 début, the series has been reskinned and resold no less than twice, with great success for developer Rovio, a mobile company that recently said it wants to become "bigger than" Disney. That, if you ask me, is pretty much the gaming equivalent of when John Lennon said The Beatles were "more popular than" Jesus.
Still, Angry Birds Space represents one small-ish step for gamers but a giant leap for mobile gaming; it's the kind of much-publicised sequel that the handheld market generally lacks. Before its launch last week, Rovio was throwing cash everywhere in an attempt at whipping up a frothy hype frenzy and trigger a public celebration of everyone's favourite maddened avians. My favourite is the yellow bird.
This might be the bit that shocks you, then; Angry Birds Space is actually pretty good, and it represents a far bigger change for the series than a simple space-themed reskin with a couple of new fowls thrown in for good luck. You do get that, of course, so you'll see plenty of loving sci-fi tropes used to excess, but it's clear Rovio probably had a quick glance at Super Mario Galaxy when coming up with the concept.
The basics remain, of course, so you're still flinging birds from a catapult (a space catapult, perhaps) into however many nasty green porkers are dotted around the level. But levels now take place around itty bitty planetoids, which affect the trajectory of your furious vertebrate's intended flightpath. Now your characters arc gracefully around planets, slingshot around those teetering constructions, or fly aimlessly through the cold midst of space. For a series that's always been a basic physics puzzle dressed up in nice clothes, it's refreshing to see Rovio approach that puzzle from a different direction.
And so will you, as you rethink the series' silly physics to exploit the ramshackled constructions in each level. Often a well-placed shot will cause everything to tumble down, so prudent players will zoom out and take in their surroundings before pulling the screen. 60 levels come included with the game, with 15 bonus levels dotted around the environment and even more currently available as an in-app purchase, with the promise of free updates also lingering on the horizon. It's a familiar and well-worn set-up, though it does feel slightly nebulous, and it's clearly designed to keep you checking the application over the next few months.
But, of course, it's still Angry Birds. Levels often feel like they require more luck than skill, though a more considered design means that you usually know what you're doing wrong if you happen to be looking for three stars, and the game's scoring system is still a big old chunk of wobbly indecipherable nonsense. It's a game designed to be played on toilets and trains, and as such it's hardly the most eligible for academic discussion - though I'd certainly like to read a thesis on why the new ice bird is a complete tool. It's definitely fun, however, and Rovio's efforts into reinvigorating its prized franchise have definitely paid off.
I find it a shame, though understandable, that many people see iOS development as a race to the bottom. Angry Birds Space, however, effortlessly shows why Rovio is currently on top.
Version Tested: iPhone