Monday, 6 May 2013

Angry Birds Space (PC)

Angry Birds Space Loading screen
Well, looks like today I'm playing Angry Birds Space then. Not to be confused with Angry Birds Star Wars which is presumably also set in space, but with more lightsabers or wookies or whatever. This is actually the fourth game in the unfathomably successful Angry Birds franchise and the first I'm going to sit down to play for more than 20 seconds. With any luck.

Honestly, I'm as surprised as anyone that I'm playing this, but someone thought it'd be hilarious to gift me a copy and ask me to write it up for the site. Not that I'm ungrateful, much the opposite, it's just... well, it's Angry Birds. How am I supposed to get an entire post out of this?

Hey, it has a level select. I was all set to despise this from the get-go, but I can't hate a game with a level select! Not before playing it anyway.

Glad to see Candy World present and accounted for. An iced doughnut in space infested with green pigs, a true video game Utopia. Actually I'm thinking it's more like Cinema Carpet World looking at the crap collecting around the outside of it.

I started clicked around the stuff floating in the background to see if any of it did anything, and it does! That Bad Piggies rocket on the left brings up game advertising for an Angry Birds spin-off, and the ISS apparently leads to info about space and NASA! I never would've guessed an Angry Birds game would turn out to be edutainment.

Well fuck catapulting birds or whatever it is you do in these games, I wanna know about the infinite wonder of the cosmos!

A... website? The button took me to a website. Wow, I'm not sure that's ever happened to me in a game before. What, was a page of text too much for the game engine to handle?

Well I'm suddenly a whole lot less interested in this now, so I'll switch back over to the game and see how bored I can get in five minutes.

Alright, the game begins with short comic to set up the plot.

Once there were a team of superhero birds that lived in peace under the shade of their giant catapult on a lonely rock in space. Theirs was a simple life of tedious bliss, until the fateful day the pigs arrived. They came from far beyond in powered suits to gather up handful of the billions of egg shaped asteroids in the area, presumably to mine the precious metals within. Shocked to discover that they were not in fact alone in the universe, the birds were stirred into a frenzy, flinging themselves into the inky blackness on a mission to destroy all intelligent life in the galaxy.

I mean that's my guess at what's happening here anyway. The comic's... vague.

Oh hang on, there's a button on the main menu to watch a proper intro video. Hopefully this will explain things better. I mean how am I going to get invested in this simple puzzle game if I don't understand the protagonists' motivations, huh?

Fuck, you have got to be shitting me! I...I can't believe the intro button takes me to a youtube video! I realise this was originally a downloadable title for portable systems where it'd make sense to keep the filesize low, but come on, in the era of 10+gig PC games I think they could've gotten away with throwing the intro in with the game files this time around. No one would have minded!

Also holy shit that's a lot of views! So many people have travelled this path before me, just to watch the animated introduction to an Angry Birds game.

The video tells the tale of an ice cube bird that fell to Earth through a swirly purple portal in the sky, protecting a golden space egg. (You can tell it's space egg because it's covered in craters, no doubt the result of a millennia of asteroid impacts.)

BUT THEN, a mechanical claw bursts out of the very same portal to grab the extraterrestrial egg and claim it for the evil space pigs. Pigs are intelligent creatures though and know all too well you can never pick up the prize you're after using a claw, so they grab the whole chunk of land instead and tear it into space.

But oh no, the Angry Birds' eggs were there too! The pigs have kidnapped their unborn children! Man, pigs are such assholes.

The birds race to the rescue, catapulting themselves through the portal into deep space, where they all suffocated and died in cold vacuum.

Actually they were all given superpowers by their trip through the portal, because why not? Plus they also get superhero outfits and a set of pearly white teeth! Wait, I think the birds actually had those teeth already. Damn, that is just weird.

Though I think calling them birds may be a stretch, seeing as they're basically fluffy blobs with beaks. They don't even have wings!

Man if I got struck by space lightning and came out of it with a cape and a Cylon visor I'd look that smug too. Anyway, that's the plot: pigs bad, birds want their kids back.

I suppose I have to play the game now. Fine, let's get this over with.

I gotta admit that this is an excellent tutorial, running me through the core concept of the game in just a handful of unlabelled images. Pull back on catapult, smash pig with bird, no further explanation required.

Oh, and plus there's gravitation fields surrounding the moons that can pull me off course, but they show up on screen as a circle and my predicted trajectory is marked by a dotted line so it's no great mystery how it'll influence my shot.

All I have to do is pull the bird back on the catapult using the mouse to adjust its launch speed and trajectory, refine my aim to compensate for the gravitational effects, then release the button to fire it off towards the planet. It's hardly rocket science. Well okay it's a little tiny bit rocket science.

And there you go, the bird hit the pig, then rolled around on the surface of the moon for a bit afterwards, dead from the impact. Sacrificed for the sake of revenge. They've achieved nothing by this, the eggs were obviously not here, but suicide bombing their enemies to death was apparently the bird's actual goal here, so yay! Job well done.

As I solved the puzzle solved with just a single martyred bird I get bonus points for the two I still have in stock.

I've never cared much about scores, but they're doing their very best to make me give a damn here. Gleaming golden stars, high score eggs and achievements all slam on screen at once in a cloud of glitter, with my epic success heralded by a triumphant fanfare. I'm the best at shooting the bird at the pig!

Though I soon hit a brick wall a few levels later. Then my bird bounced off the wall and rolled the other way, crushing a few plants and revealing a sign hidden behind. An arrow pointing counter clockwise in fact. A helpful reminder perhaps that on a planet a bullet fired in the exact opposite direction will still hit its target eventually, if it stays airborne and keeps its momentum long enough.

I've got plenty of birds left to try different approaches with, though I restarted anyway. Those spare birds are worth points and there ain't no way I'm walking out of here with anything less than a full three star score if I can help it. I need my triumphant music dammit.


I finally spotting that golden space egg the ice cube bird was guarding in the intro and sent a bird down to the planet to retrieve it. But it turned out to be trap, teleporting me off into a pocket dimension to play Space Invaders!

I jokingly mentioned that the birds were basically suicide bombers earlier, but they've given me a new type of bird for this level that explodes on impact, so... yeah. Variety is good though and these guys give me new options in how I tackle a level, so let's go blow shit up.

Here's another new bird, a cluster shot that splits off into three mini-birds mid-flight with a click of a button, to make a slightly unpredictable shot just that little bit more unpredictable.

Random chance definitely seems to play a big part in the outcome of any shot in this game, with tiny changes in aim and power potentially leading to totally different results. I have to try to refine my approach after a failure, but it's not like I get my current angle displayed on screen in numbers, so it's all about guesswork. I mean I do get a dotted trail to show me where my last shot went, but even that's washed away each time I click the retry button. But hey, at least I get infinite retries.

Oh you son of a bitch game. Different materials react in different ways to an bird impact and it seems those pigs are hunkering down under a fortress of ice. I should be able to smash through some of it, but trying to bring the roof down on all three of them with just one cluster bird is going to take a long long long while. Sigh.

I like how there's no difficulty select at the start. Instead the challenge is set by how many stars you're willing to settle for in a level, and you can replay each level as much as you want from the level select. I can't say I've got a perfect run so far, but I haven't given up on the dream quite yet.

I'm honestly surprised by how much variety this game has in its puzzles. On this level for instance I have to knock asteroids down into the gravity well to shatter those glass houses. It's like playing pool with planetoids.

New bonus level time! This time it's Super Mario Bros, obviously; I'd recognise those floating blocks anywhere. Presumably the pigs are going to be standing in for the Goombas.

Uh, is this level bugged or something maybe? Because I can't help but notice they've forgot to add the pigs. It doesn't matter how far I zoom out, there's nothing to hit here. I'm not seeing what I'm meant to... oh! OH!

The pig isn't replacing a Goomba, he's replacing the mushroom power-up hidden inside the top brick! A good smack with a dead bird got him out of hiding and another finished him off.

Damn, each of these worlds have a good number of levels in them. I'm up to 21 and they still keep coming. Shame I can't play them out of order though. If I get stuck on a level I just gotta keep hammering away at the puzzle until I'm through.

That white egg with the star shapes on it is a bonus level and there's one on each page of levels. I just need to get a full three stars on every level in a page to unlock it.

Unfortunately I could play this forever without ever unlocking a single one of these damn eggs, because I honestly don't know what some of these levels want from me. I assumed clearing them with one bird would be enough to get a three star score, but nope, not always.

Uh... what? Is this a boss fight? The Angry Birds games have BOSS FIGHTS?

The pig king seems pretty harmless though weirdly. He just likes to trundle back and forth on his little moon spitting out carrots and rocks in bubbles. Not at me, just.... around. I haven't actually found one pig in the whole game that's been anything less than entirely passive towards me. This is the first of them that's even moved!

Crap, this isn't working out like I'd hoped. My shots don't seem to be damaging him much and his carrot bubbles are acting like a flak screen, blocking my birds. I'm running out of ammo here! 

Crap, I lost! I am completely out of ammo. That's never happened to me before. Look at the king pig, bouncing around in his little UFO, he thinks this is hilarious.

I'll get you, you bastard pig, just you wait! I'll click retry, and I'll get some more birds together, and we'll kick your little piggy ass.

Actually he wasn't much of a problem when I figured out his weakness. Turns out I'm supposed to drop the carrots and rocks on him by bursting the bubbles. Which kinda makes sense. Except for the part where all his does in his defence is give me ammo to use against him.

And that was world one. Shockingly it seems that world two is more of the same, except harder and with a couple of new birds introduced.

Look at this crap. I'm apparently supposed to curve my bird around in an anticlockwise arc and hit the bottom tower in the exact right way to fling the debris around into the next tower as it collapses, triggering a chain reaction that kills all the pigs.

I always manage to miss one pig though and I don't have the patience to keep clicking retry and fine tuning my aim by another pixel until it works though. I mean it's possible I've just got the wrong solution, but I doubt it. Trial and error's the only way I can beat this.


I eventually got a full page of 3 star levels and finally managed to unlocked a bonus level! It's just like all the other levels, except this time I'm firing off... eggs. Eggs with remote triggered bombs in them. Yes we have found the kidnapped unborn babies at last and now we can use them against our sworn enemies. These birds are total psychopaths, seriously.

I guess what I'm meant to do here is detonate an egg at the right moment as it's arcing over this pyramid of bricks to send fragments shooting up into the pigs hiding up there in bubbles just out of gravity's reach, but I can never quite manage to get the bricks to scatter into the right directions. Ah fuck it, this seems as good a place as any to stop playing.

You know, I had a feeling that Angry Birds Space would be a incredibly shallow puzzle game based around lucky shots and trial and error rather than thinking your way through a problem, and it turns out I was absolutely right! Well, about the luck part anyway, the game's actually a bit more complex than I'd expected. But it's so well presented and designed that I can kinda forgive it, as all the frustrations are in the puzzles, not the interface. There's no timer or finite lives. Plus even though I'm finding it impossible to earn three stars on anything anymore, I have been making steady progress through the levels without a ridiculous number of retries, and... I kinda want to keep going.

I can't believe I'm doing this but... Angry Birds gets my shiny star award for not being crap. I just can't hate a game with a Parasol Stars themed bonus stage it seems.

Have anything you want to say about Angry Birds Space, my post, my site, or anything else that's halfway relevant? Feel free to leave a comment.

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