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Critical Consensus: Angry Birds Space

Rovio answers its critics and takes its mega-franchise to the next level

So far, mobile gaming has remained free from the quiet tyranny of Metacritic. Obsidian may have developed a multi-million selling game in Fallout: New Vegas, making Bethesda hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, but a single point on the popular reviews aggregator site resulted in the loss of a much needed bonus, which in turn contributed to the loss of 30 jobs.

In AAA development, a single point out of 100 can make a disproportionately vast difference, but a game like Angry Birds Space presents the critical community with a problem. This is Rovio's most significant addition to the franchise since the release of the original game, and by any useful metric it is a AAA release, yet the number of reviews contributing to its Metacritic score is but a fraction of the number considered for even marginal console releases.

For the first time, the game actually feels like a serious physics puzzle, as you extrapolate movement and use the cartoon science to your own advantage

Dan Whitehead, Eurogamer

The reason is simple: outside of the dedicated mobile gaming sites, most reviewers simply don't know the appropriate way to tackle such a simple product with such huge importance. Our sister site, Eurogamer, for example, has published a hearty recommendation of Angry Birds Space, but anyone expecting a score at the end will be disappointed.

In fairness, even Touch Arcade's 5-star review begins like a retrospective look at the franchise, spending five whole paragraphs discussing the release and reaction to Angry Birds before any mention of the new game is made. However, the rambling opening achieves more than simply inflating the review to match the scale of its subject; it also illustrates the creative challenge that faces Rovio in sustaining Angry Birds' momentum.

"Despite Rovio's unprecedented levels of success, recently it has been hard to dispute the argument that the Angry Birds formula might be getting a little stale," the review states. "I've always been excited to play through the levels added in new updates, but for a while now I've felt like I'm just going through the motions of figuring out the weak points in the pig defences, launching a bird, collecting my three stars, and moving on.

"This led to the inevitable question of what could Rovio do in a sequel to not only revitalize the brand to players who have grown bored, but also provide a big enough twist on gameplay to make it worth having a fourth instalment in the series?"

At 69p for the iPhone release - the tablet and PC versions are more expensive - it's difficult to judge what the consumer can reasonably expect from a new release, but Touch Arcade believes that Rovio has emphatically answered even its staunchest critics. But for a handful of minor tweaks, the fundamental game mechanic of flinging multi-functional birds at structures protecting devious pigs remains unchanged. However, moving the action into space proves to be a very astute decision.

According to Pocket Gamer, which gives Angry Birds Space a Silver Award, the variable gravity of its new environment is a profound twist on the physics that underpin the entire experience, offering a fresh perspective on even the most familiar elements.

"Each of these planetary bodies has its own gravity field, represented by a halo of white that extends around it. Getting caught in these fields will drag your bird towards the cause of the space time distortion, which opens up whole new avenues of gameplay possibility.

"Soon you'll be sling-shotting around moons, using their gravitational pull to assault a pig structure from behind, or careening into smaller objects to bash them into the unwary snouted thieves that lurk on the planet below. Intricate chain reactions that nudge debris into the gravity well of a planet are joyous to behold, leaving you urging that final lump of space junk to get sucked down and wreak its destruction on the last pig standing."

The vast majority of reviews express a similar sense of admiration for the way Angry Birds Space reinvigorates a franchise that has been so relentlessly updated, licensed, merchandised and marketed. And that includes The Guardian, even if it's 4-star review finds the game's social functionality somewhat lacking.

"It's a shame that Angry Birds Space isn't more social," the review notes. "If you tap back out to the game's home-screen on the iOS versions, you can look at your Game Center friends' scores. But a Facebook icon merely invites you to, 'Go and like Angry Birds in Facebook.'

"Angry Birds on mobile may be a different beast to the separate Facebook version, which is built around social features like seeing your friends' scores as you complete levels. Even so, Rovio could have used Facebook Connect to put something similar in Angry Birds Space. An additional benefit would have been connecting players of the game on different platforms: iOS players seeing the scores of Android-owning friends and vice versa."

Eurogamer is arguably the most core-focused outlet to pass judgement on Angry Birds Space, and while it excludes mobile games from its scoring policy, Dan Whitehead's 'App of the Day' write-up suggests that Rovio has crafted a compelling retort to gamers who have grown wary of the series' ubiquity. Its 60 stages may be over in no more than a few hours, but Whitehead praises Angry Birds Space as "downright ambitious."

"It's certainly the first game bearing those green porcine faces and bulbous birds to feel like an actual sequel, an evolution rather than a quick palette swap," Whitehead says. "For the first time, the game actually feels like a serious physics puzzle, as you extrapolate movement and use the cartoon science to your own advantage."

"Quite often, zooming out and exploring the entirety of the stage is the only way to maximise your score, and the fact you can do so with some measure of confidence suggests that the opaque calculations of old have been made more reliable. This time, at least, when you get two stars you can generally see what you missed that could have made it three."

"Angry Birds Space shows no small amount of growth and ambition...and given how easily the series could have coasted on expectations, that's something to be commended."

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Matthew Handrahan avatar
Matthew Handrahan: Matthew Handrahan joined GamesIndustry in 2011, bringing long-form feature-writing experience to the team as well as a deep understanding of the video game development business. He previously spent more than five years at award-winning magazine gamesTM.
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