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Angry Birds' remarkable success has made it an easy target for snide remarks and copycats alike, but it's been difficult for other creators to successfully mimic its beguilingly appealing formula – and it must be harder still for Rovio to try and expand its own design without losing the magic that made it such a smash.
That's part of why it's so pleasing to see Angry Birds Space launch as a carefully considered and well-designed extension of the brand, rather than a quick attempt to draw some easy cash from the legions of series fans. After a pair of follow-ups – Seasons and Rio – that were essentially just location changes, a shift in both design and aesthetic is welcome here, even if the new mechanics don't fully revolutionize the game we know and love.
What was once a quaint dispute between the titular avians and some well-shielded pigs has become an intergalactic struggle in Angry Birds Space, and while many of the mechanics remain intact – including birds with varying abilities, explosive TNT boxes, and the almighty slingshot – you'll now have to contend with gravitational pull on round, planet-centric levels. Toppling a structure is rarely now a matter of just aiming and firing; instead, you may need to launch a bird at a planet and watch as it's whipped around towards targets located on the other side.
Angry Birds Space introduces its changes slowly but surely, with the first episode – containing 30 of the initial 60 levels – rarely requiring much in the way of deep thought or strategy. But the second half of the set digs into more complex arrangements of pigs, structures, and space rocks, with many of the puzzles likely to require numerous attempts to come out on the other side, let alone snag three stars in the process. And the game also adds boss fights to the series, tasking you with whipping birds at pigs in mechanical contraptions to conclude each episode.
Amazingly, aside from some oddball bonus stages, the core feeling here is much the same as ever – and most of the birds are just variants of past ones. The thrill has expectedly faded a bit across four iterations, but when Angry Birds Space is at its best, I still found myself glued to it, and felt incredibly satisfied after cracking advanced puzzles. One nagging new issue, though, is that the larger stages make it tricky to see without zooming out too far, which presents its own problems.
As is Rovio's routine, the separate iPhone and iPad apps are nearly identical save for varying screen proportions and the inflated price point on the latter, and though it's a bit obnoxious to have another episode available for purchase on day one (instead of being bundled with the game), it's worth a buck to extend the fun out past the small initial bounty of levels.
The bottom line. It's not as transformational an entry as expected, but Angry Birds Space successfully taps fresh ground while maintaining the series' winning formula.
iPhone or iPod touch running iOS 4.0 or later
Entertaining riff on the core Angry Birds formula. New mechanics and birds lightly refresh the tried-and-true approach.
Slow to start, with only a small number of stages in the initial download. Not as bold a new entry as expected. Extra episode costs money.