Love it or hate it, there is no avoiding Angry Birds. It's everywhere. It's in your phone, it's on the toy shelves, it's tied in with movies and, if all goes according to plan, it will be spun off into its own movie before too long. Today, Angry Birds takes off for the final frontier in Angry Birds Space, a project that evidently has enough gravitational pull to get NASA itself involved.
And yet, when you get right down to it, it's just more Angry Birds with a few extra tricks up its sleeve -- not that there's anything wrong with that.
The basic story and mechanics are virtually unchanged. Evil (space) pigs have kidnapped (eggnapped?) the Angry Birds' eggs and the Angry Birds launch off into space to get them back. The voyage through the wormhole evidently has some unknown physical properties, as the birds come out the other side looking decidedly spacey -- I particularly like the yellow bird, who is now purple and has a nice Geordi La Forge visor.
Once again, players take control of a giant slingshot, catapulting the birds toward loosely fortified porcine encampments. What's different this time around is that most of the action takes place on interstellar planetoids, each with its own gravity well. This changes up the Angry Birds formula significantly, as gravity greatly effects the trajectory of the slingshot. Shots no longer follow an easily predictable arc. In fact, depending on how many planetoids there are, a single shot could curve in multiple directions.
Thankfully, each shot is accompanied by a handy guide that will appropriately bend when passing through different gravity wells. Using the guide feels a bit like cheating at first, but it doesn't extend very far and later levels will have you bouncing through several gravity wells, so the initial trajectory is really just a starting point anyway.
Most of the familiar bird abilities are back. The rocket bird (let's call him Geordi) has been tweaked somewhat, as gravity no longer behaves the same way. Now, instead of tapping the screen for a burst of speed, you actually tap a location on the screen and the bird goes zooming toward it, essentially turning it into a feathery sniper rifle. There's also a new ice bird that freezes obstacles to make them brittle.
The new gravity mechanic is easily the most interesting addition to Angry Birds Space, allowing for much more inventive level design. Some levels feature multiple planetoids, forcing players to take each gravity well into account. Your shots may wind up curving around several planetoids before hitting its mark (or even making multiple orbits around the same planetoid). Gravity also opens up other possibilities. For example, instead of hitting an obstacle directly with a bird, you could knock something heavy toward a planetoid and let gravity take care of the rest. As burnt out as I may be on Angry Birds, I have to admit it's pretty entertaining to just barely nudge a weightless pig, subsequently watching him get sucked into a planet's gravity well and lazily sail to his death.
Angry Birds Space includes 60 levels -- plus a few hidden levels -- with an additional 30 available for purchase. The new gravity mechanics certainly freshen things up a bit, though there probably isn't enough here if you've already grown tired of Angry Birds. Regardless, one thing is certain: Your mother-in-law is going to love it.
Angry Birds Space is available for $0.99 on iTunes, for free on Google Play (with an HD version for $2.99), $5.95 on PC and $4.99 from the Mac App Store. The Android version is also on the Amazon App Store -- ad-supported (free), no ads ($0.99), HD ($2.99). We're always looking for new distractions. Want to submit your game for Portabliss consideration? You can reach us at portabliss aat joystiq dawt com.